BEIRUT, June 19 (Reuters) – The European Union’s foreign policy chief told Lebanese leaders on Saturday that they were responsible for the country’s political and economic crisis and that some could face sanctions if they continue to take steps to form a new one Government and implement reforms hinder.
After an “open exchange” with President Michel Aoun, Josep Borrell said he was delivering a clear message that the country was on the verge of financial collapse and that politicians could not afford to waste any more time.
“The crisis Lebanon is facing is an internal crisis. It is a self-imposed crisis,” he told reporters after speaking to Aoun.
“It is not a crisis from abroad or from external factors. It is a homemade crisis, a crisis that you created yourself.”
The Lebanese currency has lost 90% of its value. More than half of the population lives in poverty and struggles with rampant inflation, power outages and fuel and food shortages.
The crisis was exacerbated by a political stalemate in which Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri spent months arguing with Aoun over the formation of a new government capable of introducing reforms that could unlock much-needed foreign aid.
“We are ready to help,” said Borrell. “But if solutions to the current multidimensional crisis in the country are further hampered, we will have to consider different courses of action than what some Member States have suggested.”
“The Council of the European Union has included other options including targeted sanctions.”
The possible sanctions are part of an effort by some EU countries, led by France, to increase pressure on Lebanon‘s divided politicians after almost a year of stalemate.
An EU diplomatic note viewed by Reuters showed that criteria for the sanctions in preparation are likely to be corruption, obstructing the formation of a government, financial ill-treatment and human rights violations. Continue reading
The block has yet to decide which approach to take. Borrell will report to Foreign Ministers on Monday after his talks in Beirut, where he should also meet Hariri, Speaker of Parliament and Deputy Prime Minister.
Paris says it has already taken steps to restrict the entry of some Lebanese officials, which it sees as a blockade of efforts to deal with the crisis rooted in decades of government corruption and debt, despite not publicly naming anyone.
As politicians bicker, money is still flowing from the country’s central bank to support a fuel and food subsidy program that costs $ 6 billion a year and that ministers believe Lebanon can no longer afford.
Currency reserves have halved in less than two years, and the bank on Wednesday called on the caretaker government to approve a plan to ration subsidies and target them to those most in need.
Borrell said the country needs to form a new government, agree to a reform program, and get an IMF loan deal. Once this agreement was reached, the European Union was ready to provide “substantial amounts of money” in the form of loans and assistance.
“Lebanon needs an agreement with the IMF and no time can be wasted,” he said. “You are on the verge of financial collapse.”
Reporting by Dominic Evans Editing by Frances Kerry
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