Paris- In his first official visit to Europe since he returned to the Grand Serail following Lebanon’s presidential elections, Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in Paris on Monday before heading later to Berlin and Brussels.
Hariri’s presence in Europe is important due to his participation in the International Summit for supporting the future of Syria and the region to be held in Brussels this week.
Looking at the special relations linking Hariri with France, similar to the relations that linked his father late Rafik Hariri with former president Jacques Chirac and other French officials, Hollande was keen to award the Lebanese prime minister the insignia of Commander of the Legion of Honor at a ceremony that took place at the Elysee Palace. The award, which is the highest legion offered to foreign figures, was presented following bilateral talks between the two men.
Hariri’s decision to visit Paris and Berlin before attending the Brussels Conference did not come as a coincidence. Lebanon relies on both European capitals to echo its voice during the mentioned conference, particularly due to the special relations linking Lebanon and France and the weight of the German economy and its impact on EU decisions.
It was clear from Hariri’s comments that the premier wanted to tackle the issue of Syrian refugees during his meetings in the European capitals.
After talks with his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve at the Matignon palace on Monday, Hariri said: “I am afraid that the international community is not aware like us of the impact that this will have on Lebanon. Hence, we ask the international community to invest all it can for the benefit of Lebanon.”
The Lebanese premier said Lebanon can not be doing a public service for the international community while the latter is not assuming its responsibilities vis-à-vis Lebanon.
Hariri warned that the country is suffering economically. “We have 20% of unemployment among the Lebanese, 30% among youth, and 50% among Syrian refugees, and this puts a huge pressure on the Lebanese, economically, socially and security wise,” he said.
These numbers pushed Hariri to plan on asking the international community for between $10 billion and $12 billion per year in aid to help boost the local economy upset by the Syrian war.
Later at the Elysee Palace, President Hollande described Hariri as a man of moderation who had managed to get his country out of the civil war, through dialogue and compromise.
The French president also praised Hariri for carrying the torch of his father, Rafik and said France will support Lebanon to face terrorism and carry the burden of the Syrian refugees.
“I am aware of the hardship your country is experiencing with the war in Syria, and the hundreds of thousands of refugees… All this calls for solidarity of the international community with Lebanon, France in particular,” Hollande said.
For his part, Hariri said it was a great honor to receive the French award.
“I want to tell you, Mr. President, how much I appreciate your gesture today. The bonds that unite our two countries are strong and ancient,” Hariri said.