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France promises to extricate Lebanon through reforms

France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Lebanon risked disappearing due to the inaction of its political elite who needed to quickly implement a new government to implement crucial reforms for the country.

“The international community will not sign a blank cheque if the they (Lebanese authorities) don’t put in place the reforms. They must do it quickly… because the risk today is the disappearance of Lebanon,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.

France has been leading diplomatic efforts for almost two years to persuade Lebanon to push through reforms and secure foreign aid needed to offset a financial meltdown.

In the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 4 blast that destroyed whole neighbourhoods, killed more than 180 people and made 250,000 homeless, President Emmanuel Macron rushed to Beirut hoping to use the leverage of international reconstruction aid to persuade Lebanon’s factions to choose a new administration led by individuals untainted by corruption and backed by foreign donors.

However, progress has been slow with some diplomats increasingly frustrated over the situation.

Macron will return to Beirut on Sept. 1.

“It’s for the Lebanese authorities to assume their responsibilities. They are trained and competent, but they have made a consensus among themselves for inaction and that’s no longer possible. The president told them that when he went on Aug. 6 and will repeat it when he is in Beirut on Tuesday,” Le Drian said.

In related news, Reuters published an exclusive on French plans for bailing out Lebanon out of its current crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron has created a roadmap for Lebanese politicians outlining political and financial reforms needed to unlock foreign aid and rescue the country from multiple crises including an economic meltdown, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The two-page “concept paper” was delivered by the French ambassador to Beirut, a Lebanese political source said. A diplomatic source at Macron’s Elysee office said no document has been given to Lebanese parties. A French Foreign Ministry official declined comment.

The necessary measures include an audit of the central bank, appointment of an interim government capable of enacting urgent reforms, and early legislative elections within a year.

Lebanon’s now-caretaker government, which took office in January with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies, failed to make progress in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout due to inaction on reforms and a dispute over the size of financial losses.

The government resigned over this month’s huge Beirut port explosion that killed at least 180 people, injured some 6,000 and destroyed entire neighbourhoods, and renewed protests against a political elite over endemic corruption and mismanagement that has led to a deep financial crisis.

“The priority must go to the rapid formation of a government, to avoid a power vacuum which will leave Lebanon to sink further into the crisis,” the French paper reads.

It lists four sectors in need of immediate attention: humanitarian aid and the authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic; reconstruction after the Aug. 4 blast; political and economic reforms and an early parliamentary election.

It also called for progress in IMF talks and United Nations oversight on international humanitarian funds pledged to Lebanon in recent weeks, as well as an impartial investigation into the cause of the detonation of vast amounts of highly explosive material stored unsafely at the port for years.

Macron visited Beirut shortly after the blast and made it clear that no blank cheques would be given to the Lebanese state if it did not enact reforms against waste, graft and negligence.

Since then, he has held multiple phone calls with major political leaders under the country’s sectarian power-sharing system, a Lebanese political source said. Macron is due to return to Beirut on Sept. 1.

Political rivalries and factional interests have prevented the formation of a new government able to tackle the financial crisis that has ravaged the currency, paralysed the banking system and spread poverty.

The French concept paper stresses the need for an immediate and full audit of state finances and reform of the power sector, which bleeds public funds while failing to provide adequate electricity.

Parliament should enact laws needed to effect change in the interim period, it said. “Factions must be engaged to vote on the key measures that the new government will take in the next few months.”

The roadmap could deepen France’s role in Lebanon, a former French colony.

The paper states that Paris will play a major role in rebuilding Beirut port, bolster healthcare, send teams from its treasury and central bank to support the financial audit, and help organise early parliamentary voting, along with the European Union.

Source: Reuters

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