Cyprus hails EU €1 billion support package to Lebanon
By Nikolaos Prakas

The EU has offered Lebanon a financial package of €1 billion, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday, which includes efforts to tackle border control and smuggling.

The funds would be available from this year until 2027, von der Leyen told a joint news conference with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides. She also said the EU would support Lebanon’s armed forces with equipment and training for border management.

Christodoulides underlined the package includes inter-alia assistance for developing various programs for the Lebanese people, for the Lebanese Armed Forces, for the Lebanese Security, anti-smuggling actions, border control and management, support for Lebanon’s economy and many more.

“I am very confident that this package announced today will help enhance the capacity of the Lebanese authorities to handle various challenges including controlling land and maritime borders, ensuring the safety of its citizens, fight against people smuggling, and continue their fight against terrorism,” he said.

Commenting on the visit, Christodoulides said that von der Leyen is the first EU Commission President to visit Lebanon.

“The EU clearly states that it is actively present and that it will continue to be at the side of Lebanon,” he said.

Christodoulides stressed that Cyprus has been one of the strongest proponents for further enhancing the EU-Lebanon relationship and he was glad that it is moving forward.

“Cyprus has a deeper understanding of the issues and the challenges that Lebanon is facing. Their reverberations also directly affect Cyprus as well as the EU.”

Commenting on the issues Lebanon has been dealing with, Christodoulides said that the longstanding conflict in Syria has negative effects of Lebanon and its people.

“While we commend the Lebanese government for hosting a large number of Syrian refugees for more than 12 years, we are also fully cognizant of the enormous pressures that this creates to your economy and society.”

He added that the current situation is not sustainable for Lebanon, Cyprus, or the EU.

“It hasn’t been sustainable for years, but developments especially in these recent months force us to seek immediate solutions.

We need to work closer and in much more extent with our partners and the UNHCR in discussing the issue of voluntary returns and not only. The situation in certain regions of Syria should be examined,” he said.

“A more peaceful, a more stable, a more prosperous Lebanon is essential for the whole of the eastern Mediterranean, our immediate neighbourhood and the EU itself,” he said.

Christodoulides added that it is important to actively engage to potentially re-start the discussions for the conclusion of the Partnership Priorities between the European Union and Lebanon; to facilitate cooperation at operational and technical level between Lebanon and Frontex; to implement the necessary and thorough reforms in line with IMF requests and to also address issues of accountability.

“Even more importantly, Cyprus will continue to be supportive of Lebanon’s efforts to elect a new president, a development that will represent an enormous political and symbolic message of change and of moving forward. I am sure that Lebanon will do its part and we will do our own,” he said.

Christodoulides and von der Leyen arrived in Lebanon on Thursday for a joint visit on the migration crisis.

The trip is part of an official visit for talks with Lebanese officials “on the issue of displaced persons from Syria”.

Mikati, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) said that they did not want the country to become “an alternative homeland”, for the Syrian displaced, urging the European Union to find an immediate and radical solution to this predicament.

He also said, among other things, that they devoted the largest part of the meeting to the issue of the Syrian displaced on Lebanese territory as well as to the cooperation between Lebanon, Cyprus, and the EU to address this issue “and its direct and indirect repercussions.”

In Beirut, they were received by Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and then headed to a private trilateral meeting, which would be followed by expanded talks between the delegations of the three parties.

Commenting later in the day about the funds, EU Commission spokesman Peter Stano said that three quarters of the €1 billion in EU aid for Lebanon will be spent on addressing the effects of the Syrian civil war, and a quarter on strengthening the country’s security.

As Stano explained, the €1 billion package is for grants (not loans), of which “about three quarters, i.e. €736 million, will be to support Lebanon in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis and all that Lebanon has to face as a consequence of the Syrian crisis”, while the rest of the money “i.e. €264 million will be for bilateral cooperation under the NDI (Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument), in particular to support the country’s security services, the Lebanese army and so on”.

Government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said earlier in the day that the main objective of the visit was to provide political and economic support to Lebanon from the EU, to discuss the challenges facing the country and regional developments, the effective management of migration and the implementation of the necessary reforms by Lebanon to promote the stability and prosperity of the country.

“The president of the European Commission will present an Economic Support Package for Lebanon, the implementation of which was an initiative of President Christodoulides and the Republic of Cyprus and is a practical demonstration of the active role that the EU can play in the region,” he said.