How would you describe the relationship between Lebanon and Monaco?
There has always been a consul of Monaco in Lebanon, ever since my grandfather was president, as we are riverains de la Méditerranée. The relationship has always been very good and now we couldn’t have it better. Mustapha el-Solh is very well connected and I am not badly connected either [laughs]. The access is easy. That is what is the most important in bilateral relationships.
How many Monégasques are there in Lebanon?
Three: Eric Bessone (director of sales and marketing middle east at Monaco’s Société des Bains de Mer), the wife of my father, and myself. My brothers and sisters also have the nationality but they live in Paris and so does prominenet Lebanese businessman Toufic Abou Khater. Those are all the Lebanese with a Monegasque nationality.
What are the ongoing projects between Lebanon and Monaco?
Monaco is cooperating to finance projects in Lebanon such as sea cleaning, planting cedars and a few health programs for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). There is a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Les Amis du Liban, which distributes 250,000 to 300,000 euros ($320,000 to 380,000) per year to different sectors of activity. When Prince Albert II came two years ago on a state visit to Lebanon to see President Sleiman, we organized training for the Lebanese fire brigade to go to Monaco and be trained to deal with fires in towers, because they had no previous training and we have more and more towers. This program is still ongoing. We also have a Maronite priest who stays at the Monaco cathedral on a revolving three-year loan. We are always working on projects to improve the relationship between Monaco, Lebanon and the Middle East.
Do you also represent the Middle East?
My job is not just for Lebanon. It is also for the area because Prince Albert II knows I have relationships across the Middle East. Whenever he goes to the region, he takes me with him. We can attract a lot of Arab tourists to Monaco. There is potential for the Middle East clientele to come and develop projects in Monaco.
Where are the investment opportunities in Monaco?
They are in real estate primarily. Also there is a law in Monaco which allows you to have worldwide revenues come in with no taxes and go out to pay your worldwide employees with no taxes, making it attractive for companies to set up an office in Monaco. That is why all the big ship owners are based in Monaco today. This is important because it is an enormous facility. Also there is no personal income tax in Monaco and a small corporate tax.
What can Lebanon learn from success story of Monaco?
Lebanon needs to attract more tourism. One of the strengths of Monaco is that every single day there is an event and there are conventions. Lebanon needs to do that too. Also, Monaco was promoting heavily the healthcare industry. This could be done in Lebanon. For instance, Monaco has fantastic heart surgery unit. We have very good doctors so we [could] have more specialized centers.
If you had to choose to live in either Lebanon or Monaco, where would you choose?
Obviously, I was born in Lebanon and I carry a very famous name, but for my own personal choice I would live every day in Monaco.
Mustapha El Solh
As consul of Lebanon in Monaco, what does your role entail?
The Lebanese consulate in Monaco is an honorary one and has existed since 1996. We represent the interests of Lebanon across all sectors and we look after the interests of all the Lebanese residents in Monaco. We conduct all consular administrative services, such as passport renewals and visa issuance, and we organize many events throughout the year to promote Lebanon in Monaco. Last year, I organized the official trip of Prince Albert II to Lebanon with an economic delegation of 80 people during which many bilateral agreements were signed. For example, four Lebanese TV stations signed distribution agreements with the local TV cable operator to transmit locally in Monaco.
And as president of the Association of Consuls Honoraires de Monaco, what does your role entail?
The Prince and the government of Monaco look highly to the consular corps for reinforcing the bilateral relationship between Monaco and the rest of the world; there are more than 80 consuls accredited in Monaco. In 2009, I was elected by all consuls in Monaco to become president for a five-year mandate. My main role in this post is to promote the consular function and most importantly to represent the interest of the consular corps during all the official events in Monaco.
How strong is the current relationship between Lebanon and Monaco and how can it be further developed?
The relationship between the two countries is exceptional. In the past 20 years, there have been numerous agreements and exchange programs. On the economic side, companies have signed trade agreements allowing exchange of services and products (mainly in jewelry, insurance, shipping, etcetera). Major environmental agreements were executed between the two countries. Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest bank, opened a branch in Monaco two years ago. A representative office for Monaco’s largest tourism and service company, the Société des Baines de Mer (SBM), opened in Beirut in 2010 and since then many cultural events have taken place in Beirut coming from Monaco.
Do you have figures on how many Lebanese live in Monaco and how many visit Monaco per year?
There are more than 300 Lebanese living in Monaco and Lebanon features among the top 20 countries to visit Monaco.
What can Lebanon learn from Monaco's success story?
Up until the early 1970s, Lebanon used to be the success story of the whole Mediterranean basin. Whether for its touristic or financial infrastructure, Lebanon excelled in attracting visitors. Unfortunately, the civil war and the recent political turmoil impacted negatively Lebanon’s potential. On the other hand, Monaco always prioritized offering its residents and visitors a great experience and the principality has developed a sophisticated financial infrastructure with an absolutely secure environment. It manages the country as a large corporation and its general interest is to service a profitable and satisfactory business model. It also offers rich cultural programs including ballet, theatre, museums and art exhibitions. I strongly believe that once the political stability is regained in Lebanon, it would offer equivalent conditions and would become a key destination for people to reside throughout the year, as well as visit to discover the richness of our ‘patrie’.
How many years have you been living in Monaco? What do you like best about living in Monaco that you can't find in Lebanon?
I have been in Monaco for 18 years and have been greatly welcomed by its society and people. The special thing about Monaco is that it is a cosmopolitan city but also maintains certain traditional and conservative habits. With time, Monaco grows on you due to the warmth and care of its citizens.
If you had to choose between living in Lebanon and Monaco, which country would you live in?
I left Lebanon almost 30 years ago and I have lived across many continents and cities. Lebanon has and will always be home. Monaco is a great place to live, it offers my family the best conditions and continues to be a second stable home.