Speech by the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs on the occasion of the “A Humanitarian Ship for Lebanon” campaign (Marseille, 25 August 2020) - Extracts


Speech by the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs on the occasion of the “A Humanitarian Ship for Lebanon” campaign (Marseille, 25 August 2020) - Extracts


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In these times, we are often reminded of a remark by General de Gaulle in Beirut in July 1941: the heart of the people of Lebanon has always beaten to the pulse of France’s heart.

And I if may paraphrase, I could today say that the heart of Marseille beats to the pulse of the people of Lebanon.

Thanks to your initiative, dear Tanya, the initiative of the CMA CGM Foundation, and thanks to your determination, dear Rodolphe, and above all, Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks to your cooperation, and a short time ago I heard Ms Vassal rightly say thanks to extensive cooperation among elected representatives, between them and NGOs, between NGOs and businesses, to provide this physical, material, identifiable support to the people of Lebanon.

And I want to emphasize “the people of Lebanon” because we are particularly concerned, as are you, and we will take extreme care to make sure that these donations, these goods, which will shortly arrive in Beirut, indeed go to those most in need of them and the services of the French Embassy in Beirut are responsible for ensuring they arrive where they are supposed to.

I would also like to take this opportunity, beyond the Mediterranean, to commend all our teams from the Quai d’Orsay who are over there and have worked with such dedication, and to commend also, Mr Director, the work of the Crisis and Support Centre which has been extremely effective over this period. As you see, being in Marseille also gives me the chance to thank my own colleagues but such opportunities should be taken.

Dear Rodolphe, a few days ago, we were in Beirut with the President of the French Republic. The President plans to return there shortly. And we saw the scale of the disaster for ourselves: 186 deaths, 6,000 injured, hospitals destroyed, a population in disbelief, people not knowing even where to begin with the essential rebuilding. And also a lot of expectations and hope with regard to France. And France must take action because it has always done so in Lebanon, especially at the most difficult times. And today, there is a major humanitarian emergency comprised of four types of further emergencies.

First, an immediate health emergency and the convoy and boat will partly solve this problem. There is an immediate health emergency due to the injuries that I have mentioned. And also due to the pandemic which is quickly spreading in their fragile territory, to the extent that Lebanon has now reinstated confinement. Can you imagine, first the explosion and then confinement once again. And so moral support is also required, and that is what this ship will bring.

There is a food emergency. And the donations which some of you have made, some of the actors here today, will allow us to partly address it.

There is an educational emergency, and while this is not the goal of the ship for Lebanon, we are aware of the scale of the issue. As I believe you already know, because there is a large Lebanese community here in Marseille and the Mayor of Marseille recalled the history of relations between Marseille and Beirut, but imagine that almost 20% of students in French schools all over the world are in Lebanon. And Lebanon plays a significant role in Francophonie and educational renewal is essential and in this regard we have allocated the necessary emergency funding to enable schools to reopen. Quite simply because when schools reopen, hope is restored.

And finally, a rebuilding emergency. Looking at the state of the port, the houses, the surrounding buildings, the CMA-CGM headquarters near the port, we can see the scale of the rebuilding work needed.

So this is a global humanitarian emergency comprising a health, food, educational and rebuilding emergency. This is France’s focus. And your contribution is essential. And that is why the President of the French Republic, in partnership with the United Nations, wanted to organize an international donors’ conference when he returned from Beirut in early August, which raised €250 million for rebuilding. It is a humanitarian emergency.

But beyond that, there is a political emergency. I say it here, but I also, Madam Consul, say it to the Lebanese people. Despite the gravity of the situation, we must not allow the humanitarian emergency to overshadow the political emergency, we must not say “We’ll rebuild, we’ll do everything necessary, but we’ll forget the rest.” No! And France is aware of the gravity of this political, social and economic crisis — half of the population lives below the poverty line — liquidities are lacking, there is an energy crisis, there are questions about the future governance of the country. So even before the explosion, it was a country on the brink of distress. And we must not forget that, after the explosion, despite the efforts of the international community, these issues were already on the table, and we must honour this difficulty to enable the formation of a government of projects which, we hope, will allow the people of Lebanon to once more be ready to make history.

