Ana Maria Luca

Lebanon's lack of progress

(Source: europa.eu)

The European Union report on the progress of the EU Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in Lebanon is out. It’s not an assessment of Lebanon’s domestic politics and economy, the document elegantly states. However, this is exactly what it does, because this is what the people in Brussels will look at when they decide on how much money to allocate.

After all, what is the ENP and how does it work? “Within the ENP the EU offers our neighbors a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development),” the EU website reads. “The level of ambition of the relationship depends on the extent to which these values are shared,” the text adds.

Lebanon is just not there, if you look at its progress in terms of the ENP criteria. The annual country reports the European Union issues every year – for the member-countries, candidates for membership and members of the neighborhood policy – are important because that is how countries have access to the EU funding and programs. Of course, sometimes these funds get awarded on political grounds, but usually on a smaller scale, such as granting funds for technical assistance programs meant to train civil servants.

In order for a country to be able to access funds at the EU level –and I am talking about more than just humanitarian aid— it needs to prove that it has reliable institutions that are capable of handling that money in an effective and transparent manner. The EU institutions are not really fond of investing large sums of money in black holes.

How the transformation is done: look at the EU’s newest member states and then look at them ten years ago. The difference is pretty striking. Of course the EU also asks for the partner states to make some commitments and take some responsibility. After all, this is what good governance is about.

In Lebanon’s case, as the EU Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst told NOW a few weeks ago, there is an immense willingness from the EU side to help and participate more to Lebanon’s development. Among the countries in the EU’s southern neighborhood, Lebanon stands as one of the most democratic and most open to Western values.

But what a diplomat cannot address directly is that, unfortunately, Lebanon has made very slow progress, despite all the encouragement. The reasons are obvious: there is a war going on next door, there have been wars in Lebanon, there are still sectarian tensions that favor the spillover of violence from Syria. The ENP progress report emphasizes that, of course.

But on the other hand, the report absolutely perfectly describes –in just 14 pages— a weak, almost failed state that is far from applying the same principles in terms of governance and human rights.

On the contrary, it emphasizes on the context: the regional security situation, the refugee crisis, terrorism, the pressure put on Lebanese institutions by the presidential deadlock, etc. In other words, it’s bad, but it might not be Lebanon’s fault that things are going so slowly. It might be the case in some sectors, but not in others.

Sure, Lebanon has a big refugee burden to carry, a complicated consociational political system that makes it difficult for any party to govern, which leads to more deadlocks than progress. Lebanon is, after all, a shell of democracy with a terrible feudal system within the communities.

First of all, it has a constitution that was written in 1943 that is full of contradictions: it first promotes civil liberties and then throws the entire civil status to the religious institutions. No wonder progress in terms of human rights is as slow as it gets. Sure, Lebanon needs to be applauded for finally adopting a law last year that deals with domestic violence. It’s not perfect, but at least there is one. However, the report doesn’t even mention the perennial struggle of a large part of the society for the right to have a civil marriage in Lebanon. There is also no progress in terms of the use of torture in investigations, no improvement in detention conditions, also no improvements have been made to the rights of the LGBT community at the legislation level.

Second, as the report itself states, the main element of a democracy, the elections originally “scheduled for June 2013, were postponed for the second time in November 2014 and parliament’s term was extended for an additional two years and seven months.” The Parliament barely worked in 2014, few laws were adopted and it’s not clear when the institution will start working again, simply because it’s not clear when the country would have another president.


Of course, “the EU continued to support the electoral reform process through projects with the government and civil society.” But wouldn’t they be supported even more consistently if Lebanon tried a little bit harder? The EU also invested EUR 22 million in the Lebanese judicial reform, but that did not have much of an impact on the independence of the judicial system in Lebanon. Of course, there are people in the Justice Ministry who really try to make things work. But somehow, somewhere, things just stop working.


“According to civil society reports, 2014 saw an increase in the number of assaults and attacks against journalists in Lebanon by both state and non-state actors. Cases were reported of journalists being charged for defamation, including cases before the military courts,” the report also writes.


Moreover, the report shows, Brussels is also willing to help Lebanon in terms of fighting terrorism, offering equipment, technology and training. But can it really help?

Beyond the fact that there is a will from a very important part of the population to learn and apply what the EU preaches through its soft power foreign policy, all these initiatives coming from extremely well-educated young specialists are blocked by the unwillingness of the political elites to give up their privileges.
Sure, the report is not about what’s wrong with Lebanon, but how much work the EU can do in the country and what an opportunity it is for Brussels to export its values to Beirut.

However, unfortunately, the report is also an assessment for decision makers who are not familiar with the Lebanese reality and who don’t understand that their rigid criteria of evaluation does not really fit the reality on the ground. The report is about how Lebanon could get more financial assistance to make it better for the Lebanese, but it doesn’t because its politics paralyzes any meaningful initiative.

Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609. The EU is not paying her to write all these explainers – as some have accused - but she really thinks people should know more about these EU mechanisms.


(Source: europa.eu)

the report is also an assessment for decision makers who are not familiar with the Lebanese reality and who don’t understand that their rigid criteria of evaluation does not really fit the reality on the ground."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Fact is both the EU and Lebanon are playing a dirty game. The EU is kissing the behind of the Lebanese government to accept more and more Syrian refugees (because this preempts those refugees from sneaking into Europe), while the corrupt Lebanese government is constantly threatening the EU of turning back Syrian refugees unless the EU gives the Lebanese more money. And, where is all that money going? Into the pockets of the corrupt politicians. This is the essence of the game. The EU could not care less for Lebanon and the Lebanese people. If the EU truly wanted the Lebanese to clean up their house, it would condition any aid on close monitoring and significant verifiable improvements in governance and environmental protection, among other things. Yet, it seems that regardless of how much money the EU pours into Lebanon, conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate as far as corruption up and down the political spectrum is concerned. How about, for example, if the EU funded the construction of a power generating plant that would provide reliable electricity around the clock? This is merely one of a zillion things the EU could do to actually make a dent in the miserable daily lives of the ordinary Lebanese. But the reason that the EU does not take bold action like this is because 1- Their interlocutors are the corrupt politicians themselves who do not want to see any change in the status quo that is netting them power and money, and 2- the EU itself is really more concerned about keeping the Syrian refugees from migrating to Europe than about actual improvements in Lebanon. We saw this with the Palestinian refugees, and now the Syrian refugees. Lebanon is paying the price of its corrupt politicians and the EU is footing the bill.

    April 3, 2015