Prime Minister Saad Hariri and French President Emmanuel Macron Friday laid the groundwork for the launch of CEDRE investment projects, worth billions of dollars pledged by international donors to shore up Lebanon’s ailing economy.
While Macron said France was “fully committed” to implementing the CEDRE conference’s decisions, Hariri promised to speed up a series of structural, economic and fiscal reforms designed to reduce the budget deficit, fight corruption and curb the waste of public funds – a major demand of international donors.
This came after a meeting between Hariri and Macron at the Elysee Palace that lasted nearly an hour and a half. The talks focused on bilateral relations, developments in the region amid the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran after last week’s drone attack on Saudi oil facilities that was blamed on Iran, and the implementation of decisions from last year’s CEDRE conference.
“It was a cordial meeting. France always stands by Lebanon’s side. We talked about the region and about CEDRE, which is most important to us, especially in the economic situation we face,” Hariri told reporters after the meeting with Macron.
“We also agreed on further communication, especially as we completed the follow-up committee, and hopefully there will be another meeting for us in Paris in November.”
“The CEDRE issues are going well and we have to carry out the necessary reforms that we discussed in the Cabinet and the budget recently. This gives us a positive atmosphere for things to gradually return economically to where they were, especially when the world sees that we are doing our duties toward our economy. We cannot continue the way we have been working,” he added.
Hariri said the French president was very keen to help Lebanon and its stability, and this was reassuring. “He [Macron] is ready to continue in this direction and help Lebanon in any possible way. What is important for him is that the Lebanese and political parties be keen to carry out reform,” Hariri said. “Reform is not required in order to obtain funds, but to improve the performance of the state in Lebanon, for the interest of citizens, and to fight corruption. We are optimistic about CEDRE and hopefully, we are advancing on this level.”Asked if French officials were satisfied with the reform measures Lebanon had so far taken, or if they had remarks, Hariri said: “Certainly there were remarks. We took these remarks into consideration. But what is important is to speed up these reforms. We have no more time.”
The CEDRE conference, which was hosted by France in April last year to rally financial support for Lebanon, pledged over $11 billion in grants and soft loans to finance key infrastructure projects that the Lebanese government outlined in its Capital Investment Program.
Hariri, who arrived in Paris Thursday after a quick visit to Riyadh, was asked if he heard anything from Saudi officials about reported Saudi financial support for Lebanon.
“We are working to hold a meeting for the Higher Saudi-Lebanese Committee, and we have completed about 19 agreements to sign. We will also talk about how the kingdom can help us with our financial situation. More importantly, it is the first time that a higher committee is held between us and Saudi Arabia to sign economic agreements” between the two countries, “so that we can work better,” Hariri said.
Macron reasserted France’s commitment to Lebanon’s security and stability and to implementing the CEDRE decisions.
Macron said he hoped the pledged aid would enable the Lebanese Cabinet and its prime minister to “move forward in projects like electricity, infrastructure, administrative reform, for the direct benefit of all the Lebanese.”
Ahead of his talks with Macron, Hariri met with French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire. “The meeting focused on bilateral relations between the two countries, particularly in the economic field, and French support for Lebanon,” a statement from Hariri’s media office said.
Hariri also met with heads of major French companies for a work breakfast, in the presence of Le Maire, the French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher, and the French presidential envoy tasked with following up the implementation of the decisions of the CEDRE conference, Pierre Duquesne.
The Daily Star