France reiterates its support for Lebanon, calls for quick reforms

FILE - In this Sept. 1 2017 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, right, shakes hands with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hariri has accepted an invitation to come to France after his surprise resignation from Saudi Arabia nearly two weeks ago that stunned Lebanon and rattled the region, the French president's office announced Thursday Nov. 16, 2017. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP, File)
FILE – In this Sept. 1 2017 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron, right, shakes hands with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP, File)

French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated Friday his country’s support for Lebanon and expressed relief at the progress being made by the Lebanese government to secure the CEDRE soft loan package.

Speaking with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Macron said that France’s is still committed to supporting “Lebanon’s stability and security and to strengthen the country’s institutions,” according to a statement by the premier’s office.

On Thursday, Hariri held talks with the French interministerial delegate Pierre Duquesne, who’s been tasked with keeping a close eye on the government’s commitment to meet the requirements set by the international community.

During his four day visit, Duquesne held talks with top Lebanese officials and urged them to pass the 2020 state budget on time.

Despite delays in implementing the necessary reforms, Duquesne maintained that the $11 billion pledged by the international community are not under threat.

Lebanon must “satisfy the international community,” he said, adding that “all of Lebanon’s economic indices are currently negative.” Lebanon’s trade deficit has skyrocketed to $16.65 billion and the current account deficit is now estimated at $12.44 billion. Meanwhile, the budget deficit reached 11.1 percent of GDP in 2018, or $6.25 billion; and public debt equaled 150 percent of GDP.

Most notably, Lebanon must revamp the country’s power sector and decrease the spending on state-owned Electricite Du Liban, which costs around $2 billion per year.

The French delegate also called on Lebanese officials to refrain from viewing the possible oil and gas exploration as their holy grail, saying that “no magic solution exists” for Lebanon’s economic woes.

“Some people still believe that there is a miracle solution, a magical solution that may solve all the problems but this does not exist,” Duquesne said.

Macron also called for restraint along the southern border, after a skirmish erupted between Hezbollah and Israel earlier this week while Hariri thanked him for his efforts “to contain the escalation after the Israeli aggression on Beirut’s southern suburbs.”

After Israel’s latest breach of Lebanese airspace with two drones that crashed over the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahyeh in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to retaliate.

On Sunday, a Hezbollah party hit two Israeli armored vehicles, prompting the Jewish state to fire a barrage of missiles across the border before calm resumed.

UNIFIL, the international task force tasked with keeping the calm along the border, will remain stationed for another 12 months after its mandate was renewed last week.

An Nahar