BEIRUT: The inability of Lebanon’s political groups to reach consensus is weighing heavily on a variety of economic sectors in the country, a high-ranking representative of the EU in Lebanon said Thursday.
“I think that in Lebanon it is really the idea that everybody needs to agree on every issue and make sure that they have a stake in it that is hampering the ratifications of agreements necessary for the economy,” EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst told The Daily Star in an interview.
A deficient infrastructure is a main example of missing components needed to boost the Lebanese economy, Eichhorst said. “Lebanon needs to have a proper infrastructure such as water, electricity and roads. That would attract investors and bring in more technology, which in turn would help in developing industrial sectors, leading to an increase in exports.”
“I am not sure that the reason behind the absence of a sound infrastructure is lack of resources but it is mainly the inability to reach a consensus and the need to bring everyone around the table to make a decision,” she argued.
Accession to the World Trade Organization would be another major boost for the Lebanese economy, according to Eichhorst.
“Lebanon would become a full member of the international trade community ... WTO accession would secure a proper dispute settlement mechanism that solves problems in a transparent way,” she said.
However, the fear of competition may be holding Lebanon back from joining the WTO, Eichhorst said. “But this is not justified because the sectors that you are really good at in Lebanon, such as services and banking, do not allow you to be afraid of the WTO.”
She added that accession to the WTO would also help Lebanon build a modern economy. “Lebanon cannot continue to rely on the private sector and remittances only,” she said.
Among the main challenges facing Lebanon today is the government’s failure to deal with the negative repercussions of the huge influx of Syrian refugees due to the lack of consensus among Lebanese parties, Eichhorst said.
While the obvious solution to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon is the end of conflict in Syria, according to Eichhorst, the Lebanese government assumes a big responsibility.
“The borders, for instance, must be monitored because of the great number of Syrians entering Lebanon every day which is estimated at around 3,000,” she said. “But I think that we have reached a point now where the government will better control the borders.”
Among the solutions proposed by Eichhorst to better manage the Syrian crisis in Lebanon is the establishment of camps that would provide security and services for refugees. “From experience worldwide, it is cheaper to run a camp than to help everybody across the country.”
Eichhorst also highlighted the importance of holding the presidential election, as vacuum will likely hamper the performance of state institutions. “[Former] President Michel Sleiman did not just represent Lebanon but he also represented the institutions and on top of it the Constitution,” she said. “So this is gone now, which means that there is a vacuum and this does not give confidence to investors and tourists who want to come to Lebanon.”
Another controversial issue that has recently been under the spotlight is the establishment of an independent civil aviation, which Eichhorst said is necessary to meet all standards set by the International Organization of Civil Aviation.
“There is a rule that has to be followed but that does not mean that the aviation is not safe in Lebanon,” she said. “But the media picked it up like this.”
She added that the EU got reassurances from the government of Prime Minister Tamam Salam that it would take all appropriate measures to comply with these standards.