Lebanon crisis caused by power struggles, EU envoy says
This content was published on June 20, 2021 – 4:06 PM
By Samia Nakhoul
BEIRUT (Reuters) – The European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Sunday that a struggle between Lebanese leaders for power was at the heart of his government’s crisis and he urged them to put down their feud over side and form a cabinet or risk a financial crash the sanctions.
Speaking after talks with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri and House Speaker Nabih Berri, Josep Borrell said he delivered a frank message that some leaders may face sanctions if they they continued to block measures to form a new government and to poorly implement necessary reforms.
“The country is in great financial difficulty and to resolve the economic crisis it needs a government,” he said. “A ship in the middle of a storm, needs a captain, needs a crew to make the system work … otherwise the ship will sink.”
“It is clear that this is a fight for the distribution of power. I must say that there is also a strong distrust,” he told a group of journalists before leaving Beirut.
Borrell said Lebanon needed a government with technical capacity and real authority to avoid the failure of the outgoing government of Hassan Diab, who he said presented a solid financial reform plan that was blocked by politicians.
The Lebanese currency has lost 90% of its value. More than half of the population lives in poverty while struggling with soaring inflation, power outages, and fuel and food shortages.
The crisis was compounded by the political stalemate, with Hariri at odds with Aoun for months over forming a new government.
Borrell said foreign aid would not flow without a government that has engaged with the International Monetary Fund and implemented reforms to tackle corruption and mismanagement of funds. But he said the leaders he met were pessimistic about the possibility of moving forward.
He said a lack of action would result in a decline in foreign exchange reserves and leave the country without foreign currency to pay for basic items or to prevent its hospitals from running out of supplies.
He said his talks highlighted deep divisions between sectarian communities in Lebanon, whether Christian, Sunni or Shiite, or Druze, and how power was shared. “This country has an obvious problem with its system of governance,” he said.
Sanctions have been threatened in an effort by some EU states, led by France, to push politicians to break the deadlock.
An EU diplomatic note seen by Reuters showed that the criteria for imposing possible sanctions were likely corruption, obstructing efforts to form a government, mismanagement of finances and human rights violations.
The bloc has not yet decided on its approach. Paris says it has restricted entry to certain Lebanese officials it considers blocking efforts to deal with the crisis, without naming them.
“Sanctions are a possibility that is going to be considered, and we would very much like not to use them. But we cannot stay like this,” said Borrell, who reports to EU foreign ministers on Monday.
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul; Editing by Edmund Blair)