BEIRUT: A five-person strong delegation of European politicians will be arriving in Lebanon Saturday for a four-day visit they hope will help bridge political divides in the country.
All members of the Socialists and Democrats bloc in the European Union's Parliament, the delegation hopes to encourage "the political factions [in Lebanon] to put aside their own short-term interests to swiftly form a new government."
"In their talks with the national authorities, NGOs, civil society and local press during the four-day political mission to Beirut, the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament will deliver a clear message: Help the EU to help you," an official statement from the group said.
"For us it's very hard to see a great country, and a great people, passing through such a difficult time," says Isabel Santos, one of the delegates and an MEP for Portugal, speaking to The Daily Star over the phone from her office in Brussels.
To Santos, the visit comes at an important time, ahead of Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for the spring of 2022. The delegation has said it will be seeking "guarantees that the elections scheduled for next year will not be postponed and will be held in a free and democratic environment."
"We hope we can encourage the politicians in Lebanon to look forward to what is important at this moment for the people, to find stability after the formation of a government." said Santos, who hopes to meet with civil society leaders as well as Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Lebanon has been managed by a caretaker administration since August 2020, during which time the country has been experiencing one of the worst economic collapses in modern times. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value, and some estimates suggest that almost 80 percent of the population are living under the poverty line. Despite increasing shortages of food, medicine, and fuel, political paralysis has continued. Recent hopes of an agreement between President Michel Aoun and the Prime Minister-designate of just over a month Najib Mikati suffered a blow Thursday after reports emerged of a spat between the two.
"We have to create better living conditions for the people," Santos told The Daily Star. "I hope that, in dialogue, with our different experiences, we can share our views and I hope we can bring everybody to come together - it's very important at this moment."
But she continued to stress that the formation of a government was a vital precursor to Lebanon receiving international aid. Under the 'French initiative', announced after the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut in August 2020, Lebanon could unlock billions in aid if a government capable of introducing reforms was established.
"The country needs not only aid - although of course that's needed - but the country also needs to find stability, to find sustainable conditions", said Santos.
"We are waiting for these new conditions because if we don't see these new conditions they will never happen."
"We ask the Lebanese authorities to help us," she concluded. "To help Lebanon, to help Lebanon's people."