Overcoming Lebanon’s political deadlock is urgent - Minister
Lebanon - Introductory remarks by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at his press conference
Beirut, 7 May 2021
Hello ladies and gentlemen.
I’m finishing a short visit to Beirut and will be heading back to Paris in a few moments, but I’d like to give you an update, first of all to remind you that both in prosperous periods and at painful times, France has always stood by the Lebanese people. On 6 August 2020, the French President reiterated this promise to Lebanese people. I was next to him. I’ve come to emphasize it again: France remains and will remain mobilized in the long term to support the Lebanese population.
Even before the tragedy of 4 August, France was helping Lebanon face up to the crisis that was already hitting it. I’m well placed to know that, because I myself brought the international community together over Lebanon in December 2019. Since then, given the urgent nature of the situation, this mobilization on our part hasn’t weakened: quite the contrary. This mobilization has benefited all Lebanese people in a very practical way.
France is delivering on its commitments. More than €85 million has already been pledged to Lebanon. In the four priority areas we’ve identified, our promises have been kept: on reconstruction and the protection of heritage; on access to food; on support to the medical and health sector; and on support to schools and the educational sector. I was able to see this during my discussions with Lebanese people yesterday, and by observing the results of our support activities on the ground: at the Collège des Saints-Cœurs Sioufi; at a health centre situation in the Bourj Hammoud district; at the Oriental Library of Saint Joseph University; and of course at the port of Beirut.
France’s action is also part of a broader collective effort. The President brought the international community together twice, on 9 August and then on 2 December, with the United Nations. €250 million in donations were announced: those announcements have been exceeded.
But after more than eight months of deadlock, it’s now clear that Lebanon needs a real modernization of its political and institutional practices. Lebanese society, in all its richness and diversity, is playing an active role to this end. To do so, it can draw on the tradition of democratic pluralism that makes this country strong.
That’s why we are also focusing on the future – and this is my second message. In the face of obstruction from the political parties, during this visit I’ve witnessed once again the vitality of Lebanese civil society. It was those committed Lebanese people that I visited: those working actively to protect Lebanon’s future, its model of society, its unity in diversity, the peaceful coexistence of its communities and cultures. That’s what creates Lebanon’s strength and special unity. In this respect, I believe our support to Lebanon’s schools is essential: that’s where this country’s future talent is formed. It’s where this country’s cohesion takes root. In 2020, we supported more than 180,000 schools and some 90,000 pupils. And we decided to maintain and increase the fund for Middle Eastern schools, which once again this year should provide assistance of some €2 million to the Lebanon’s French-speaking Christian schools.
Preparing the future also means counting on the strength and vitality of Lebanon’s democracy and the active efforts of all its citizens, particularly its young people, to enable the reaffirmation of a State capable of addressing its population’s legitimate needs and aspirations. In this regard, the elections in 2022 will be of major importance. I listened with great interest to several representatives of parties and movements intending to promote plans for different political models. Yesterday evening I also met some exceptional Lebanese women engaged in some tremendous mutually-supportive citizens’ initiatives.
And I have to tell you here that it’s for the Lebanese people and them alone, in full independence and sovereignty, to choose what they want for their country. I note that there are lots of ideas, lots of plans – an abundance. The 2022 elections must provide an opportunity for a genuine democratic debate on Lebanon’s future.
Indeed, it’s urgent to overcome the political deadlock the country is in – and that’s my third message. I clearly expressed this need during my discussions with the President, Speaker of the Parliament and Prime Minister-designate, because they are institutionally responsible for agreeing on a government.
To date, I note that the political players haven’t yet shouldered their responsibilities and haven’t yet started working seriously on the country’s swift recovery. Unless they really step up responsibly today, they’ll have to accept the consequences of this failure, and the consequences of reneging on the commitments they themselves made to the French President on 1 September 2020.
In the meantime, we ourselves are refusing to stand by in the face of obstruction – and I mean obstruction. So we’ve begun to implement restrictive measures in terms of access to French territory, on figures responsible for the political deadlock that exists and figures implicated in corruption. It’s only a start: if the stalemate persists, these measures may be toughened or extended. They may also be augmented with the means of pressure the European Union possesses, on which discussions have already begun with our European partners. Everyone must shoulder their responsibilities: we’re shouldering ours; it’s for Lebanon’s leaders to decide whether they want to overcome the stalemate they’ve been organizing for more than eight months. I’m convinced it’s possible. It’s possible if they want to. They can act. It’s up to them to do so.
To conclude, I repeat: if France is making active efforts, it’s for the Lebanese people, all Lebanese people, so that they don’t lose faith in the possibility of a just State and effective governance. It’s for all Lebanese people, to support them in building a future whose shape they must define themselves. At several moments yesterday I met Lebanese citizens who have decided to take up this challenge, with not only courage but also great dignity. It’s to them that I’ve come to send this essential message: France will be listening to them and will support their legitimate aspirations.