Exclusive: France outlines reforms for crisis-ridden Lebanon

BEIRUT (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron has outlined political and financial reforms needed by Lebanese politicians to unlock foreign aid and save the country from multiple crises, including an economic meltdown, according to a Reuters document.

A member of the French military wears a face mask as he stands near the damaged grain silos in a joint effort with the Lebanese army to clear piles from the port of Beirut after the explosion, as part of a tour organized for media and journalists in Beirut. , Lebanon 26 August 2020. REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir

The two-page “draft paper” was provided by the French ambassador to Beirut, a Lebanese political source said.

A source in Macron’s Elysee office said the ambassador had handed over a brief document to President Michel Aoun and Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri, but described it as informal and not a roadmap.

The necessary measures include a control of the central bank, the appointment of an interim government that can enact urgent reforms, and early legislative elections within a year.

The Lebanese government, which took office in January with the support of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies, has failed to make progress in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). for a rescue by action on reforms and a dispute over the size of financial losses.

The government dismissed the enormous explosion of the port of Beirut that killed at least 180 people, injured some 6,000 and destroyed entire weeks, and again protested against a political elite over endemic corruption and mismanagement that led to a deep financial crisis.

“The priority must be the rapid formation of a government, in order to prevent a power vacuum that will leave Lebanon to sink further into the crisis,” the French paper reads.

It lists four sectors that need immediate attention: humanitarian aid and the response of the authorities to the COVID-19 pandemic; reconstruction after the explosion on August 4; political and economic reforms and an early parliamentary election.

It also called for progress in IMF talks and United Nations oversight of international humanitarian funds promised to Lebanon in recent weeks, as well as an impartial investigation into the cause of the detonation of large quantities of highly explosive material that was stored unsafe in the harbor for years.

Macron visited Beirut shortly after the explosion and made it clear that no blank checks would be given to the Lebanese state if it does not adopt reforms against waste, transplantation and negligence.

Since then, he has held several phone calls with key political leaders under the country’s sectarian system of power-sharing, a Lebanese political source said. Macron is due to return to Beirut on September 1.

Political rivalries and factional interests prevented the formation of a new government that could tackle the financial crisis that devastated the currency, paralyzed the banking system and spread poverty. [L8N2FS4PV]

The French draft paper emphasizes the need for direct and complete control of public finances and reform of the energy sector, which bleeds public funds while providing insufficient electricity.

Parliament needs to enact laws necessary for change in the meantime, it said. “Fractions need to be engaged to vote on the key measures that the new government will take in the coming months.”

The Elysee source said the document reiterated proposals agreed under a 2018 donors conference to support Lebanon and a subsequent international support group meeting.

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“This document confirms France’s availability to support Lebanon in this context. It’s by no means a roadmap, ‘said the Elysee official.

The draft paper was able to deepen the role of France in Lebanon, a former French colony.

The paper states that Paris will play a key role in rebuilding Beirut’s port, strengthening health care, sending teams from its treasury and central bank to support financial control, and help organize early parliamentary votes, along with the European Union.

Report by Laila Bassam in Beirut; Additional reporting by John Irish and Elizabeth Pinneau in Paris; Written by Raya Jalabi; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Jon Boyle

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