16 November 2016
BEIRUT: The European Union and Lebanon Tuesday adopted a renewed framework for political engagement and enhanced cooperation that would improve the lives of both Lebanese and refugees. The agreement follows a meeting between caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and EU foreign policy representative Federica Mogherini.
“We have agreed on prioritizing partnership in relation to the projects and initiatives we will be doing [from] 2016 until 2020, which can be summarized in five pillars which conform to Lebanon’s priorities,” Bassil said in a statement after the meeting.
The five pillars include the need for quick solutions to the ongoing refugee crisis, combatting terrorism and supporting Lebanon’s security establishment, increasing investment, supporting good governance procedures, and furthering Lebanon’s exemplary role in the region in terms of tolerance and coexistence.
The Lebanese economy has been reeling since the influx of some 1.03 million Syrian refugees into the country. A 2-1/2-year presidential vacancy led to almost complete institutional paralysis, and the country was on the verge of economic and political collapse until the timely election of President Michel Aoun.
“It is not a coincidence that Lebanon was the first country in the world that signed these priorities of agreement with the EU,” Bassil said.
“This is an indicator of the continuing partnership between Lebanon and the EU, especially now that Lebanon is back on track toward regaining its pioneering role in the world after the election of ... the president,” Bassil, who is also President Aoun’s son-in-law, added.
Mogherini congratulated Lebanon on the election of a president. “This is a chance for all sides to continue engaging in constructive dialogue,” she said. “Lebanon is the first state to sign the [partnership priorities] ... within the European Neighborhood Policy framework. It will be a partner with Europe toward finding a future for Syria.”
Bassil said he considered a unified and sovereign Syria in “Lebanon’s national interest.”
“Our national interest is concerned with a Syria that is absent of terrorist organizations and the threats they pose to Lebanon and the region,” he added. “[It] also dictates a democratic Syria where its people decide their own fate and choose their own leaders.”
Nine specific points emerged from the priorities agreement, all aimed at improving national living conditions. In addition to promises of investments in infrastructure and security, Lebanon will gain access to European financial mechanisms and funds that are often reserved to prioritized countries.
On the refugee crisis, the EU admitted that the only solution would be the refugees’ safe return to their homes in Syria. Lebanese officials, including Bassil himself, have often claimed that the international community was orchestrating the permanent settlement of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Bassil and Mogherini also agreed to strengthen trade relations, whereby a team will be tasked with removing any obstacles, apart from customs fees, that might impair the export of Lebanese goods to Europe. This aims to strengthen Lebanon’s industrial and agricultural sectors which suffered in recent years due to the conflict next door.
Lebanon’s farmers and industrialists will receive support in complying with European standards.
Lebanon and the EU will also launch profound political dialogues, a mechanism the EU usually reserves for more developed nations such as Russia and China.
Bassil also met with his counterparts from Italy, France and Luxembourg, who congratulated him on the election of Aoun as Lebanese president. He thanked Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni for providing the Army with $3.5 million worth of equipment. The pair agreed to continue the ongoing cooperation between Lebanon and Italy.
© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.