By Selim Bourokba

 « Basically, these people feel them more than we think, and cannot forget the ties between them in the past. Tormented and excited either by missionaries or by the monks, in the interest of European influences, they spare like the old condottieri, who delivered great fights without bloodshed. The monks preach, we must take up arms; English missionaries declaim and pay, we must show valor; but there is at the bottom of all this doubt and discouragement. Everyone already understands what some European powers want; divided goal and interest and seconded by the foresight of the Turks. Sparking disputes in mixed villages, it is believed to have proven the need for a complete separation between the two races, formerly united and in solidarity.  » In his “Voyage en Orient” which appeared in 1851, Gerard de Nerval already denounced the European « interference » and divisions they aroused among the Lebanese communities. There was no shortage on the other hand to emphasize the deep friendships that were forged between Lebanese and Europeans, to the point that there were many Westerners, charmed, to settle the « cradle of all faiths of the world » .


Relations between Europe and Lebanon are the result of a rich heritage. Human, cultural, political and economic factors have strongly developed throughout history, and continued going upwards after the country’s independence in 1943. The terrible civil war that began in 1975 and the precarious resolution that came with the 1989 [1] Taif Agreement has deeply upset the political balance and put an end to the economic prosperity that could have prevailed. In the early 1990s Lebanon depicts bruised and divided country whose infrastructure is badly damaged if not destroyed. Lebanon then received a plethora of support, economic and humanitarian, as well as political and institutional. Initiatives derived from the European Union (EU) and the European Investment Bank (EIB), with the objective to support the reconstruction of Lebanon. What was rebuilt 20 years after the launch of the Barcelona Process? Has the Lebanese society reconciled? Does Lebanon recognize its institutions? Can we perceive Europeans and the Lebanese as partners? After the Civil War, the economic and financial support has undeniably been a great help for Lebanon. However, it has not provided benefits to the whole of society, and it has even strengthened monopoly situations. The EU aid for refugees in Lebanon (Palestinians, Syrians …) is clearly visible and vital to the Lebanese state, which is struggling to absorb these massive flows of people – South Palestinians and Lebanese yesterday, Syrians today. If the institutional and political cooperation has not been a priority to the beginnings of cooperation, it tends to say today that it might jeopardize the credibility of European action in Lebanon . The foreign policy of the EU in the Middle East remains subject to the logic of sovereign states, and it is unfortunately aligned, in the case of Lebanon, with the Atlanticist and anti-Syrian position, at least before the Arab Spring.

 Finally, we propose solutions for a possible renewed cooperation at a key moment for Lebanon, facing a humanitarian crisis, security and political crisis, and the European Union is dealing with the crisis of identity and the rise of separatist tendencies that threaten its very existence.

The success of a nuanced mainly financial and trade cooperation 

In the aftermath of the civil war, the burden of debt reached about 50% of GDP and private investment collapsed as well as the public sector. Inflation is around 120%. The Lebanese government began a large project for economic reconstruction in the early 1990s. This aggravated the public debt of 1, 5 billion in 1992 and it rose to 13 billion in 1997. The EU supports Lebanon through the FEMIP (Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership) and the EIB, which is emerging as the banker of this space. This supports the private sector and strives to create a favorable investment environment. The EIB has supported the debt financing by multiple soft loans whose total between 1992 and 2010 reached 1,148,260,000 dollars. The EU has, in turn, contributed to the reconstruction process through a series of grants with a total value over the same period amounted to 602.78 million dollars. Relations between the EU and Lebanon in the 1990s are mainly financial. They are part of the extension of the agreement signed on 3 May 1977 between the European Economic Community (EEC) and the Republic of Lebanon which covers economic, technical and financial aspects. The EU is Lebanon’s leading trade partner with exchanges of more than 7 billion euros in 2013 (36.7% of total trade of Lebanon). [2]

