Why the EU gave Lebanon access to 20 member-only programs

The European Union decided last week to grant Lebanon access to 20 programs for member countries. A new protocol was signed last Monday in Brussels by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil at the Seventh EU-Lebanon Association Council.  

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry did not disclose details of the protocol, but according to diplomatic sources in Brussels the protocol paves the way for Lebanon to participate in vast EU agencies and programs such as research program Horizon 2020; small and medium enterprises program COSME; culture and media program Creative Europe; and LIFE, the environmental program.

“The opening-up of EU programs and EU agencies forms one of the means of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) to support reform and modernisation in the partner countries, to support administrative and regulatory convergence, and to promote the transfer of EU standards and best practices,” Mogherini told NOW. Lebanon is the 10th country to sign this type of protocol with the EU.  

An older partnership, little progress

Lebanon has had an association agreement with the EU since 2006. The country benefits from EU financial assistance and received EUR 50 million per year from the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). The EU policy was replaced by the European Neighborhood Policy last year, a program with a total budget of over EUR 15 billion. The new policy is very good news for Lebanon: the country has received EUR 180 million from the EU, almost four times the sum of recent years. The EU announced another EUR 37 million in humanitarian aid for Beirut at the beginning of February

The EU Neighborhood is based on a “more-for-more” principle: the EU develops partnerships with countries that prove good will and make efforts in democratic governance and develop according to EU principles.

That is why EU diplomats were surprised to hear of the new protocol signed last week with Lebanon, diplomatic sources told NOW. Most countries go through many evaluations and decades of negotiations before signing such agreements with Brussels.

Moreover, according to the latest EU report, Lebanon has made little progress towards a functioning democracy: negotiations for a new electoral law failed, the Parliament only met a few times, there were limitations of freedom of expression, the judiciary is not fully independent, military courts are used to try civilian cases, security and law enforcement sectors need structural reforms, there are no national mechanisms to prevent torture, and no developments in the abolition of the death penalty.

A sense of urgency in the Syrian crisis

Julien Barnes Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations Middle East & North Africa program, told NOW that “the key driver from the EU perspective is the desire to contain the security, political, and humanitarian crises that derive from the Syrian war.” He also said that immigration is also a part of the equation. “Clearly the EU is not doing much on the refugee front and the way it manages this crisis is to support the host countries,” he said.

The resettlement of the Syrian refugees knocking at the EU’s door has sparked many debates on the continent. Only about four percent of the Syrian refugees have reachedEurope. By mid-2014, European countries, apart from Germany, had agreed to admit only about 6,000 refugees from Syria through resettlement and humanitarian admission programs. Despite appeals by the UNHCR, EU countries have not opened their doors.

At the same time, Lebanon is host to an estimated 2 million Syrian refugees. The country is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees while dealing with its own political instability. Moreover, the security situation has worsened in the past two years because of Lebanon’s porous borders and deficient security agencies, which have contributed to the rise of radical groups. Lebanon has seen 24 bombings in the past four years, continuous fighting in Tripoli and, more recently, in the eastern Bekaa Valley region of Arsal. 

Lebanese government officials decided last year to curb the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon by refusing to renew visas and by closing the borders to Palestinian refugees from Syria. In January 2015, the Lebanese government imposed visa requirements for Syrians. The number of Syrians entering Lebanon has dropped by almost 44%, according to Ninette Kelley, United Nations high commissioner for refugees representative to Lebanon.

It is refugees already present in the country, however, that have motivated most government officials’ complaints of lack of funds with which to accommodate the huge number of displaced people. Among the politicians who opposed most measures to accommodate the refugees in Lebanon was Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil himself. His stances chilled relations with the UNHCR in Lebanon, having said in November 2014: “We are entering a new phase, where cooperation will be according to Lebanon’s policies, and not according to what others decide. Lebanon is the side that decides and makes its policies, and the others have to adapt to them.”

Access to EU money requires transparency 

According to the newly-signed protocol, Lebanon can participate in programs and the country’s representatives can also participate as observers in the decision-making process in the EU agencies. Lebanon is also obliged to contribute financially to the EU programs in order get access, and, if the country receives funds for projects, the government agencies have to work transparently and accept financial control and audits, administrative measures, penalties and recovery measures. Lebanese institutions also have to grant the European Commission, the European Anti-Fraud Office, and the European Court of Auditors powers equivalent to their powers with regard to beneficiaries or contractors established in the Union.

Further conditions Lebanon’s use of external assistance from the EU will be determined in a financing agreement later on. Moreover, the European Commission will have to sign agreements with Lebanese ministries and agencies on what kind of contributions Lebanon should pay to the EU programs as well as on evaluation procedures.

An EU diplomat told NOW on condition of anonymity that the protocol raised some eyebrows among the diplomats familiar with the Lebanese institutions. “It is obvious that the Syrian crisis has led to this and that Brussels wants to strengthen Lebanon in order to bear the burden of the refugees it’s hosting,” the diplomat said. “But it’s also a matter of reliability. The EU can offer Lebanon help; Lebanon can have access to these EU programs. But Brussels also needs to know how the money they give away gets spent. If they can’t have access to how the funds were spent, the money is not going to come.”

 

Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609.

 

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