EPRSLibrary By / September 8, 2013

EU policy towards Belarus

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The EU maintains a policy of critical engagement with Belarus, including imposing sanctions. Nonetheless, on 24 June 2013, the Council suspended the EU travel ban on the Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Makey, to facilitate diplomatic contacts with Belarus.

The EU policy of critical engagement

The EU tightened its targeted sanctions against the Belarusian regime and increased its outreach to civil society in response to the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators by the Belarusian authorities in the aftermath of the 2010 presidential elections, widely criticised as “rigged“. Restrictive measures against numerous individuals and entities associated with electoral fraud and/or severe human-rights violations were reinstated or introduced. The EU nonetheless remains the country’s second-largest trading partner after Russia. Although Belarus is a member of the Eastern Partnership (EaP), cooperation has been limited to the multi­lateral track and bilateralsector-related assistance. A 2011 EU offer to open negotiations on a visa liberal­isation and readmission agreement has rested unanswered. Compared with the other EaP countries, Belarus has consistently received the smallest share of EU funds. The EU supports civil society through, among others, the Development and Cooperation Instru­ment’s thematic pro­gramme for non-state actors and local authorities (NSA-LA) and the European Neigh­bourhood and Partnership Instrument’s Neigh­bour­hood Civil Society Facility (NCFS).

The impact of the EU’s smart sanctions

The EU’s restrictive measures have so far proved ineffective in bringing about democratic change in Belarus. The 2012 Parliamentary elections fell short of meeting international standards. The EuroNest Parliamentary Assembly (PA) was thus unable to recognise the Belarusian Parliament as a legitimate representative of the Belarusian people. In 2011, legislative amendments have further limited the activities of the political opposition, civil society and independent media and have significantly broadened the powers of the State Security Agency (KGB). According to the April 2013 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus, human rights in Belarus have remained “systemically and systematically restricted“, with violations being “of a structural and endemic nature“.

The EU’s dialogue with civil society

Launched in March 2012 as an initiative of the National Platform of the EaP Civil Society Forum, the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian Society includes representatives of Belarusian civil society and the political opposition. Four working groups are set to address political dialogue, justice and home affairs, economic and social reforms, and trade and regulatory issues. The Belarusian regime’s absence from this dialogue, strategic uncertainty, too limited a range of public stakeholders and a fragmented opposition have so far prevented the initiative from realising its potential impact. Recently, the Belarusian regime allegedly proposed to transform the format of the Dialogue on Modernisation into a purely interstate “Partnership for Modernisation”.

Parliament’s position

The recommendation on EU policy towards Belarus, drafted by the Foreign Affairs Committee (rapporteur Justas Vincas Paleckis, S&D, Lithuania), reiterates that the unconditional and immediate release, and rehabilitation of the political and civil rights of, all remaining political prisoners is an absolute prerequisite for the gradual lifting of EU sanctions, and for restarting political dialogue on democratic reforms, free and fair elections, respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. It stresses that participation of the Belarusian authorities in the Dialogue on Modernisation must be on an equal basis with the democratic opposition and civil society. It calls on the Council to ensure that Member States comply with EU policy towards Belarus in their bilateral relations, in line with their obligation of loyal cooperation under Article 24 TEU.

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