BEIRUT: A senior EU official denied Monday that a decision over whether to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization was imminent following accusations over the group’s involvement in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria, as it would require the endorsement of the entire bloc.
Angelina Eichhorst, the head of the European Union’s delegation to Lebanon, said such a result would only follow a careful examination of the case on both an investigative and judicial level.
“It’s not that there is an immediate decision. It takes time,” the ambassador told The Daily Star. “It is very important that the work that is being done and the process that is being undertaken is credible for Bulgaria, for the European Union, for the world and for those who have been accused.”
Bulgaria last week accused two Hezbollah members of being involved in last July’s bus bombing at Bulgaria’s Burgas Airport near the Black Sea, renewing calls for the EU to declare the party a “terrorist” organization.
Eichhorst said that the Burgas case, which killed five Israelis and their bus driver and wounded 30 more, was a “serious” issue, and that the EU was looking into it “very seriously.”
“We [the EU] say no to terrorism, we say no to impunity,” she said. “It’s a serious dossier and Europe is going to work on it. What will come out of it I can’t really tell; you need 27 member states to agree.”
Eichhorst underscored that the EU works by consensus, saying all discussions take place “according to an appropriate form.”
She said that since the Burgas case is a criminal investigation, the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, will look into the Bulgarian probe. The judiciary will also have a role to play, and politicians will have a say on the question of whether to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
“This is the process we follow within the European Union. Every member state will express their views on the dossier and once there is a consensus on how we move forward we will make it known,” she said.
Eichhorst, who meets with various Lebanese factions including Hezbollah on a regular basis, said the Burgas case will be discussed by foreign ministers during a meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council scheduled for Feb. 18.
Eichhorst, who reports directly to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said her delegation in Lebanon was interested in “seeing the whole picture so that the headquarters is informed about all possible sights.”
“We like to see the whole picture and then present it. In the end decisions are still being taken at headquarters level.”
Lebanon’s “disassociation” stance toward the unrest in Syria and the way the government has dealt with the repercussions of the crisis is “remarkable and commendable,” she said, adding that Lebanese politicians should adopt electoral reforms in order to match “international standards.”
“There are international standards and ... things you can do despite the political bickering about what electoral system to adopt as this is a very internal matter” which is tightly linked to the country’s political dynamics.
Eichhorst said these standards include: preprinted ballots, mechanisms allowing expatriates to vote, lowering the voting age, a female quota, the establishment of an independent commission to monitor elections, and regulation of campaign finance and media coverage. For more than a month now, a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with finding a new electoral law has been at loggerheads over the best formula for June’s polls.
While Eichhorst expressed relief at Lebanese lawmakers’ serious consideration of proportional representation as a viable electoral formula, she urged the government to respect the Constitution and hold elections within constitutional deadlines.
The delay in adopting an electoral law has raised questions over whether it will now be feasible to hold elections on time.
“We said it before, the EU recommends that elections take place within the constitutional time frame,” she said. “It is important. A self-respecting state works along the Constitution.”
The diplomat, who acknowledged the importance of stability in order for elections to be held, saluted the “daily” efforts of top officials and security agencies in insulating Lebanon from events next door.
“Now stability is an inflated word as it is periodically shaken. We recognize there are daily efforts among those who take the security and the stability of the country very seriously to keep the calm, help de-escalate when needed and most importantly to prevent certain events from turning the country into the unknown.”
Eichhorst said the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon was a great challenge.
Dubbing the situation of refugees “heartbreaking,” Eichhorst said the EU hailed Lebanon for “its humanitarian stance, for keeping its borders open for those forced to flee violence and insecurity.”
The ambassador also promised that the almost 50 million euros ($67,035,440) in aid provided to Syrian refugees in Lebanon through U.N. agencies would increase: “More is under preparation in direct support to the government of Lebanon’s response plan presented in December 2012.”
As for the debate over the establishment of camps in Lebanon for the Syrian refugees, Eichhorst said the issue was a double-edged sword.
“Concerning the issue of camps there is no easy answer,” she said. “It is clear that camps would provide a more traditional, easier organized structure for dealing with the immediate needs of refugees and facilitate the process of registration of new arrivals and the provision of services. That being said, camps also have problems in terms of protection and integration.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Eichhorst strongly believes in the government and security agencies’ ability to prevent the country from “drifting to the unknown.”
“In times of crisis it is important ... to commit to change, to have an open mind and to take action,” she said.