Speech on the occasion of Europe Day By Sandra De Waele, Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon

NNA – The following is a speech by the Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon, Sandra De Waele, on the occasion of Europe Day: ldquo;Your Excellency Fadi Alameh, representing the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon,
Your Excellency Bassam Mawlawi, representing the caretaker Prime Minister of Lebanon,
Distinguished Ministers, Members of Parliament, Senior Officials,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for being with us on this special occasion. We would have loved to celebrate Europe Day in the presence of all our partners and friends in the country, but celebration is not the order of the day, in this challenging context for Lebanon and the region.
I did however want to mark this day, and I believe it is particularly opportune to do so by reflecting on the peacebuilding project the European Union was, and remains. The European Union was formed after two brutal wars that claimed millions of victims and tore our continent apart. No one could have foreseen in 1945 that countries that sought to destroy each other would eventually form a strong economic and political union. And yet they did. The European peacebuilding project was born out of a strong determination to prevent war on our continent. nbsp;To make war quot;not merely unthinkable, but materially impossiblequot;, in the words of the Schuman Declaration.nbsp;

This project remains as relevant as ever today. It gives us hope that peace is attainable. Peace is also necessary, it is the foundation for a more prosper and stable future. In this corner of the world, the only viable solution that could bring peace to the Palestinians, security to the Israelis, and stability for the Middle East, is the two-state solution.

Over the past few months, we have followed closely the dramatic circumstances unfolding in Gaza and southern Lebanon, and have used every diplomatic channel to call for an end to the hostilities and to the human suffering. Lebanon has been at the frontline of this war since October 8. Lebanon cannot afford to be dragged further into it. We must continue to work towards a de-escalation of the conflict and a diplomatic settlement in the South. In this context, I reiterate our call for the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 by all parties.

The war in the South has only worsened an already fragile situation in Lebanon. Little progress has been made to put Lebanon on the path of economic recovery. The decision making process remains blocked, in the absence of a President of the Republic and a fully-functioning government.nbsp;

It is in this context that the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited Beirut last week to announce a package of 1 billion Euros to support Lebanon. This new package is a political commitment that the European Union will provide predictable financial support to Lebanon until 2027.
It will allow us to continue funding key sectors such as social protection, health, water and education, and to support the government in providing basic services to the most vulnerable people in the country. This not only includes Syrian refugees, but also many – and a growing number of – Lebanese who benefit from EU funded social assistance programmes, affordable primary healthcare services, access to clean water or newly rehabilitated public schools. In fact, already now, the large majority of this support benefits directly Lebanese citizens.nbsp;
With this package, we will continue supporting these key sectors, in close coordination with the Lebanese government.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We are not tone deaf. We clearly hear and understand the concerns that the Lebanese are raising regarding the presence of such a large number of Syrians. We acknowledge the heavy burden this entails.nbsp;
The European Union considers that the future of Syrians lies in Syria. The return of Syrians to Syria – in safety – remains the ultimate goal for all of us, and we hope to work together, in a constructive way, to make this a reality.nbsp;
That is why we will invest more heavily in legal pathways for refugees, so they can find job opportunities in Europe.

That is why we will continue resettling refugees from Lebanon to Europe, to help alleviate the burden.
In the coming months, we will also be working with UNHCR to develop a more structured approach to voluntary returns to Syria. In this context, we will be supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Security and Internal Security Forces by providing them with the needed equipment and expertise to better manage Lebanonrsquo;s land and sea borders.

We look forward to working with our Lebanese partners to find a solution to this issue. We understand how crucial it is. We all, however, need to be realistic that this process will take time. And it will require the cooperation of more parties, other than Lebanon and Europe.

Europersquo;s relations with Lebanon did not begin in 2011 with the Syrian crisis, and will not end with it.nbsp;
They did not start either with the opening of the first EU Delegation to Lebanon in 1979.

What ties us is much stronger. It is a shared history and culture. It is the scents and flavours of the Mediterranean, the familiar landscapes, the diversity in languages and religions, and the sense of freedom that we all experience here.nbsp;
We are as determined as you are, to make sure this remains.
Thank you.quot;