And I would also like to pay a special tribute to all the guests that have joined us - Ambassadors, Members of Parliament and the many Ministers. And especially the women Ministers that are joining us today. Let me say that I believe Lebanon has a special touch in the Arab world when it comes to the role of women in society and politics. Congratulations and all the best for a very difficult journey that comes ahead. Count on us to support you and count on us to try and always pass the message that you are there not because you are a woman, but you are there because you have the competencies to be there - probably more competencies than the others do, if you manage to break all the crystal ceilings and get where you are. So count on us to accompany the work of this government, of all the institutions, all the Lebanese people and the society even more than before.
We have a long history of friendship between Europeans and Lebanese that goes back thousands of years. When I was looking at the video, I was thinking that friendship between Europeans and Lebanese is not only 40 years old; it extends to literally thousands of years. But it is true that the beginning of our institutional friendship dates back to exactly 40 years ago.
There were difficult times for Lebanon. We have been together over these 40 years in good and in bad times. Back then in 1979, at the height of the [Lebanese] Civil War, the staff working here in Beirut was just 13 people, a small and, I imagine, dedicated and courageous team doing mainly humanitarian aid. And today we are 100 people in this beautiful building. And this growth in numbers, I think, is also one of the best images - the simplest message – of how much our cooperation has grown, of how many more fields we cover today, of how many activities we run and how important the work we do together has become, even more so today. Lebanese and European staff, but most of all the staff of the European Union Delegation together with each of you and together with every Lebanese from all diversities of the society, who are our partners in this wonderful journey.
Moving to the new building was also a necessity because the family has grown. I wish this will be our headquarters for long, but who knows: maybe the family will grow even further and we will need to move even further.
I was looking, preparing for this inauguration, at the many fields of our cooperation and I am really impressed by the variety of things we do together. We are now supporting Lebanese companies, for instance, to go green, making a better use of the country's natural resources - and we have a beautiful country, so no limits there - protecting the environment of this beautiful country, and developing local economy in this sense.
But clearly, our cooperation goes well beyond that. We are working together to build a Lebanon that is not only greener, but also safer. We cooperate with your police - with the Lebanese armed forces - in a number of fields, from border control to airport security and trainings. And I am happy to see some militaries among us today. I think the work we do in the defence and security sector is key, not only for the Lebanese security, but also for the European security. Today we have regular political, economic and social dialogues. Our bilateral trade has increased steadily each year and investing more and more in Lebanon is for us a priority.
Last year at the CEDRE Conference [Conférence économique pour le développement, par les réformes et avec les entreprises] we announced a package that could generate up to €1.5 billion in loans for Lebanon until 2020, which is next year, if accompanied by the agreed reforms. And I know the new government is keen on advancing that agenda and I will be spending the rest of the day with the Prime Minister [of Lebanon, Saad Al Hariri], discussing exactly how we move forward on that side.
And beyond the work we do with the institutions, with the governments, let me say that the friendship and the relationship between people in Europe and in Lebanon has increased. And this is for me really the key element on which we measure our success of our partnership.
There are many Lebanese students studying in European universities thanks to Erasmus+, and there are many European students who have the privilege to experience this great country. I was myself an Erasmus student and I only wish that, at that time, I could have spent my Erasmus here in Lebanon. Now European students have that opportunity and I think it is very important. We were discussing yesterday, coming back from the Summit between the EU and the League of Arab States, together with the Prime Minister [of Lebanon, Saad Hariri], how important it is that Europeans understand their neighbours and the society, in particular the Arab one, and that the Arab societies better understand the Europeans.
The people working in this delegation will tell you that Europe is close to the people of Lebanon and working on a daily basis with the Lebanese civil society. It is a pride for us to support the Samir Kassir Award on the freedom of the press or to work on gender equality and children's' rights. I know that we share these values. I know that we share the same aspirations. I have said several times, Lebanon is probably the most European of the Arab countries, and being from Rome, I feel at home when I am here: as a Mediterranean, as a friend of Lebanon and obviously, in this building, as a European.