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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

 

Belarus and the EU

From the European Choice for Belarus project:

The specific position of Belarus in Europe Belarus is the last remaining dictatorship in Europe in which basic European values, such as democracy, human rights and the freedom of the media, are repeatedly violated. This isolation is further entrenched by a lack of communication and co-operation with the EU: Belarus is the only Eastern European country that does not have a PCA (Partnership and Co-operation Agreement) with the EU; it is the only European country that doesn’t belong to the Council of Europe. Yet the importance of dealing with the issue of Belarus is now starkly apparent. Belarus is one of the few countries bordering the EU to the East after its enlargement in 2004, with more than 1000km of shared borderland, and three member countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) as its neighbours. Furthermore, Belarus is an important transit country for Russian gas and crude oil on its way to the EU.

In the future, we can expect to witness new repressions by Europe’s last dictator and further deterioration of the situation in the coming months. Lukashenko will do everything in his power to oppress the political opposition, NGOs and the media in order to ensure the extension of his rule following the presidential elections scheduled for autumn 2006. The first step towards this was taken during the falsified referendum in October 2004 in which Lukashenko illegally extended his term of presidency. A Lukashenko presidency after 2006 will mean the conservation and intensification of his rule and the establishment of a strong and dangerous dictatorship along EU borders.

Politicians, experts and journalists in the EU very often identify Lukashenko’s anti-western and pro-Russian official policy with the opinions of Belarusian society. The reality, however, is different. Despite anti-western, anti-European official propaganda, more than 50 percent of Belarusians support close co-operation with the EU {whilst simultaneously, more than 50 percent are also in favour of closer relations with Russia). Closer relations with Europe, perhaps even the integration of Belarus into the EU, should remain an open question due to the support evident for such policy in a large part of Belarusian society.

The EU must formulate new policy towards Belarus as previous policy has been completely ineffective. The EU has to openly declare that the promotion of democracy and the gradual integration of Belarus into Europe are its priorities in EU neighbourhood policy. The EU should not only react to the current political situation in Belarus, but also elaborate its own strategy aimed at the democratization of the country. Such actions must be carried out with speed due to threatening political time frame in Belarus. The two strategies the EU requires towards Belarus are as follows:

A short-term strategy until the presidential elections in 2006
A medium and long-term strategy consisting mainly of support in the building of civil society.

The European Union should focus on the most important problem from a political point of view, namely the possibility of Lukashenko’s third term. The European Council should state that a third term is unacceptable according to European values, following European Parliament resolution no P6_TA(2004)0045 from October 28 2004. The EU should maintain a very clear position and be willing to communicate it to the Belarusian authorities in the event of possible future murders, disappearances and instances of further repression. This policy must be implemented with a clear distinction: that action is being taken against Lukashenko’s regime rather than against the country or Belarusian society.

Better co-operation must be developed and a common position forced concerning Belarus by the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU member states. The neighbours of Belarus, the CEE-Visegrad group and other EU member states (for example Germany and the Scandinavian countries) must develop relationships of cooperation so as to build a broader coalition within the EU with a potential synergy effect. There must be a greater level of coordination between the EU and the United States. EU policy towards Belarus could be coordinated with US policy towards Minsk (Belarus Democracy Act) as both actors have as their final goal the democratization of Belarus. Ukrainian authorities and civil society should be involved in the Belarus issue as Ukrainian experiences are more valuable for Belarus than the experiences of other post-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004. The EU should discuss the issue of Belarus with Russia but cannot negotiate EU policy toward Belarus with Moscow as, unfortunately, Russia has no interest in changing either the situation or the regime. In the framework of the EU-Russia dialogue, the EU could call on Russia to not allow Moscow to support the Lukashenko regime.

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