The civil society engaged in the EU-Lebanon relations


Relations between the European Union and its neighbors are established on the basis of bilateral accords called “action plans”. Lately, these plans are subject to several consultations from the side of the civil society through concerned NGOs.

Julien Théron
- Beirut, Eurojar

“We have received a word from the Minister of Interior Ziad Baroud, approving all what have been suggested and assuring us that he will be engaged in implementing all the points that concern his ministry,” says Ziad Abdel Samad, executive director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND). “We have also received a support letter from Fadi Abboud, Minister of Tourism.” Ziad Abdel Samad does not hide his contentment towards the positive reaction of two powerful ministers regarding the revision of the EU-Lebanon action plan drafted by his organization. The ANND can also be proud of the fact that the “Prime Minister showed a positive reaction regarding the issue, while other ministers suggested some propositions.”

Civil society and bilateral relations
Ziad Abdel Samad knows very well that he should work with both European and Lebanese sides to get an approval for the socio-economic shift of strategy that the ANND suggests. The change we are suggesting is not in favor of a “virtual economy” based on finance and real estate, but in favor of overall development in the framework of a “real economy”, based on national production.

He confesses that priorities should be mainly defined on the local level. “The EU cannot decide for our national strategy, he says, since it is a strategy adopted by the government.” Yet, he deplores the lack of support from the European side to his recommendations. “In a meeting held in 2009 with the representative of the European Union, I suggested the necessity of revising all the aspects of the partnership policy instruments in light of the world economic crisis. At that time, the answer was: we have no time for this.”

In fact, action plans are made to last several years, for instance from 2007 to 2013. This limits the margin of maneuver in these action plans, and any modification in the strategy necessitates reconsidering the entire accord. According to Michael Miller, Head of the Politics, Economy and Trade section at the EU delegation in Lebanon, “we are not in a stage of renegotiating the action plan. We should be implementing what has already been agreed upon.” Yet, he is in favor of a real dialogue with the civil society. “It is a priority for us,” he goes on to say.

Between lobbying and round tables
In a country like Lebanon, networks are the cornerstone of the organization of society and communities. Thus, it is evident that lobbying is the main mode of action of civil society. In fact, the constitution of a group of NGOs in the framework of a network (ANND), or a “platform”, is useful to transmit a message, especially to the government.

The preparation of official reports is an important step that aims at formalizing the requests of participating NGOs. These reports are sent to concerned members of government, with copies transmitted to the delegation of the European Union in Lebanon and the European Commission. “We did not receive anything from the European Union, notes Ziad Abdel Samad, despite the fact that both documents have been prepared following a call for proposal from the EU. We have reviewed the Progress Report of the European Neighborhood Policy published in May 12, 2010. I think they did not take into consideration most of the ideas that we put forward.”

Michael Miller seems keen that the delegation of the European Union opens direct dialogue with the civil society. In addition to financial aid instruments to NGOs that Miller describes as very successful and efficient, “certainly, thanks to the quality of NGOs that come to us with very interesting project propositions,” he considers that the delegation is enthusiastic about this positive collaboration.

“Our doors remain always open, says Miller. We have never refused to meet with any NGO that wished to meet with a member of the delegation or with me personally. Our doors are open to all! I think that we have an extremely fruitful dialogue with NGOs. […] I am always happy to receive them, because this is how we gather our information, and are more capable of judging the facts on the ground.”

It seems that the European Union is not saving any effort to promote dialogue with the civil society. Miller underlines that the delegation organized last October an open public debate with members of the delegation and Lebanese authorities to discuss the means of implementation of the ENP action plan and the ways of enhancing it. We got a good number of consultations and the number of participants reached 700. We invited all the people who are on our contact list, meaning, almost everybody. We also published an open invitation in newspapers. The main goal was to engage in a three-way debate, gathering the EU, the Lebanese authorities and the civil society.”

In conclusion, there is no doubt that the EU is in favor of a fruitful dialogue with the Lebanese civil society, of a better understanding from the side of governors and a positive motivation of NGOs. Yet, we still have to watch to what extent the recommendations of the civil society will be taken into consideration; and more, what would be the effect of such recommendations in 2013, when a “three-way” renegotiation of the “bilateral” action plan will be launched.