But the Lebanese case revealed the limits of financial assistance in a country plagued by corruption and financial speculation [3], reinforcing one another through gigantic projects of reconstruction of the center of the capital (a company Solidere to rebuild Beirut [4]). All this has resulted in a deep growing inequality in the 1990s fortifying « elites » on an economic and political aspect (both are often linked in the « community ») and the deterioration of living standards of a third of the population. These negatives were ignored while some economic prosperity and tourism were in full swing. The Lebanese economy was also fully oriented towards the tertiary sector (services, banking and finance), neglecting the agricultural potential (Lebanon enjoys substantial water reserves), and industry. Thus, the Euro-Lebanese business relationship consists mainly of Lebanese imports from the EU (almost 6, 7 billion) and generally Lebanon imports more than it exports.

The EU’s success with regards to political and humanitarian actions

Despite all the limitations of European policy in Lebanon and the Mediterranean, note important EU efforts in the land of cedars. At the political level, it establishes action through its support for the unity, stability and independence of Lebanon, its involvement in the monitoring of the resolutions adopted at the United Nations, the participation of member countries (Italy, France and Spain mainly) UNIFIL [5], and support for political reforms. It is especially at the humanitarian level that European aid is the most visible and the most effective. Since 2012, in response to the massive influx of Syrian refugees, the European Commission has allocated 449, 4 million in aid to Lebanon, making it the largest donor. In late January, the EU granted additional humanitarian aid of 37 million euros. These grants provide to Syrian refugees (more than one million, a quarter of the Lebanese population) access to essential services such as health and education

Failed global political and institutional initiativesThe Barcelona Euromed process 

In November 1995, the Barcelona process was launched. It was expected it would strengthen cooperation. Its objectives were to establish a dialogue on political and security issues, an economic and financial partnership, and a partnership in social, cultural and human affairs. Its failure, linked to the Oslo Accords, reveals the extent of the difficulties in creating a Mediterranean political space. The revival, marked by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004, was challenged by the initiative of President Sarkozy and his Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in 2008, are all victims of the same mistakes. The UfM enjoys no political autonomy and is accused of being dominated by the US, France and Israel The Israeli Association in the cooperation process blocks any prospect of regional union south of the Mediterranean. EPI finally suffers because of his inconsistency and not differentiating between Mediterranean partners and those in the east, revealing differences of interests within the Union, between France and Germany in particular. The stated objectives of the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation are also increasingly ambitious. The Euro-Lebanese Association Agreement, signed in 2007, expands the objectives of cooperation, and aims to strengthen « the prosperity, stability and security of all concerned, (…) the values ​​of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. « 

The EU’s political and institutional action in Lebanon face the complexity of the Lebanese society The Lebanese community system: Rule of Law vs. multiple sovereignties 

The EU seeks to strengthen institutions and the concept of citizenship in Lebanon. But the integrity of the Lebanese state and the unity of its people still are partly a myth (we do not make any accusations here as the « national novel » [7] is the foundation of our Western nation-states). Each religious community lives in between themselves, on a territory it controls more or less, in the countryside and in the cities. Each community is led by leaders who, under the multi-confessional system, share the key posts in the public service and distribute jobs or money to their supporters. Finally, each community does not forget the horrors of civil war. The Lebanese have not quite forgiven, evidenced by the numerous assassinations decades 1990 and 2000. The fragmentation of the territory remains so, and the Lebanese identity is still somewhat mythical, as suggested in each crisis the frequent use of the Phoenician ancestor. The word citizen, appeared in the Constitution only since 1990, has not replaced the community.