These were the two points I wanted to highlight, welcoming the mobilization of Marseille, the solidarity which was on display and this ship which I will no doubt be able to see in Beirut in a few days, when I once again accompany the President of the French Republic. And then, to see a time of hope appear, as Madam Mayor was saying a few moments ago, may this ship be a sign of new hope, which is also my wish. And I say to the President of the Southern Region that naturally, like every year, I will honour the meeting on the Mediterranean, to which he has invited me and which this year will have a flavour of Lebanon, both in terms of solidary and hope.

Thank you very much.

Remarks to the press by the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (Marseille, 25 August 2020) - Extracts

Q – What is your feeling as this boat leaves?

A – I see a great gesture of solidarity from Marseille’s community, reaching out to Lebanon. It is thanks to the work of the CMA-CGM foundation, Tanya Saadé and Rodolphe Saadé, no doubt. I also see the cooperation that has taken form, between local government – the region, the department and the city – and NGOs and businesses. This coordination was facilitated by the presence of a Lebanese community in Marseille, and the shared history of Marseille and Beirut. The disaster caused particularly strong feelings here, with an emotional solidarity that was clear earlier in the words of the speakers.

So I have come to show France’s support for this initiative. 2,500 tons of health and food goods, and for the reconstruction of buildings and homes. 2,500 tons that come on top of the thousand tons already deployed via a genuine air bridge, or sea bridge, seeing as this is the third boat to leave. Before this, there were two military ships, and eight cargo flights, showing France’s commitment to Lebanon and the desire to help gradually relieve the distress the Lebanese people are currently facing, as best we can. And we are taking care to ensure these goods really reach those they are for: the Lebanese people who are currently suffering.

Q – There is a political message that you have touched on. Because this ship also represents France’s political message?

A – France is always there when Lebanon is in difficulty. France has never failed Lebanon. Lebanon has never failed France. But today, there are two emergencies for Lebanon. First, the humanitarian emergency: France – not just France, the international community; but France as a leader because of our history – is trying to respond. And this boat is part of that response. And the President of the Republic and I will return to Beirut in the coming days, to see the boat has arrived and so that these goods are being put to good use. That is urgent, and essential. That is the immediate emergency, with no strings attached; we need to bring on board all partners, including European partners following the international conference convened by the President of the Republic a few days ago which raised €250 million for Lebanon’s reconstruction.

That is imperative. But we must not forget the political emergency, the structural emergency, which existed before the disaster. The disaster should not be an excuse to hide this reality which existed before. I was in Beirut in July. The reality that existed before, was that of a country on the brink. A country where half the population live below the poverty line. A country where young people have no hope. A country that may lack cash tomorrow. And a country that cannot reform itself. And so we want this moment to be the moment, the consciousness that enables Lebanese authorities, Lebanese leaders, to take the necessary steps for a government of projects to undertake the essential reforms that everyone knows. We have known for two years that the Bank of Lebanon needs an audit, that the public procurement needs an overhaul, that the electricity supply system needs reform, and that new management methods are needed.

All that is well-known and there have already been discussions between the International Monetary Fund and the Lebanese authorities, but no progress. So now that consciousness needs to bring effects. That is what the President of the Republic told Lebanese political leaders a few days ago, and will say again when he returns to Lebanon soon.

Q – Do you not precisely have the feeling that this government of projects is taking a long time to set up and the old habits are returning… Do you think the government might be in place by Mr Macron’s next visit?

A – We would like that, but the purpose of these steps is not to answer to France: it is to answer to the Lebanese people. Because the Lebanese people were out in the streets in October last year. Well before the disaster. To demonstrate and send a message to political leaders. And that healthy anger is still there. It has to be taken into consideration.

Q – Are you pessimistic about the future?

A – I think there is a consciousness. And we are ready to help. But we cannot stand in for Lebanon’s leaders.

Q – You will soon be leaving for Lebanon. Do you think your message, the message of the President, has been heard? Nothing is happening for the moment. What can be done?

A – It is up to the Lebanese to shoulder responsibilities themselves. We cannot stand in for them. But everyone knows that if the future government of projects decides to undertake reforms that were already proposed by the previous government, and if this government of project, I repeat myself, undertakes these reforms, then the international community, and France first and foremost, will welcome this effort and will.


Find out more about the operation A Ship For Lebanon