Lebanon News

EU ambassador paints Lebanon as reform laggard

BEIRUT: The head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Lebanon, Ambassador Patrick Laurent, said Thursday that Lebanon has not sufficiently taken advantage of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) EU-Lebanon Action plan. "Lebanon is not sufficiently obtaining from the policy what it could obtain from it," Laurent told a news conference at the headquarters of the European Commission in Beirut.

The news conference was held to discuss the findings of the ENP Progress Report on Lebanon, which was released on Thursday.

The EU-Lebanon Action Plan was adopted in January 2007 and designed to serve as a five-year guide to accompany the economic, social, and institutional reforms to which Lebanon committed itself on the eve of the Paris III international donor conference in January 2007. According to an EU statement, the report sets out the type of "fundamental reforms needed to establish a state of law."

Laurent said the Lebanese government has so far focused on areas such as economic and financial reforms, as well as certain trade issues. He added that little progress has been made on the social reform strategy aimed at reducing poverty.

In January 2007, Lebanon adopted a social action plan with the aim of improving the efficiency of social spending and reducing poverty.

"We understand that the political standoff in Lebanon hampers the accomplishment of the reform agenda," Laurent said, adding that Lebanon's political class has not yet grasped the importance of the ENP, "and how it can help political debates to move away from power-based discussion to more issue-based discussions."

"I'm not being idealistic but Lebanon's crisis can be truly helped if more substance is discussed," he added.

The ambassador also lamented the fact that a comprehensive dialogue on political and security issues had yet to be undertaken.

"Although we did make some steps in the security sector reform ... we were not able to establish a full-fledged policy," he added.

According to the report, Lebanon is not equipped with a strong counter-terrorism apparatus, and there is only a weak tradition of sharing intelligence among the different agencies active in this domain.

"Efforts to improve working methods are currently supported by the EC, which is working with the Internal Security Forces as well as the Justice Ministry to reinforce their capacity for investigation," it added.

Laurent told reporters that little progress has been made in the areas of human rights and judicial reforms.

He stressed the importance of judicial reforms.

"Because what is more important for a state," he asked,  "than to have a judicial structure to fix all sorts of criminalities, be they political or non-political?"

The progress report explained that in the area of judicial reform, a project aiming at supporting the efficiency and independence of the judiciary was currently under formulation.

It added that Lebanon had renewed its pledge to implement the legislation that provides for a gradual transfer of prison management from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice.

Laurent stressed that the report was not an assessment of the political and economic situations in Lebanon.

"Lebanon has joined the process recently and it is thus too early to perform a formal assessment especially that the difficult political circumstances have an impact too," he said.

On his overall assessment of the report, Laurent said he was neither optimistic nor pessimistic concerning the situation in Lebanon.

"I am realistic: The importance of the ENP has not yet been fully realized by the political family in Lebanon," the ambassador said. "We would like to see more awareness because Lebanon is currently not among the best students."

Among those making more progress, he said, were Morocco and Israel.

Laurent stressed that engaging with the ENP policy was "a strategic choice for Lebanon ... If you don't follow this engagement in a positive manner the gap between Lebanon and other partners is likely to widen."

 

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