Updated at 13:41,03-10-2022

Minsk adamant about imposing its conditions on EU

By Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

Belarus was high on the agenda of last week’s meetings of the EU-Neighborhood East Parliamentary Assembly (Euronest PA) and the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Observers note that the discussions could hardly have had an effect on the European Union's policy with regard to Belarus.

Euronest PA: Belarus without vote

Belarus’ official delegation was not invited to the Euronest PA session. It was attended by members of the Belarusian opposition. A working group on Belarus held a meeting on May 28 to discuss Belarus’ future involvement in Euronest PA.

As Vital Rymashewski, a co-chairman of Belarusian Christian Democracy who attended the meeting, told BelaPAN, Minsk once rejected the European Union’s proposal whereby the country’s delegation to Euronest PA sessions would consist of both House of Representatives members and opposition politicians.

"This resulted in the Belarusian opposition’s increased presence. We had an opportunity to attend meetings of various working groups and the session of the Parliamentary Assembly. We had no right to vote, but this is still a sign of Belarus’ presence in Euronest," he said, noting that an invitation to official lawmakers would be a mistake.

"The political regime in Belarus will change sooner or later. Now pro-democratic forces have an opportunity to defend Belarus’ interests in the organization," Rymashewski said.

He confirmed reports that a delegation of European Parliament members had been invited by the Belarusian authorities to visit the country. However, he said, the delegation will not have official meetings with members of the House of Representatives as the EU does not recognize Belarus’ legislature.

"The MEPs will have meetings with civil society activists, they may have some informal meetings with Belarusian government officials," Rymashewski said.

He added that the delegation’s composition was still under discussion.

Apart from Rymashewski, the Euronest PA session was attended by representatives of the Belarusian Popular Front, the United Civic Party, the "Spravedlivy Mir" (Just World) Belarusian Party of the Left, the Movement for Freedom and the "Tell the Truth!" movement.

The Euronest PA was expected to consist of 60 members of the European Parliament and a 10-member delegation from each of the six post-Soviet states participating in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The Belarusian authorities have rejected a composition formula whereby the country’s delegation to the Euronest PA would include five members of the House of Representatives and five opposition politicians.

Paleckis under fire

The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on May 30 discussed a report from Justas Paleckis, the EP’s rapporteur on Belarus.

"I had expected a heated and emotional discussion and it did happen," Paleckis told BelaPAN.

According to him, he was much criticized for saying in the report that the human rights situation in Belarus improved in 2012. "I had already said that this wording was inaccurate and would be changed," he noted.

Paleckis said he explained to the Committee that he did not suggest lifting the EU’s sanctions on Belarusian officials involved in the government’s crackdown on political opponents, and that he only proposed lifting entry bans on one or two officials who could contribute to the establishment of a dialogue.

"I believe that the most important and positive thing in today’s discussion was that for the first time in nine years, the discussion of a report on Belarus did not focus on the reaction of MEPs to bad news from the country but on ways of solving existing problems," Paleckis said.

The report is now open for changes, he said, noting that he has already received interesting and helpful suggestions from Alena Tonkachava, chairperson of Minsk-based Center for Legal Transformation, also known as Lawtrend.

A new discussion of the report by the Committee is expected to take place on July 8 and the report will then be discussed at an EP plenary session in September, Paleckis said.

"I think there will be a heated discussion again," he said. "We will have to reach a compromise between the MEPs who believe that there is a chance to establish a dialogue with Minsk before the [November] Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on condition that the political prisoners have been released and those who believe that apart from the release of political prisoners, Minsk should fulfill other conditions."

The report was written by Mr. Paleckis following his May 18-21 visit to Minsk. While in Belarus, the Lithuanian MEP had meetings with both government officials and representatives of political parties and non-governmental organizations.

Paleckis’ report, in which he noted improvements in the human rights situation in Belarus and recommended suspending entry bans against Belarusian officials, was met with indignation from Belarusian opposition activists and human rights defenders.

The Belarusian foreign ministry expressed hope that the report would help Belarus and the European Union step up their dialogue.

Paleckis insisted that his report was based on information published on the human rights website www.spring96.org, which he said reported a threefold decrease in the number of arrests, searches and other repressive instances in Belarus in 2012. He explained that he had not included the Belarusian rights defenders’ phrase that "the reigning atmosphere of intimidation and fear decreased the activism of people" because of the need to cut the text of the report.

Minsk does not look forward to Vilnius summit

Andrey Fyodaraw, a Minsk-based political analyst, does not expect a rapid improvement in EU-Belarus relations.

Although the EU has lifted sanctions against two Belarusian companies, Akvadiv and Sport Pari, Minsk has not made any reciprocal steps. Its reluctance to free about a dozen of what the EU calls political prisoners remains a major stumbling block.

Lukashenka would not make concessions to the EU because he expects aid from Moscow, Fyodaraw says. "Our [Minsk’s] relationship with the West is in inverse proportion to the relationship with Russia – the worse in the East the better in the West," he stresses.

He adds that the Belarusian leader will not be disappointed if the EU denies him an invitation to an Eastern Partnership summit scheduled to take place in Vilnius this fall.

Minsk wants to get as much as possible

The Belarusian authorities seek more than small concessions from the EU, says Andrey Yahoraw, head of Minsk-based European Transformation Center.

The Belarusian authorities want to get as much as possible from the EU, he told The Viewer. "They want top-level contacts restored, cooperation programs launched and civic society and the political opposition locked out of the cooperation format. That kind of rhetoric is being sold by the Belarusian authorities from the position of the side capable of keeping all developments in the country under its control."

Opposition sidelined

Both analysts agree that the Belarusian opposition cannot influence talks between Minsk and Brussels.

If the opposition remains weak and fragmented as it is, the EU will shift its focus to cooperation with the government if Minsk fulfills its conditions, says Yahoraw.

Fyodaraw stresses that the opposition cannot play a serious role in relations between Belarus and the EU because it cannot influence the Belarusian authorities at home.