BEIRUT: Despite the political and security issues Lebanon currently faces, the outgoing head of the European Union delegation to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst believes its “a miracle” the country remains stable.
“It’s a miracle Lebanon still exists in the way it exists today given the fact of what’s happening in the region,” she told The Daily Star.
Eichhorst, who is leaving Lebanon after more than four years as the leading European diplomat in the country, said that while Lebanon has thus far managed to stay afloat, it would require substantial financial support from the international community going forward.
Taking into account more than 1.4 million refugees residing in the country, the number of people requiring government assistance in Lebanon has more than doubled since Eichhorst took office in 2011.
“Lebanon will need a lot of resources in the future, financial resources,” Eichhorst explained.
“So Lebanon will need to make a constant case with the international community for assistance.”
But the presidential vacuum and political deadlock complicate cooperation with the international community. It would be easier to convince donors to provide assistance to Lebanon if Baabda Palace was occupied, Eichhorst acknowledged.
“As far as we are concerned, to make that case [for financial assistance] it helps 100 percent if you have a president, functioning government, functioning institutions,” Eichhorst said.
Eichhorst acknowledged that she is “not pleased to leave the country not knowing what’s going to happen” with the presidential vacuum.
Moreover, the “rhythm” of governance in Lebanon is slowing, she added. “There is also a risk that the intuitions start to function and perform less and less.”
Praising the army and security services, Eichhorst said that while the security situation in the country remains calm for now, she has noticed that “a lot of people truly live in fear of what is going to come.”
Still, despite the deep political fissures and regional chaos, Eichhorst expressed confidence that the Lebanese population would work to stave off a national crisis. “There is a good majority of the people [who want to] insulate Lebanon and to save this country. Functioning institutions along with the army can hold the country together.”
The EU will continue to engage with Lebanon on important issues going forward, Eichhorst said, including hot button topics like refugees and security.
With its own migration crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean, Europe is particularly sympathetic to the immense refugee burden Lebanon is shouldering. Eichhorst acknowledged, however, that many Lebanese think that Europe isn’t doing enough. “I know that Lebanon expects the EU to take more refugees,” she said. “You have no idea how much time and effort we spend on particularly this subject, whether it’s with the authorities or people living in Lebanon.”
Eichhorst has been a staunch advocate for judicial and prison reform in Lebanon, and said she hopes the Roumieh torture video will push officials to take much needed action. The video, in which guards filmed themselves beating detainees, “is a reflection of a prison system that doesn’t function,” Eichhorst said.
Still, Eichhorst said there is reason to hope that the future will be brighter. “We work with the ISF on human rights. Very few people know that. The authorities are receptive to this work ... the issue is that there is so much that needs to be done on that front and in the prisons.”
Eichhorst said that her successor, whose identity remains unknown, will undoubtedly work to ensure the EU is kept abreast of Lebanon’s successes as well as its struggles.