Europe’s Southern Neighbourhood plays a fundamental role in the European Union’s foreign policy decisions, and some of its countries represent major diplomatic challenges for our diplomacy. The European Parliament and its delegations play an important role in strengthening bilateral relations with these countries and on the follow-up of the EU’s projects.
At the beginning of November, as the Chair of the European Parliament delegation for the relations with the Mashreq countries, I led a group of MEPs that visited Lebanon and Jordan.
The first part of the mission was spent in Lebanon, one of the most troubled countries in the entire world; recently, the World Bank declared the Lebanese crisis as “possibly in the top three of the most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century”.
“Lebanon, which was once considered the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’, now faces a dire situation”
Centred around the 14th EU-Lebanon Inter-parliamentary Meeting, during the visit to Beirut we held meetings with key political figures. These focused on the 2022 elections, the need for reforms, the investigation into the Beirut Port blast, the situation of refugees in the country and the role of civil society.
The programme also included meetings with civil society representatives, families of the victims of the Beirut Port blast and social entrepreneurs funded by the EU. This gave us a comprehensive overview of the causes and consequences of the crisis.
Lebanon, which was once considered the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’, now faces a dire situation. Over the last few years, a crisis has erupted in the lives of the Lebanese people. Most of the population only has electricity for two hours a day and the Lebanese Pound has fallen in value by more than 90 percent.
From our talks with different actors in the country, one thing stood out. The current political system based on the confessional model does not work and creates constant obstacles to the functioning of the country.
It is extremely important that the country finds a formula that allows for the discontinuation of the controversial quota-based regime. Lebanese political actors must understand, once and for all, that there is no further room for failure. There needs to be a full commitment from everyone to rebuilding the country. The solution for Lebanon must come from within.
The EU and its Member States have mobilised €24bn since 2011 to help Lebanon, and last year alone the EU contributed €55.5m in humanitarian aid. However, it cannot continue with this level of support without a recovery plan for the country. It is important that an agreement is reached with the International Monetary Fund; based on such support, the EU can also participate.
What happened in the Beirut Port is just the most visible event in the accumulation of many things in a state cannibalised by corruption, impunity, and total disorder. The events surrounding the investigation into the explosion have very worrying signs of interference with the judiciary, which cannot be accepted.
This is a red line that cannot be crossed. The meeting with the families of the port explosion victims was dramatic; the emotional charge and the feeling of injustice that these people carry within themselves goes beyond the impact of the explosion and the loss of their relatives.
“The Kingdom of Jordan must progress towards a more inclusive society, in order to allow women and young people to engage actively and genuinely in the country’s political life”
Many members of civil society also expressed an enormous degree of distrust of the entire political system. Lebanon must find a way out. We cannot have another failed State in that region.
In Jordan, the ninth Inter-parliamentary Meeting between the European Parliament Delegation and the Jordanian Parliament focused on the country’s role in the region, its plans to modernise the political system, the situation of refugees and the role of civil society.
The increasingly socioeconomic hardship the country is experiencing must be emphasised. As well as dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are high levels of public debt, an extraordinary effort in welcoming and integrating an estimated 1.4 million Syrian refugees within a relatively small territory, in addition to the more than two million Palestinian refugees the country already hosts.
Understandably, such an influx is overburdening the country’s education system, its healthcare services and its labour market, however it is essential that the refugee population are granted both equal rights and equal treatment in all of these sectors.
The Kingdom of Jordan must progress towards a more inclusive society, in order to allow women and young people to engage actively and genuinely in the country’s political life. This will also ensure that civil society has the space it needs to allow it to play a role in the construction of a modern, healthy and open democracy.
Jordan’s role in the region is pivotal. The country has consolidated itself as an island of stability in a highly volatile neighbourhood; this is how it must be kept, with the European Union’s continuing support.