EU preparing to sanction Lebanese officials over political deadlock

EU preparing to sanction Lebanese officials over political deadlock
3 min read
13 May, 2021
France has repeatedly expressed its frustrations with Lebanon's ruling class.
Lebanon's speaker, president and PM-designate meet at Presidential Palace [AFP/Getty]

The European Union is preparing to impose sanctions on Lebanese politicians who are accused of obstructing the formation of a new government amid the country's worst-ever economic crisis.

EU officials told Reuters that sanctions are being drawn up and foreign ministers agreed on Monday to the proposals.

The EU wants to pressure Lebanese politicians to end a political stalemate and could do this by targetting their assets in Europe and enforcing travel bans. 

Opposition to the measures from Hungary could constitute a hurdle, which might force EU members to impose sanctions individually rather than as a unified bloc.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto met with former Lebanese minister and current party leader Gebran Bassil last month, who was blacklisted by the US Treasury Department in 2020 for alleged corruption.

If sanctions go ahead now, it would be the first time such steps have been taken against Lebanon by the EU.

France last month announced a ban on some Lebanese officials from entering the country, without giving names.

Many Lebanese politicians have bank accounts and properties in Europe. It is not clear whether those with dual citizenship would also be affected.

France, which is spearheading the proposed sanctions, has repeatedly warned Lebanese officials of procrastinating and prolonging the government vacuum.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Beirut last week in what local sources described as an "unsuccessful visit".

The minister sat with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and current Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri – all party leaders – and expressed his country’s deep regret and frustration with the current situation.

"To this day, my observation is that the political players have not lived up to their responsibilities and have still not seriously started working on the country's recovery," he said.

Lebanon's main leaders had promised French President Emmanuel Macron that a new cabinet would be formed and reforms enacted after he visited the country twice last year.

They failed to live up to these promises and continue to bicker over their share in any future government.

Talk of sanctions have been ongoing for months.

The current cabinet - led by Hassan Diab - resigned in August last year after the massive port explosion in Beirut which killed over 200 people and wounded thousands more.

With unprecedented levels of unemployment, a crumbling electricity sector, hyperinflation and shortages in essentials such as food and fuel - worsened by the global pandemic and the Beirut explosion - the Lebanese are reeling under harsh socioeconomic circumstances.

Lebanon’s sovereign debt is believed to be standing at around $90 billion. About half of that is a result of money spent on fuel for electricity.

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