France ups pressure on Lebanese officials with entry restrictions

“ We have started to implement restrictive measures in terms of access to French territory against personalities involved in the current political blockage, or involved in corruption,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
Friday 30/04/2021
French European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a joint press conference in Paris, France March 11, 2021. (REUTERS)
French European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a joint press conference in Paris, France March 11, 2021. (REUTERS)

PARIS--France has begun imposing entry restrictions on certain Lebanese figures as a sanction for their role in Lebanon’s political crisis or corruption, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday.

“We reserve the right to adopt additional measures against all those preventing an exit from the crisis, and we will do so in coordination with our international partners,” added Le Drian, without naming which figures targeted by the measures.

France has spearheaded international efforts to rescue Lebanon from its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, but after eight months has failed so far to persuade squabbling politicians to adopt a reform roadmap or form a new government to unlock international aid.

With the European Union, Paris has been working on creating a sanctions regime for Lebanon that could ultimately see asset freezes and travel bans.

However, that is likely to take time. As part of efforts to raise pressure on key Lebanese actors, France intends to stop issuing visas to certain officials, diplomats have said.

“On a national basis, we have started to implement restrictive measures in terms of access to French territory against personalities involved in the current political blockage, or involved in corruption,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in remarks alongside his Maltese counterpart.

 “It’s not just words in the air,” said a French diplomat. They (Lebanese officials) can reassure themselves that it’s not just threats.”

Two diplomats said a list of names had been put together and people were being made aware. The French foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

As many senior Lebanese politicians have homes, bank accounts and investments in the EU and France and send their children to universities there, a withdrawal of that access could be a lever to focus minds.

Lebanon is experiencing the worst economic and financial crisis of its modern history. The local currency has lost 85% of its value against the dollar in recent months and businesses have shut down while banks imposed informal controls on transfers and withdrawals.

The economic crisis was made worse by a massive explosion at Beirut’s port last summer, which destroyed the facility and surrounding neighbourhoods.

The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab stepped down in the wake of the blast and former premier Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a new one.

However, Hariri has not been able to form a cabinet amid deep disagreements between him and President Michel Aoun, who has no legal recourse to fire him.