BEIRUT: European Union Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst hinted Tuesday that Europe might impose sanctions on Lebanon in the event that the government fails to pay its dues to a divisive U.N.-backed court, but expressed confidence that Lebanese leaders will find a solution to the thorny issue.
Eichhorst said European countries were still debating imposing sanctions on Lebanon if the country blocks funding to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
“Lebanon is expected to uphold its international obligations,” she said during a press point with reporters to announce a visit to Beirut on Oct. 27- 28 of the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule.
“Lebanon must continue funding the STL,” Eichhorst said. “It did in the past and it is expected to do so [now].”
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said Monday his party was against the financing of the Netherlands-based court but played down the chances of his decision bringing down the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Mikati had committed to funding the STL, arguing that this would avoid placing the country in a confrontation with the international community.
The European diplomat, for her part, seemed confident that a solution will be found within the Cabinet to the issue of STL funding. “My confidence stems from the ability of Lebanese leaders to find a solution,” she said.
Eichhorst explained that the EU Commission in Beirut held dialogue over the STL with various Lebanese groups including Hezbollah. “We are open to all groups,” she said.
Touching on the issue of repeated incursions by the Syrian military of Lebanese territories in recent weeks, the ambassador stressed the necessity to demarcate the largely porous Syrian – Lebanese border.
She also recognized that Lebanon might face grave difficulties in the event the flow of refugees hailing from Syria dramatically increases.
The diplomat said, however, that all concerned parties were exerting efforts to avoid such a scenario, adding that all parties had a “keen interest” in not having the refugees’ situation run out of hand.
Separately, Eichhorst said the size of EU aid packages to Lebanon will be one of the outcomes of the visit of the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy, who will hold talks with Lebanon’s three top officials, a number of ministers as well as representatives of the civil society.
Eichhorst said Fule will assess the outcomes of the 2007 EU-Lebanon Action Plan and the progress on the implementation of key internal reforms.
She said so far Lebanon has yet to implement key reforms enabling it to become a member of the World Trade Organization, a step she dubbed as vital to put the country’s economy on the right track.
She added that Lebanon still lags behind in creating job opportunities, pensions and the social security system.
The 2010 report on the implementation of the ENP highlighted the continued high rate of the Lebanese fiscal debt, which represents 139 percent and places Lebanon among the most indebted countries in the world.
The report added that difficulty in settling commercial disputes, the high cost of logistics, and the general lack of transparency were noted as obstacles to economic growth in Lebanon.
In a statement distributed by the EU Commission to Lebanon, Fule said, ahead of his two-day visit to Beirut, that the increased EU support to Lebanon will be linked to Lebanon’s commitment to reforms jointly agreed under the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan.
The Action Plan is 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 2007.
Fule will rely on his meetings with Lebanese groups as well as the annual report on the implementation of the ENP to decide on future aid to Lebanon.
Eichhorst added that in light of the wave of popular uprisings that have swept the Arab world, the need to draft a modern and representative electoral law, the consolidation of democracy and the respect of freedoms were other key issues to keep in mind.
“The more and faster Lebanon progresses in its internal reforms, the more support it will get from the EU,” Fule, was quoted as saying in the EU delegation statement.