Introductory remarks by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at his meeting with the press in Beirut (7 May 2021)


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

My brief visit to Beirut is coming to an end and I will be heading back to Paris in a few moments, but before I go, I’d like to give you an overview of this visit. First of all, I would like to remind you that France has always stood by the Lebanese people in prosperous times and in difficult times. On 6 August 2020, the French President reiterated this promise to the Lebanese. I was standing next to him. I’ve come to say it again, forcefully: France remains and will remain mobilized in the long run to support the Lebanese people.

Even before the tragedy of 4 August, France was already helping Lebanon cope with the crisis that had already hit the country. I’m well placed to know that, because I myself brought the international community together over Lebanon in December 2019. Since then, given the urgent nature of the situation, our mobilisation hasn’t weakened: quite the contrary. This mobilisation has benefited all the Lebanese in a very practical way.

France is delivering on its commitments. More than €85 million have already been pledged to Lebanon. In the four priority areas we identified, our promises have been kept: on reconstruction and the protection of heritage; on access to food; on support to the medical and health sector; and on support to schools and the educational sector. I was able to see this during my discussions with Lebanese people yesterday, and by observing the results of our support activities on the ground: at the Collège des Saints-Cœurs Sioufi; at a health centre in the Bourj Hammoud district; at the Oriental Library of Saint Joseph University; and of course at the port of Beirut.

France’s action is also part of a broader collective effort. Along with the United Nations, the President brought the international community together twice: on 9 August and then on 2 December,. €250 million in donations were announced: those pledges have been exceeded.

But after more than eight months of deadlock, it’s now clear that Lebanon needs a real modernisation of its political and institutional practices. The Lebanese society, in all its richness and diversity, is playing an active role to this end. To do so, it can draw on the tradition of democratic pluralism that makes this country strong.

That’s why we are also focusing on the future – and this is my second message. In the face of obstruction from the political parties, I’ve witnessed once again the vitality of the Lebanese civil society during this visit. It was those committed Lebanese people that I had come to visit: those working actively to protect Lebanon’s future, its model of society, its unity in diversity, the peaceful coexistence of its communities and cultures. That’s what creates Lebanon’s strength and special unity. In this respect, I believe our support to Lebanon’s schools is essential: that’s where this country’s future talent is being formed. It’s where this country’s cohesion takes root. In 2020, we supported more than 180,000 schools and some 90,000 pupils. And we decided to maintain and increase the fund for Middle Eastern schools, which once again this year should provide assistance of some €2 million to Lebanon’s French-speaking Christian schools.

Preparing the future also means counting on the strength and vitality of Lebanon’s democracy and the active efforts of all its citizens, particularly its young people, to enable the reaffirmation of a State capable of addressing its population’s legitimate needs and aspirations. In this regard, the elections in 2022 will be of major importance. I listened with great interest to several representatives of parties and movements intending to promote plans for different political models. Yesterday evening I also met some exceptional Lebanese women engaged in some tremendous mutually-supportive citizens’ initiatives.

And I must say that it’s for the Lebanese people, and them alone in full independence and sovereignty, to choose what they want for their country. I note that there are lots of ideas, lots of plans – an abundance of them. The 2022 elections must provide an opportunity for a genuine democratic debate on Lebanon’s future.

As a matter of fact, it’s urgent to overcome the political deadlock the country is in – and that’s my third message. I clearly expressed this need during my discussions with the President, the Speaker of Parliament, and the Prime Minister-designate, because they are institutionally responsible for agreeing on a government.

To date, I note that the political players haven’t yet shouldered their responsibilities and haven’t yet started working seriously on the country’s swift recovery. Unless they really step up responsibly today, they’ll have to accept the consequences of this failure, and the consequences of reneging on the commitments they themselves made to the French President on 1 September 2020.

In the meantime, we refuse to stand by in the face of obstruction – and I mean obstruction. So we’ve begun to implement restrictive measures in terms of access to the French territory on people responsible for the current political deadlock, and people involved in corruption. It’s only a start: if the stalemate persists, these measures may be toughened or extended. They may also be complemented with the means of pressure of the European Union. Discussions have already begun with our European partners. Everyone must shoulder their responsibilities: we’re shouldering ours; it’s for Lebanon’s leaders to decide whether they want to overcome the stalemate they’ve been organizing for more than eight months. I’m convinced it’s possible. It’s possible if they want to. They can act. It’s up to them to do so.

To conclude, I would like to remind you that if France is mobilised, it’s for the Lebanese people, all Lebanese people, so that they don’t lose faith in the possibility of a fair State and of effective governance. It’s for all Lebanese people, to support them in building a future whose shape they must define themselves. On several occasions, yesterday, I’ve met Lebanese citizens who have decided to take up this challenge, not only with courage but also with great dignity. It’s to them that I’ve come to deliver this essential message: France will be listening to them and will support their legitimate aspirations.