Lebanese Election Law: EU Pitches In

The report contained a clear clause linking the Lebanese government’s adoption of the state budget, which was still pending back then, to EU grants and financial assistance to Beirut. (Photo: Marwan Bu Haidar)

By: Nasser Charara

Published Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The European Union is pushing Lebanon to enact reforms that reinforce stability, proposing that it adopt a proportional electoral system or move toward Swiss-style federalism.

A few months ago, politicians in Beirut conveyed messages that there are serious international efforts underway in a bid to push the Lebanese government to adopt a fairer electoral law, based on the fact that the current system perpetuates sectarian representation that contributes to instability.

Stability as such would inoculate the country against the Syrian crisis – which is set to drag on and deteriorate further – and promote calm at the Lebanese domestic level.

The political sources that carried this message also argued that the optimal law desired by the international community would be based on proportional representation (PR), as this would produce religiously-mixed representation. This, they say, would preclude any political dispute in the country from morphing into a sectarian one that would have a destabilizing effect on Lebanon.

In early May, the EU efforts were seen when the European External Action Service (EEAS) added its final touches to the European annual report on Lebanon.

For the first time, the European report included recommendations that the EU proposals should be implemented as early as next year, in order to achieve progress on the reform program contained in the bilateral action plan. On 14 May 2012, this report was officially submitted to the Lebanese authorities.

The report contained a clear clause linking the Lebanese government’s adoption of the state budget, which was still pending back then, to EU grants and financial assistance to Beirut.

The word-for-word text of this clause was: “[Lebanon is invited to] improve the management of public finances, including the adoption of the long-awaited law on public procurement, and adopt a balanced state budget.”

This recommendation can perhaps explain how the Lebanese government, only a few days after receiving the report, managed to rush and adopt the budget, briefly overcoming its paralysis.

At the top of its recommendations, the EU document called for “adopting a new electoral law, in good time for the legislative elections in 2013, bringing the electoral process further into line with international standards.”

The report stipulated that the Lebanese side cannot make changes to the European proposals, because it is a document submitted by the EU delegation to assess the extent of Lebanon’s commitment to the bilateral action plan.

The EU report demonstrates that there is international support for amending the electoral law. Failure to do so, or holding the next elections on the basis of the existing “1960 law” will be considered by the EU, at the very least as a breach of the bilateral action plan. This is widely expected to lead the EU to withhold its grants and loans to Lebanon.

The report is a result of the amendments recently introduced by the European Commission to the EU’s vision for European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and Euro-Mediterranean partnership.

Accordingly, relations between the EU and each of these neighboring countries are now intricately linked to democratic and electoral reforms – following the principle of “more support, for more reform.”

While those Arab countries that experienced revolts recently are being allocated financial aid packages as they make the transition to democracy, Lebanon is required – according to the updated ENP document – to prove its commitment to progress towards “solid democracy.”

In other words, it is no longer acceptable for Lebanon to remain stuck in the same vicious circle with regard to its electoral system, because its shortcomings contribute to instability, which in turn carries many negative repercussions for Europe.

According to sources familiar with European policy towards Lebanon, the reforms desired by the EU are not limited to the electoral law.

There has also been talk in the Elysee suggesting that Lebanon must advance towards Swiss-style federalism. Without federalism, it is argued, it would be difficult to see how Lebanon can be immunized against the repercussions of the sectarian strife raging in its surroundings.

French sources are quoted as saying that the proposed form of federalism does not entail a partitioning of the political, security, and foreign policy powers in the country, but rather the implementation of a high degree of administrative separation among the religious communities; expanded administrative decentralization.

According to these same sources, international support is converging on two goals simultaneously. First, to effect administrative separation between the sects through administrative federalism; and second, to amend the current electoral law to achieve broader representation on a national basis, i.e. PR, or fairer representation among the religious communities.

This means that Lebanon has two options: either to adopt an electoral law on the basis of proportional representation, or one based on small electoral districts that allows each religious community to elect is own representatives.

Fundamentally, both visions are the result of growing concerns in the West in general, and Europe in particular, about the possibility of the region descending into sectarian conflict, not to mention the rise of radical Islamists in many areas.

Europe is extremely uneasy about such developments, as they directly affect its security which is at risk from the continuing flow of immigrants from North Africa and the Levant, who leave their countries due to instability, poverty, and stalled democratic reforms.

Therefore, these reforms occupy center stage in EU policy towards the region, particularly given the rising popularity of right-wing parties across the European countries currently carrying the mantle of this issue.

All these facts help explain the European position of linking grants and aid to Lebanon to the its fulfillment of reforms that foster stability in the country, as this serves the goals of European national security in accordance with Europe’s internal priorities.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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