The past year was very challenging, for Europe, for our neighbors in the Mediterranean and for Lebanon. It is too early to tell if we rose to all expectations. Europe lived through 2012 under exceptional circumstances, as a result of the global financial crisis, which started in 2008 outside the European Union.
We saw the citizens’ confidence in the euro and the European project further declining. There seemed hardly any prospects for economic growth; there were major doubts about our collective capacity to cope. Riots and protests against austerity measures took place all over Europe, unfortunately leaving too many injured and lives lost.
Close to 26 million people are today unemployed in the E.U. and there is the perception that “money has ended up with all the power, while peoples are having none.” Eighty million people in the EU – 16 percent of the population – are currently in or at risk of poverty. Yet, rarely did European anxiety turn into large scale violence and death.
Not so for this region. Not so for Syria in particular. Certainly no comparison can justify putting the European and Syrian crisis in one sentence. Yet people are the same all over the world.
Questions are alike: Am I treated as an equal citizen, fairly, justly with dignity and respect? Are my rights guaranteed? Can I rely on the state and its institutions to protect me, my family and our rights?
In today’s Europe, states and institutions exist. Citizens can think, operate, protest, vote and express themselves in relative safety and freedom. Without fear.
The uprisings in the southern neighborhood were at their origins uplifting, challenging, engaging and dynamic in equal measure, but today they are marred by uncertainties. Transitions do not take place as smooth as some had hoped for. Comparisons can not be made any more as events have been unfolding very differently in every country.
Yet none of the countries-in-transition has, so far, the institutions in place to effectively secure the rights of its citizens. There has been violence and destruction. Communities and families are divided. Those who want to peacefully reunite and rebuild while leaving space for every member of society, may seem a minority, as the media do not wish to focus on the “good stories” or the “other voices.” As with Europe, the negative sides of unfolding events get the highlights, and positive voices are rarely heard.
Lebanon has also been repeatedly put to the test throughout 2012, especially when the society as a whole was again hit hard by the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan in October. Yet, the country’s resilience and the spirit of its people continue to be truly remarkable.
And this is well reflected in Lebanon’s struggle to remain thus far a more open, liberal and democratic society than any of its Arab neighbors. The daily challenges are huge: from the provision of security, rule of law, affordable quality services, water, electricity and telecoms, to the assurance of stable jobs, education and health care for the almost 5 million inhabitants. The daily challenges increase with the necessity to provide the much needed humanitarian assistance to now more than 170,000 refugees coming from Syria, and all other refugees in the country, including more than 200,000 Palestinians.
This is a major challenge, constantly on the minds of the members of government, host families, civil society, the international community and the country at large.
Anxiety remains over whether Lebanon can weather the storm. Can Lebanon continue the course on its urgent path of political, economic and social reforms, while providing security and safety? We wish to say: Yes, you can. Through action. Through giving confidence. Through working on an inclusive basis. Through the efforts, large and small, to regain trust of citizens and investors alike. The page of the crisis can be turned. Europe surfaced stronger last year than it started. Lebanon will emerge stronger as well.
As for the Europe-Lebanon Partnership, there certainly has been throughout 2012 a strong political will to move ahead. From both sides. We jointly redefined priorities in a New Action Plan, accelerated our ongoing cooperation and agreed on the way ahead, even beyond 2014.
The EU and its member states fully supported efforts to renew National Dialogue, to strengthen institutions including the security apparatus and to develop the economy.
The EU will continue to do so throughout 2013 by helping the country to:
r Reunite around key questions of nation building, national security and identity.
r Leave party politics for the run-up to the elections, which hopefully will take place as scheduled and which will be observed by the EU as was the case in 2005 and 2009.
r Talk more to each other directly than indirectly via the media, as eventually it is dialogue that solves crisis, not war.
r Strengthen the economy, create jobs, and keep young graduates in the country by giving hope.
2013 will be a very busy year, for Europe, for the region and for Lebanon. And none can confidently say that the crises are over.
Europe, while moving from a monetary to an economic to a now more political union, has to overcome major questions of social exclusion, poverty and unemployment. Climate change and the increasing lack of natural resources will be on the top of everybody’s agenda for the years to come. It was encouraging to see the E.U. receiving a major signal of recognition by being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
As European Commission President Jose Barroso recently said: “It made us all proud to be Europeans, proud to be part of that historic project of the past, the present and the future. Even more, it has made us revisit the roots, the values, the ideals that drive the European project forward. The praise for our past serves as motivation and inspiration for the future.”
Just like last year our collective wish for 2013 remains for Lebanon to be spared from ongoing conflicts in the region and to move ahead in facing its challenges. The EU looks forward to continuing to work closely with all our partners with motivation and inspiration to build that very future that will make people living in this beautiful country proud of their respective identity.
Warm wishes for the New Year. Angelina Eichhorst Ambassador, Head of the Delegation of the EU