The European Union’s top diplomat has castigated Lebanese politicians for delays in forming a new cabinet after mass resignations in the wake of the Beirut Port explosion last August.
Josep Borrell, the EU”s high representative for foreign affairs, met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Saturday during a two-day visit to the country.
He warned the EU could impose sanctions on those behind the political stalemate in Lebanon, which is currently racked by economic and political turmoil.
Speaking at the presidential palace near the capital, Beirut, Borrell said the turbulent situation in Lebanon was “self-imposed”.
“It’s not a crisis coming from abroad or from external factors,” he said. “It’s a homemade crisis, it’s a crisis done by yourselves and the consequences [for] the population are dire: a 40% unemployment rate, and more than half the population living in poverty.
“The Lebanese leadership must take its responsibility and adopt the necessary measures without more delay. A government must be formed and key reforms implemented immediately.”
Borrell added that Lebanon needed to secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund to get itself out of imminent financial collapse. “There is no time to waste,” he said.
While the EU stood ready to assist, he said, if there was “further obstruction” the bloc would consider “other options, including targeted sanctions.”
“Of course, we prefer not to go down this road and we hope that we will not have to, but it is in the hands of the Lebanese leadership.”
Lebanon’s economic crisis was triggered by decades of corruption and mismanagement. It began in late 2019, accompanied by mass protests, and has intensified in recent months.
The World Bank said earlier this month that the crisis is likely to rank as one of the worst the world has seen in more than 150 years, adding that the Lebanese economy contracted by 20.3% in 2020 and is expected to shrink by a further 9.5% this year.
Lebanon defaulted on paying back its debt for the first time in March, while talks with the IMF on a bailout package stopped last year. The crisis has been the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war ended.
Simultaneously a power struggle has broken out between premier-designate Saad Hariri on one side, and Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who heads the largest group in parliament, on the other.
Hariri was named to form a new government in October but has not succeeded so far. The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after a massive blast at the Port of Beirut on August 4 last year, which killed 211 people and injured more than 6,000.