|Lebanon - Lebanon prepared for full EU support|
|Ferrero-Waldner: 'it is about time we open a new page'
The European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner said yesterday that Lebanon is ready for the European Union's full support.
Ferrero-Waldner was speaking during a meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other Lebanese officials, during her two-day visit to Lebanon which comes as a show of the EU's support for Lebanon's reform programs and to build stronger relations between the EU and Lebanon.
"It is about time we open a new page between the EU and Lebanon," said Waldner after her meeting with Siniora at the Grand Serail.
"I believe the Lebanese people have shown they want change, not just through the street but also through elections. So I believe it is the perfect time to say yes to constitutional, electoral, economic and political reform programs that will be backed by us, the EU," said Waldner who is on her first visit here.
Waldner already met Siniora two weeks ago in New York during the Middle East "Quartet" meeting, which British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov also attended.
At the aid conference in the U.S., Siniora received full international support but came under heavy domestic fire from officials fearing the compromises that may have to be made in exchange.
Waldner announced that a special commission dedicated to setting "the right priorities for Lebanon," will be arriving in Lebanon mid October as a "chance of deeper cooperation between EU and Lebanon."
The EU commission has put forward a new reform support program of 10 million euros, part of the 100.7 million euros already committed from the EU community budget for the period 2000-2006. The EU is one of Lebanon's leading donors.
When asked if the EU would help Lebanon in combating political and media assassination attempts, Waldner said that the EU "will study carefully what Lebanon needs," and that may include the security issue, "but our current focus is economic, political and judiciary reforms."
Waldner is also scheduled to meet today with Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, Economy Minister Sami Haddad and Finance Minister Jihad Azour.
span class="verdana9">A new chapter in EU Lebanese cooperation
What a year it has been for Lebanon. People, who had never before dreamed of demonstrating, took to the streets to demand change. They sent their message again through the ballot box, calling for sovereignty, and democracy.
The will of the people has brought Lebanon to a crossroads - that I hope will lead to a brighter future.
It is time for Lebanon to rediscover its true potential. Time was - and not so very long ago - that Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Middle East.
Events over recent decades put progress into reverse gear. But now there is a new chance and the European Union is determined to help Lebanon to seize it.
This week I will visit Lebanon to show how the EU can help Lebanon take its next steps to a free, secure and prosperous future.
The European Union enjoys longstanding and warm relations with Lebanon. One recent opinion poll showed that 70 percent of Lebanese people consider Europe an essential political ally. A good base to build on!
During my visit, my goal will be to take our relationship to another level, by supporting the Lebanese government's own reform program.
The Lebanese government's program of reform is an important act of self-renewal for the country. I look forward to seeing its proposals translated into concrete action.
We very much welcome that reform of the electoral framework is high on the government's agenda. The first very constructive move was the invitation to the EU to observe the recent elections.
Our European Union Election Observation Mission, headed by the Member of the European Parliament Jose Ignacio Salafranca, had important recommendations for the future, which I hope will prove useful, and the European Commission is ready to support the new group of Lebanese national experts who have been charged with drafting a new election law.
The EU has a very special capacity to help Lebanon at this important moment - through what is known as the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). This is a unique agreement made between the European Union and its neighbors, which offers progressive integration with the EU as well as substantial economic and social benefits to countries that border the Union.
So, the chief purpose of my visit to Beirut is to open a new chapter in our cooperation with Lebanon.
I will be launching the preparations for the negotiation of an action plan in which the EU and Lebanon will agree together on common objectives for the next few years. This is crucial first step to open up to Lebanon the full benefits of the ENP.
The action plan will be tailored to Lebanon's specific interests and needs.
It can contain detailed measures to help the country participate in the EU's Single Market. In the future, I would like to see Lebanese manufacturers, farmers, service-providers and others being able to compete with their EU counterparts in areas previously inaccessible to them.
We can also work toward a free-trade area in certain goods and products.
Lebanon can benefit from the European Commission's expertise in helping others build up and strengthen their political and national institutions to improve governance, human rights, rule of law, and democratic standards.
Lebanon will tell us where it sees the greatest value in cooperation in fields as diverse as transport, energy, research, education, and culture.
It is good to see that EU-Lebanon relations figure prominently in the new government's program.
Because the EU is uniquely placed to support the country fulfill its own political and economic aspirations. We will play our part in supporting you, not only in the rich partnership that I have described above, but also as a member of the international core group of Lebanon's supporters.
This is a truly historic time for Lebanon. And the moment is ripe for Lebanon to take advantage of a deeper relationship with Europe.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, begins her first visit to Lebanon today.
Beirut,10 03 2005
The Daily Star