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EC supports free and fair elections in Lebanon

The European Commission supports free and fair elections in Lebanon without any interference

European Parliament Plenary Session
Strasbourg, 8 March 2005

Mr President, Honourable Members,

On behalf of my colleague Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, responsible for External Relations and the European Neighbourhood Policy, I am pleased to have this opportunity to talk to you about the situation in Lebanon.

We were shocked and saddened by the atrocious terrorist attack in Beirut on 14 February that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and many other people. Over a hundred were seriously wounded. This was the most devastating attack in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Mr Hariri was one of the main architects of the 1989 Taëf Agreement that brought an end to civil war in Lebanon. A promoter of the reconstruction of his war-torn country, he became a symbol for peace and reconciliation, based on a delicate balance of power among the country’s 18 different religious communities.

Mr Hariri was a friend of Europe. We worked closely with him and his government. During his term, negotiations on an Association Agreement were successfully concluded and an Interim Agreement on trade entered into force in March 2003. Mr Hariri also gave strong to support to dialogue on European Neighbourhood Policy, in which Lebanon is included.

Mr President, Honourable Members,

In these last weeks since Mr Hariri’s death, thousands of demonstrators have defied a government ban by protesting against Syria’s military presence in Lebanon. In the face of relentless pressure over the murder of Mr Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami and his government resigned on 28 February during a special parliamentary debate held to discuss the political situation following Mr Hariri’s death.

Mr President, Honourable Members,

The next few weeks will be crucial for the country. It is important for the Lebanese parliamentary elections to take place as planned in May. The Commission hopes that in the period ahead the situation will remain calm and that channels of dialogue between the different political groups will remain open.

The elections should be held in accordance with a free and fair electoral process, without any foreign interference or influence, and under the sovereign control of the Lebanese authorities.

The elections should become a milestone in Lebanon’s return to full independence and sovereignty. Together with other partners, the EU will remain vigilant as to the conditions under which these elections will be held, and we will make our views known to the Lebanese.

The Commission is looking at how it can help ensure elections take place under the right conditions. We are examining the possibility of providing concrete election support, such as voter education and training of domestic observers. The Commission intends to send a technical mission to Lebanon very soon to assess what can be done. Moreover, we do not exclude possible EU election observation should the Government of Lebanon extend an invitation to the EU.

Mr President, Honourable Members,

The EU attaches the utmost importance to the full implementation by all parties of UNSCR 1559[1], whose objectives we strongly support: free and fair elections without foreign interference; withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon; disbanding and disarmament of all militias; and government control of all Lebanese territory. Many of these demands have been conveyed in core messages from the EU to Lebanon over the years. The EU also fully supports the work of the UN Secretary-General. We are looking forward to his report on progress towards meeting the objectives of UNSCR 1559 in the beginning of April.

Mr President, Honourable Members,

The Commission is, at the same time, developing increasingly closer relations with Lebanon in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy. On 2 March the Commission presented a country report on Lebanon[2] which provides a comprehensive overview of the political, economic and institutional situation and the state of Lebanon’s relations with the European Union.

This report will provide the basis for work on an ENP Action Plan, which will include important priorities such as closer political dialogue and reinforced cooperation across a wide range of areas. For Lebanon, as for the other partner countries, progress under the European Neighbourhood Policy will reflect their own efforts, and their own successes – of course with the active support of the Union.

To take account of the recent political developments in Lebanon, the Commission has recommended that the timing of the next stage of our work, consultations with the Lebanese authorities on the Action Plans, be influenced by the evolution of the situation in the country as it is clear we will need to see how matters develop before moving ahead.

At the same time, we are proceeding with our discussions with the Parliament and Council on the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) which would allow us, from 2007 onwards, to match the ambitions of the policy with appropriate financial resources. We hope to have a result before the end of this year, which will allow us to begin programming already for 2007.

Mr President, Honourable Members,

The Commission will continue to support reform efforts and democracy in Lebanon, through the Association Agreement and in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy. I am sure the European Parliament will be our staunchest ally in supporting these efforts.

Thank you for your attention.

[1] UNSCR 1559 was adopted on 2 September 2004
[2] Country reports were also adopted for Egypt, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

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