BEIRUT: In an effort to educate the public about Lebanon’s current standing point in its foreign affairs, the Fouad Chehab Foundation has been organizing a series of talks with key members and stakeholders.
It’s latest event, which took place yesterday on June 5, was called “The European Union and Us”. It explored the history and the current relationship between Lebanon and the EU, focusing on the focal points that made Lebanon the country it is today.
“This series of talks that we have been organizing at Fouad Chehab Foundation are inspired by the presidency and values of [former] president Fouad Chehab, which were diplomatic with a foundational structure,” president of Fouad Chehab Foundation Charles Rizk addressed the audience. “His main focus was to turn the page of the Allies and return Lebanon to its strategic location.”
Rizk then welcomed European Union Ambassador Christina Lassen on stage, and said that former president Chehab “is certainly somebody you refer to a lot for positive achievements and periods that inspired reforms in this country. As Eurpeans here I think we all have a clear common vision and hope for Lebanon.” She added that Lebanon in 2019 celebrates 40 years of “relationships” with the EU, as the first European delegation sent to Lebanon was in 1979 in the middle of the civil war for humanitarian purposes.
Lassen then explained the different eras that Lebanon and the EU went through which ultimately led to the establishment of a “very solid” relationship. “We do see Lebanon as a key ally and partner in this region; a country we feel close to culturally and historically,” she said.
After that she threw in some impressive numbers, saying that, since 2011, the EU has committed more than $1.7 billion to Lebanon. She ended her speech with the importance of implementing anti-corruption laws.
French ambassador Bruno Foucher also spoke of the history of the relationship between France and Lebanon, citing general Charles de Gaulle as an instrumental figure in implementing the Arab policies adopted by France. He also mentioned that the policies of the EU towards Israel is related to every country in the Middle East that has a stance against the invading country.
German ambassador George Berglin expressed his respect for the Lebanese political system and how it has managed to remain “peaceful and quiet” in recent years while “everything else around you has exploded more or less, [but] you have a system that balanced things out with the different interests of religious groups.”
He then stressed the importance of careful and very mindful constitutional discussion, and then proceeded to speak of the refugee crisis in Lebanon. “We all share the wish expressed by all political parties of the right of return to their country,” he said. “We the German and French, follow the principles of the UN who have repatriated 45 million refugees into cause of death in the last decade. They say- and we totally agree- that any return should be done voluntarily in dignity and safety.”
He then spoke of “some people” who believe that the cash assistance given to the refugees by the international community is encouraging them to stay, saying this is “simply not true” and demonstrating so by giving facts and numbers.
“Only 1 out of 5 refugees receive cash subsidy, and that subsidy covers 70% of the poverty limit, so the rest have to work to get money. This cash flows back into the Lebanese market where they pay rent and food,” Berglin said. “In fact we made a research that concluded that they are buying two thirds of the food from Lebanese founders. So their existence in the country is not necessarily only bad news.”
Former minister Tarek Mitri touched upon the misperceptions surrounding Lebanon and the EU, such as the misconception that Lebanon is an neglected country, “which is not true,” he said. He also spoke of the European Union’s support for Lebanon through pumping money, and the implications of the Palestine-Israeli conflict. “Our country has been for many years a battleground for tensions and conflicts of the region. In theory, we could turn this around, but this is always easier said than done, especially as an outsider speaking to an insider,” he concluded the discussion.
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