Prime Minister Saad Hariri received today at the Grand Serail the European Union Ambassadors in Lebanon and discussed with them the political situation in Lebanon and the region.
At the onset of the meeting, Premier Hariri said: "I would like to welcome you all today at the Grand Serail. I have met some of you bilaterally but this meeting is extremely important for me, to meet you collectively as European Union ambassadors because it highlights the key role the EU plays in Lebanon and the strong relationship we have with you as an institution. A relationship I plan to foster and strengthen.
You have done a lot for Lebanon. I thank you for the assistance you provided to us on many levels including in justice and security system reform, in promoting sustainable development, and with the Syrian displaced crisis."
He added: "During the last three months we were able to achieve a mini miracle by electing a president and forming a government. My government has three priorities:
First: Secure and stabilize Lebanon.
Second: Draft a fair and just electoral law and hold the elections on time, and if we were able to reach a new electoral law there will be a technical postponement, otherwise the elections will be held on time.
Third: Kickstart our economy.
I will be meeting with Mrs. Mogherini this week and I look forward to discussing with her extensively these priorities in addition to the challenge of having 1.5 million Syrian displaced in our small country. You were all at the launch of "Lebanon Crisis Response Plan" and you know all aspects of the issue."
Hariri continued: "The biggest challenge is to increase the economic growth from the present one percent or less to more than that with the presence of this large number of refugees, knowing that the only available commercial exit is the sea. This economic breakthrough can only be achieved through the renewal of confidence in the state and the government. We will put a new budget that includes tax cuts particularly for small businesses.
I want to reiterate the need and the importance of investing in the Lebanese infrastructure because if we do not do that we will face a problem in shouldering the burdens of 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
In 1990 there were around 800 thousand Syrian workers, but the economic boom allowed Lebanon to find job opportunities for them and for the Lebanese".
He concluded: "We signed the EU-Lebanon trade agreement in 2003 to enhance prosperity in Lebanon. At the time, trade deficit between Lebanon and EU countries was 3 billion dollars. Today, 13 years later, the trade deficit more than doubled to 7 billion dollars. There is a perception in the country that this agreement did not benefit Lebanon, if we measure the output in terms of increased trade with Europe. The question today is the following: What more can we do to show this agreement in a more positive light. I remain convinced of the importance of the EU-Lebanon trade agreement. I want to work with you to change the prevailing perception and increase Lebanese exports to EU countries. My understanding is that ambassador Lassen has suggested to set up a working group of all relevant stakeholders to discuss obstacles facing access of Lebanese products to EU markets. I welcome such initiative. This would contribute to increased economic activity, new job opportunities as well as potential new joint ventures. This is important to help Lebanon bear the burden of the Syrian displaced crisis, and in particular support host communities that are mostly rural in nature. I want to end by expressing my commitment to our partnership priorities for the coming year especially insecurity and countering terrorism, governance and the rule of law, fostering growth and job opportunities".
After the meeting, the Head of the EU delegation to Lebanon, Ambassador Christina Lassen said: "Today, all the EU ambassadors in Beirut had a meeting with his Excellency the Prime Minister. It was the first meeting that we had together as a group with him and it continues a tradition that we have for years to meet in the beginning of the year with the Prime Minister. So we were very happy to have this chance today.
In the meeting, we expressed our strong support to the new government and the efforts exerted to resume the political and the institutional life and of the country and our continued strong support to Lebanon. I am sure this is the message that will also be conveyed during the visit of the High Representative Federica Mogherini who is visiting Beirut this week.
We told the Prime Minister that we see the election of President Aoun and the formation of the government of national accord under the leader of Prime Minister Hariri as ending a very long institutional deadlock and we see that this is an important step towards the full functioning of state's institutions in Lebanon, and it reflects the leadership and willingness to compromise.
We are confident that Prime Minister Hariri will also exercise the same leadership in the discussions that are now going on about the legal framework for allowing a timely transparent and peaceful holding of parliamentary elections, which of course would contribute to the democratic legitimacy of the state institutions. We also discussed today how the EU and Lebanon have further strengthened their relationship into 2016 where Lebanon was the first country to sign the partnership priorities under the revised European neighborhood policy.
This partnership has some very important themes for cooperation, for the priorities that we will work on. The first one is security and counterterrorism, secondly governance and rule of law, thirdly economic road and job opportunities and fourth migration and mobility.
And we discussed with the Prime Minister how we could really strengthen our cooperation in these areas.
We also all expressed our full support to Lebanon in handling the immense challenge of hosting the many Syrian refugees in this country over the last few years since the Syrian crisis begun. We have together, as EU and member states, given more than two billion Euros to this country, to assist both the refugees and the Lebanese host communities and the Lebanese infrastructure. We are proud to say that we have delivered our commitment from the London Conference last year and assured the Prime Minister that we will continue our support to Lebanon in this endeavor.
We talked finally about the stability and security of this country. Lebanon's stability remains of immense importance to the European Union. We commended the Prime Minister and the Lebanese armed forces for the role the armed forces have been playing in the South together with the UNIFIL in maintaining peace and stability, also together with the security agencies on a daily basis, in fighting terrorism, maintaining internal stability, preventing radicalization and upgrading the control of Lebanon's borders. As we mentioned, we just saw another example of that this weekend with the foiled attack in Hamra. We believe that security and resilient open societies go hand in hand, so we also talked about our cooperation on human rights where there have been important developments and new laws adopted in recent months and we assured the Prime Minister of willingness to continue supporting implementing those mechanisms in institutions. So we had a very good meeting from our point of view where first and foremost we expressed our strong support to Lebanon and wished the new government the best of luck in its endeavors in its important program".
Source: National News Agency