Februar 01, 2011

The European Union and Belarus: "Policy of Critical Engagement"?

General view of the meeting.
Foto: Photographic service of the Council
of the EU ©European Communities
The selective employment of "sticks", namely imposing sanctions until the rest of the EU demands are fulfilled, and "carrots", namely support for the civil society, has been a part of the Council's conclusion. After a foreign ministers' meeting on Monday (31 January 2011), this decision has been made:

EU imposes visa ban and ...

"In view of (the) recent events and developments, the Council has decided to impose travel restrictions and an asset freeze against persons responsible for the fraudulent Presidential elections of 19 December 2010 and the subsequent violent crackdown on democratic opposition, civil society and representatives of independent mass media. The Council has also decided to reinstate the travel restrictions imposed on certain persons in Belarus in relation to the elections in 2004 and 2006 and the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition, which had been suspended since 13 October 2008 in order to encourage progress. These restrictive measures and the list of persons targeted will be kept open and under constant review." (Council conclusions on Belarus 3065th FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting Brussels, 31 January 2011)

... strengthens its engagement with civil society

"The European Union remains strongly committed to strengthening its engagement with the Belarusian people and civil society. (...) The Council recalls the importance it attaches to facilitating people-to-people contacts with Belarus to the benefit of the Belarusian population at large. It looks forward to the start of negotiations for visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Belarus, once the negotiating directives have been adopted. (...) The EU remains committed to its policy of critical engagement, including through dialogue and the Eastern Partnership, and recalls that the EU has consistently offered to deepen its relationship with Belarus." (Council conclusions on Belarus 3065th FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting Brussels, 31 January 2011)

The work of the EU will surely only be credible if the values which are to be defended are binding on all the neighbouring countries:

In the run up of the meeting, Belarusian authorities have released seven detainees, including a former presidential candidate Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu, who were arrested in December during protests over the reelection of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported. This leads to a political system that does not take societal developments into account.

The EU can even go a step further and say that given that this is about freedom pluralism and given that freedom pluralism plays a significant role in promoting democracy in a country, the European foreign ministers are taking this case particularly simple. The EU will make a significant contribution to more democratic Belarus, if the Union is much more robust with Belarus than it has been hitherto.

Tighter economic sanctions may be considered here. An economic ban, however, only come into question if significant consensus among the EU Member States is actually demonstrable. This was not the case. A Polish-Swedish initiative to hit Minsk as hard as possible did not produce a majority for any radical change in the Eastern policy of the Eoropean Union with problematic neighbours, EUobserver reported.

The EU is pretty lost in Belarus!

After nearly two months of political repression in Belarus and "theatre performance" of Alexander Lukashenko, the EU ministers met on 31 January 2011 and produced yet another statement on Belarus and imposed some visa sanctions. The mandate that Catherine Ashton become from the 27 countries is simply vague: "The Council will regularly re-examine the situation in Belarus and stands ready to consider further targeted measures in all areas of cooperation as appropriate." It is expected that the Council of Foreign Ministers should try to re-examine the sitauation in Belarus. But where are the solidarity with the Belarussian people and the determination of the EU to encourage concrete measures for radical democratic change in Belarus?

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