BEIRUT: Lebanon’s leaders promised the formation of a new Cabinet within two weeks’ time, French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday, stressing that his country would not turn its back on helping Lebanon.
"What I have asked for, what all political parties without exception have committed to this evening right here, is that the formation of this government will not take more than 15 days," Macron said in a televised news conference at the Pine Palace in Beirut after meeting with politicians and political blocs.
Reiterating warnings made earlier in the day, Macron said that targeted sanctions could be imposed if there was proven corruption by Lebanese authorities. The sanctions would be coordinated with the European Union, the French President said.
Macron also confirmed that he would return to Lebanon for a third visit in December. “France will never turn its back on helping Lebanon,” Macron said, adding that he expected the Lebanese government to deliver on promises within eight weeks.
Macron warned that if leaders do not follow through on reforms within the deadline, including an audit of the central bank, that he could not “go back to the international community and approve aid if no progress is made."
“We will not give Lebanon a blank check,” he said.
Lebanese politicians, responsible for decades of corruption and squandering of public funds, are facing the worst economic crisis seen since the Civil War, with the national currency losing 80 percent of its value since October. This has been further exacerbated by surging coronavirus cases and the destruction of half of the capital in the wake of the Beirut Port explosion.
Following the resignation of the government on Aug. 10, pressure from France has pushed Lebanese politicians to appoint new Prime Minister-Designate, Mustapha Adib, who has promised a quick formation of new Cabinet. In the past, forming a government has taken several months.
“I believe he can complete the reforms that must be done,” Macron said about Adib.
Macron, the first foreign leader to visit Beirut two days after the blast, is pushing for a new government made up of experts untainted by corruption and capable of rebuilding Beirut as well as stamping out endemic graft, waste and negligence.
On his second visit to Beirut in less than a month, the French president appeared to dangle the carrot of an aid conference for Lebanon and also the stick of sanctions against Lebanese leaders if they failed to implement reforms.
During a visit earlier in the day to the destroyed Beirut Port, Macron said he had proposed a mechanism for follow-ups in the coming months because "we won’t release the CEDRE funds if reforms are not enacted." He gave Lebanese authorities three months to implement reforms focusing on the electricity sector and the need to restructure the shaken banking system.
Macron had told reporters that the upcoming six weeks are of vital importance for the future of Lebanon, adding that he is prepared to organize another international aid conference for Lebanon that would be held mid-October, what will be the second donor conference spearheaded by France in around two months.
The Beirut explosion, viewed as the biggest in Lebanon’s history, left large swaths of the capital in ruins, killing at least 190 people, injuring 6,500 and displacing about 300,000 people. The World Bank Group has placed the damage from the explosion at as high as $4.6 billion, with an additional $2.9 billion to $3.5 billion incurred in economic losses in the wake of the blast.
"Lebanese officials should take a lesson from the tragedy that took place in Beirut," Macron said about the explosion. “I did not come today to give a warning, but I returned to help Lebanon and accompany it to its future.”
On his visit with iconic Lebanese singer Fairus Monday evening, Macron said he was “very intimidated” to meet her, and “see her beauty and humility, the magic she has."
“She carries a magical realism idea of Lebanon, one that may never have existed.”