As unpredictability continues to blight Lebanon and its neighborhood, the EU responds.

Bernardino Leon
EU Special Representative (EUSR)
Southern Mediterranean region
Andreas Reinicke
EU Special Representative
Middle East Peace Process

In the wake of the Arab Spring, what is the importance of the Middle East Peace Process for Lebanon and the broader region?

ANDREAS REINICKE The process of transformation prompted by the Arab Spring is leading toward important democratic gains. Checks and balances necessary to build democracy are progressively being introduced. Setbacks will be part of the process. It is in the fundamental interest of the EU to support peace and democracy in the entire region, and help end the Middle East conflict, notably the Israeli-Palestinian one, which will continue to undermine peace and security along the EU's southern borders, as long as it remains unresolved.

BERNARDINO LEON The Southern Mediterranean region is facing challenging and turbulent times. The conflict in Syria threatens regional stability and affects Lebanon heavily through the substantial refugee inflow and cross-border skirmishes. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a destabilizer and the aftermath of the Arab Spring has taken unexpected and challenging turns. The recent violent developments in Egypt and the deteriorating security situation in Libya are of great concern. Political instability, polarization, and sectarian violence remain threats to economic prosperity and the return of the much needed investment and tourism to the region.

Is an Israeli-Lebanese peace possible?

AR There is no question in my mind that an Israeli-Lebanese peace is not only possible, but essential for the long-term security and prosperity of both peoples, and I would add it is something that is in the interests of the EU itself—we are, after all, Lebanon and Israel's close neighbors. But, I have no illusions that it will be easy either on a technical or on an emotional level. The process will take time and the on going violence in Syria can only complicate the issue. Nevertheless, whilst the two countries move toward a comprehensive peace deal, it is imperative that a permanent ceasefire is in place along the Blue Line and all sides are committed to the full implementation of all their international obligations, including UNSC 1701.

How is the EU addressing the fallout of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon?

BL The EU is the largest donor in efforts to mitigate the consequences of the Syrian refugee crisis on Lebanon, the country most affected by the conflict. The high number of refugees—more than 25% of the total population—is a serious challenge. The refugee population has humanitarian but also political, security, and socio-economic consequences affecting the delicate political and sectarian balance. We address the development needs of both the Lebanese host communities and the Syrian refugee population, beyond the immediate, humanitarian needs. Among real steps taken so far, the European Commission has allocated €153.3 million to the response in Lebanon. Of these funds, €85 million has already been contracted to reinforce the capacities of the Lebanese authorities and organizations in dealing with the crisis.

What is the role of Lebanon in the defense of stability in the region?

AR Lebanon has throughout its history been a key element in determining the stability of the region and has, all too often, paid a high price for this. The presence of the Lebanese diaspora throughout the region adds an extra dimension that few other countries can match. In regard to the ongoing violence in Syria, the EU has been clear on its commitment to the unity, stability, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Lebanon. It is of great importance that Lebanon continues its efforts to avoid the spill over of violence from neighboring Syria, and we can only commend both the Lebanese authorities and the Lebanese population for the support they have provided to the people fleeing the appalling violence in Syria.

What is your outlook for trade between the EU and Lebanon in 2013?

BL Lebanon's economy is based on competition and private ownership. Services and banking sectors represent a huge 70% of the country's gross national product. Agriculture constitutes 10% and the industrial sector constitutes the remaining 20%. Many sectors such as services, tourism, financial services, construction, industry, energy, and agriculture have enormous potential for development. Eventually the Syrian civil war will end, at which point Lebanon would become a natural base for the rebuilding effort.