The EU’s foreign policy in Lebanon: UN and Atlanticist alignmentThe EU’s anti-Syrian turnaround and missteps of international justice in the Hariri investigation 

The credibility of the European discourse on democracy and justice have suffered from political exploitation by the commission of inquiry into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in February 2005 and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established by the United Nations Open in 2009 on the Lebanese, American, British, and French demands. There was actually some progress after 2005 in the Euro-Lebanese relations. From 1990 to 2004, Syria controlled Lebanon and the Europeans were in favor of this. Euro-Lebanese cooperation is indeed centered on the economic aspect and neglects its political, institutional and judicial aspects. This is evident in the revisions of the electoral laws imposed by the Syrian regime in order to install his supporters and the absence of EU event. The Hariri assassination plunged the country into instability. This event served as a pretext for the intensification of Western swing against Syria, the Powell-Assad met the winter of 2004 marks the beginning [8]. Lebanon then became a buffer state, which confronted all the powers, Western and Eastern, seeking influence in the Middle East. The period opened by the assassination of Rafik Hariri has revived divisions between pro and anti-Syrian Lebanese, multiplied by the intervention of foreign powers, including some European countries and Arab Atlanticists, first and foremost Saudi Arabia, today ‘in full fight against Iran on Lebanese soil.

Why the EU includes Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations?

The contemporary history of Lebanon, at least until the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, integrates in a parallel manner in what can be called « post-September 11 ». This event brings forth new American ambitions in the guise of war against global terrorism and the « democratic remodeling » of the Middle East. [9] Syria and its Lebanese faithful ally, Hezbollah, guilty of wanting to maintain their independence from the United States as well as  France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, were accused of supporting terrorism and participating in violence in Iraq, Israel and Lebanon. This is partly why the Party of God and Syria have concentrated fire from international justice, which, exploited by Western powers, did not hesitate to deliver several arrest warrants for senior officials on the Basic false testimony. [10] The reasons for these crusades are looking at the Israeli inclination to destroy Hezbollah, whose focus is at its northern border. Finally comes the will of France Chirac to redeem himself from the United States for not participating in the international coalition against Saddam Hussein. More recently, in July 2013, the EU decided to include the military wing of Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations [11], officially because of an attack carried out on European soil [12] but also probably as a response to its struggle in Syria alongside the Alawite troops. One may think that the underlying reasons for this decision by the EU is looking into the American and Israeli pressure on the French disarmament of militias (read Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance movements) and demilitarization of south Lebanon. [13] There would be no more solid bulwark in the case of another Israeli invasion.  

The identity challenge for Europe and Lebanon: Strengthening political integration, respect cultural differences

In this sense, the crisis of the European and Lebanese identities reflect each other. Lebanon and the EU have had a somewhat similar construction scheme, having as its starting point the search for peace and cooperation in the unity and diversity. Both know separatist tensions in a crisis, compounded by populism on one side, the weakness of the state and foreign interference from the other, who question the legitimacy of their institutions. Both the EU and Lebanon could, through a renewed partnership and a common agenda, promote a « constitutional patriotism » as defined by Jürgen Habermas in “After the Nation State, respect for different cultural identities does not prevent meeting different people, united by adherence to corporate values, legal, and recognizing more generally in a state of law.” The issue of increased European support to Lebanon is even more fundamental: it would make the legitimate and viable Lebanese political model, strengthening its institutions (political and judicial) and its economy, to offer an alternative to failed regional states (Iraq, Syria and Yemen). As stated by Gebran Bassil, head of the Lebanese diplomacy, it comes to defending a « social model » for the region, « based on » moderation, tolerance and diversity « . [15]


In short, the Euro-Lebanese cooperation is mainly based on financial contributions from the EU, and may question its scope, really visible in its humanitarian component only. The Euro-Lebanese Partnership remains important for Lebanon, but it is a priority in its security and humanitarian. The EU struggles to amend the enlargement of its commitments through concrete achievements, both institutional and security situation in Lebanon is delicate. The EU ‘s interest is to develop action at the security, military and political levels. This is for her to control illegal migration flows and to keep terrorism outside of its borders. Just imagine that the Islamic state or Al Nosra is implanted permanently in Lebanon, they would then be 20 minutes away from Cyprus and the EU … Following the same logic , the Union must support all the political and institutional reforms likely to promote the emergence of a national dialogue in order to legitimize a strong and credible state, on the domestic scene and external, able to provide security and stability in Lebanon , and inspire the consociational model all states in the region at risk of implosion .