Exclusive: France creates a reform roadmap for a Lebanon in crisis

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron has created a roadmap for Lebanese politicians outlining the political and financial reforms needed to unlock foreign aid and save the country from multiple crises, including an economic crisis, according to a document consulted by Reuters.

A member of the French army wears a face mask as he stands near damaged grain elevators in a joint effort with the Lebanese military to clear rubble from the port of Beirut following the blast, as part of a tour organized for media and journalists in Beirut, Lebanon August 26, 2020. REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir

The two-page “concept paper” was handed over by the French ambassador to Beirut, a Lebanese political source said. A diplomatic source at Macron’s office at the Elysee Palace said no documents had been handed over to the Lebanese parties. An official from the French Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

The necessary measures include an audit of the central bank, the appointment of an interim government capable of enacting urgent reforms and early parliamentary elections within a year.

The now interim Lebanese government, which took office in January with the backing of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies, has not made progress in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout due inaction on reforms and a dispute over the size of the financial losses.

The government resigned following the massive explosion at Beirut’s port this month that killed at least 180 people, injured around 6,000 and destroyed entire neighborhoods, and renewed protests against a political elite for rampant corruption and mismanagement which led to a deep financial crisis.

“The priority must go to the rapid formation of a government, to avoid a power vacuum which will let Lebanon sink further into the crisis”, one reads in the French newspaper.

It lists four areas requiring immediate attention: humanitarian aid and the authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic; reconstruction after the explosion of 4 August; political and economic reforms and early parliamentary election.

He also called for progress in talks with the IMF and for UN control of international humanitarian funds pledged to Lebanon in recent weeks, as well as an impartial investigation into the cause of the explosion of vast quantities of materials. highly explosive stored in an unsecured manner in the port for years.

Macron visited Beirut shortly after the explosion and made it clear that no blank checks would be handed over to the Lebanese state if it did not pass reforms against waste, corruption and neglect.

Since then, he has had several phone calls with key political leaders as part of the country’s sectarian power-sharing system, a Lebanese political source said. Macron is due to return to Beirut on September 1.

Political rivalries and factional interests prevented the formation of a new government capable of tackling the financial crisis that devastated the currency, crippled the banking system and spread poverty.

The French concept paper stresses the need for an immediate and comprehensive audit of state finances and reform of the electricity sector, which is draining public funds while not providing enough electricity.

Parliament should enact the laws necessary to effect the change in the interim period, he said. “The factions must commit to voting on the key actions the new government will take in the coming months.”

The roadmap could deepen France’s role in Lebanon, a former French colony.

The document says that Paris will play a major role in rebuilding the Port of Beirut, boost healthcare, send teams from its treasury and central bank to support the financial audit, and help organize the early parliamentary vote, with the European Union.

Report by Laila Bassam in Beirut; Additional reporting by John Irish and Elizabeth Pinneau in Paris; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Matthew Lewis

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