PARIS / BRUSSELS: Criteria for preparing European Union sanctions against Lebanese politicians are likely to include corruption, obstacles to government formation, financial ill-treatment and human rights violations, according to a diplomatic message from Reuters.
Led by France, the EU is trying to put pressure on Lebanon’s contentious politicians after 11 months of a crisis that left Lebanon facing financial collapse, hyperinflation, power outages, and fuel and food shortages.
The bloc, which had technical discussions on possible measures last month, has yet to decide how to proceed, but foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is due to be in Lebanon this weekend and report to foreign ministers on Monday.
Since many high-ranking Lebanese politicians have houses, bank accounts and investments in the EU and send their children to universities there, withdrawing this access could help to focus the minds.
Paris says it has already taken steps to restrict the entry of some Lebanese officials, which it sees as a blockade of efforts to deal with the crisis rooted in decades of government corruption and debt, despite not publicly naming anyone.
The EU must first put in place a sanctions regime which could then result in people being subject to travel bans and asset freezes, although it may also decide not to list anyone immediately.
The note, which also outlines the strengths and weaknesses of such a measure, focuses on four criteria. It begins by obstructing the formation of a government, the political process or the successful completion of the political transition and then turns to obstructing the implementation of urgent reforms necessary to overcome the political, economic and social crisis.
Financial ill-treatment targeting any person, entity or body believed to be responsible for the mismanagement of public finances and the banking sector is a key criterion, as is the violation of human rights as a result of the economic and social crisis.
“One could argue that the leadership’s lack of political responsibility in Lebanon is at the core of a massive implosion in the economy,” the note reads, citing possible human rights criteria.
“This has resulted in considerable suffering and undermined the human rights of the people in Lebanon.”
Such diplomatic notes are common in EU politics and are circulated among EU diplomats and officials, although they are not made public.
The memo also states that an “exit strategy” should be put in place, proposing benchmarks to determine whether the sanctions regime has served its purpose, as well as for the extension or repeal of individual designations.
How quickly sanctions could be imposed is still unclear, but as political divisions continue to intensify, the bloc is likely to move forward before the summer vacation.
There is disagreement among the EU-27 over the wisdom of EU sanctions, but the bloc’s two main powers, France and Germany, are in favor of what should prove crucial. A larger group of nations has yet to specify its approach.
Hungary has publicly denounced the EU’s efforts to put pressure on Lebanese politicians.
A senior European official told Reuters that Paris has set itself the goal of sanctioning the powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil, who is already under US sanctions.