Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus

It has been less than a month since my last visit to Lebanon and today I am pleased and privileged to visit Beirut once again; this time together with the President of the European Commission.

At the outset, I would like to thank Prime Minister Mikati for the warmth of his hospitality. Lebanon is Cyprus’ geographically closest neighbour and we share traditionally very warm and very friendly bilateral relations. Being here today feels like being home.

I am honoured to be part of this historic day. I feel very pleased that, following relevant consultations, I am here together with the President of the European Commission for the announcement of a comprehensive support package for Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

The package includes, inter alia, assistance for developing various programmes for the Lebanese people, for the Lebanese Armed Forces, for the Lebanese Security, anti-smuggling actions, border control and management, support for Lebanon’s economy and many more.

I am very confident that this package announced today will help enhance the capacity of the Lebanese authorities to handle various challenges including controlling land and maritime borders, ensuring the safety of its citizens, fight against people smuggling, and continue their fight against terrorism.

Dear Ursula, I would also like to thank you for your leadership. Your foresight and decisive action were very crucial in making sure that this package would become a reality and that it would be announced swiftly as developments in the region, in our neighbourhood, made it very time-sensitive for the EU to respond. So, thank you very much.

Let me be clear. Today’s visit and announcements are not only very important in terms of substance. They are also very important in terms of symbolism. Today – Ursula is the first President of the European Commission to visit Lebanon – the EU clearly states that it is actively present and that it will continue to be at the side of Lebanon.

Today, we are taking an important step in making Lebanon stronger. We are also taking an important step in further strengthening the bond between the EU and Lebanon, so that we can better address joint challenges. Cyprus, and myself personally, have been one of the strongest proponents for further enhancing the EU-Lebanon relationship, and today I am very glad that it is substantially moving forward.

Due to its geographical proximity to the region, our flight here was approximately 25 minutes, Cyprus has a deeper understanding of the issues and the challenges that Lebanon is facing. Their reverberations also directly affect Cyprus as well as the EU.

The longstanding conflict in Syria has increasingly negative effects on Lebanon and its people. While we commend the Lebanese Government for hosting a large number of Syrian refugees for more than 12 years, we are also fully cognisant of the enormous pressures that this creates to your economy and society. I want to assure you that Lebanon’s efforts are not taken for granted. I also want to assure you that I am aware that we cannot continue this business as usual. This longstanding issue needs to be effectively, decisively and comprehensively addressed.

Let me be clear. The current situation is not sustainable for Lebanon and it is not sustainable for Cyprus, it is not sustainable for the EU. It has not been sustainable for years, but developments especially in these recent months force us to seek immediate solutions.

We need to work closer and in much greater extent with our partners and the UNHCR in discussing the issue of voluntary returns and not only. The situation in certain regions of Syria should be examined.

On this historic day, it is also important to recognise that the current status quo is unsustainable and that peace, stability and prosperity in Lebanon will only come if we all fulfil our commitments.
In this context, I underline the importance of actively engaging to potentially restart the discussions for the conclusion of the Partnership Priorities between the European Union and Lebanon; to facilitate cooperation at operational and technical level between Lebanon and Frontex; to implement the necessary and thorough reforms in line with IMF requests and to also address issues of accountability. Even more importantly, Cyprus will continue to be supportive of Lebanon’s efforts to elect a new President, a development that will represent an enormous political and symbolic message of change and of moving forward. I am sure that Lebanon will do its part and we will do our own.

A more peaceful, a more stable, a more prosperous Lebanon is essential for the whole of Eastern Mediterranean, our immediate neighbourhood and the EU itself.

I am a true believer of Lebanon and the limitless potential of its people. Lebanon and Cyprus have historically supported each other to navigate difficult and turbulent times in our region and I am sure that we are going to do this again. Together.

It is up to all of us to make today, a day of a new, hopeful, and very promising beginning. A day that Lebanon will decisively start heading towards a brighter future. And for this you can rely on the EU, you can rely personally on Usrula and on your neighbours.