EU presses on with Lebanon sanctions despite Mikati PM nomination

Sanctions stay on the table until there is evidence of concrete reforms, say officials

Workers install a monument inside Beirut port as a remembrance for the victims of the August blast. EPA
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The EU is pushing ahead to finalise a package of sanctions on Lebanon despite Monday’s nomination of Najib Mikati as prime minister-designate, European diplomats have told The National.

Several officials told The National that, although they noted this week’s movement on forming a new Lebanese government, they were sceptical that Mr Mikati – a two-time former prime minister – can finalise an administration.

Lebanon needs a new government that could introduce the reforms required to stave off a wave of sanctions on the country's political class and unlock international financial support.

“Nothing has changed until we see concrete reforms. Mikati’s nomination is a still long way from that,” one European diplomat in Beirut said.

“It’s not a case of buying them time because the sanctions were never just about government formation – they were about blocking the reforms Lebanon desperately needs.

“Until the reform happens, sanctions stay on the table.”

Brussels has been working on a package of sanctions to punish those blocking government formation and vital structural reforms in Lebanon for months.

Germany and France have been leading the efforts.

“I can say that the objective is to complete this by the end of the month," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said earlier this month. "I am not talking about the implementation of the regime, just the building of the regime according to sound legal basis.”

The EU sanctions would include asset freezes and travel bans.

One European diplomat said that Mr Mikati would need to make sure his government formation efforts do not drag on.

“Mikati said himself he wants to be fast. He said he is not going to do the same as Saad Hariri. If in a few weeks nothing is done, then we will take that into account,” they said.

France is also working on its own unilateral measures. Last month, it introduced travel bans on several Lebanese political figures, although without publicising who had been targeted. Paris is also coordinating closely with the UK and US, which are both weighing up measures of their own.

The US placed sanctions on former foreign minister Gebran Bassil for corruption in November. This was widely interpreted as a warning to President Michel Aoun and other members of Lebanon's political class blocking government formation.

Lebanon has been in the hands of a caretaker government since August, when the cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned after the Beirut port explosion.

Former prime minister Saad Hariri was nominated to replace him, but was unable to agree a cabinet line-up with Mr Aoun despite nine months of negotiations. This left the country in a political morass amid an economic crisis described by the World Bank as Lebanon's worst in 150 years.

Last week, Mr Hariri admitted defeat and withdrew his name from consideration, prompting Lebanese MPs to vote in Mr Mikati as a replacement on Monday.

Updated: July 27, 2021, 7:42 PM