EP to invite ten Belarusian observers to Euronest

By Joanna Sopinska

Following months of deliberations, the European Parliament has agreed a set of rules governing the future functioning of the Euronest, the parliamentary institution of the Eastern Partnership, paving the way for the assembly to meet for the first time at the end of March in Brussels. The most problematic issue, which held up the final agreement, was the status of participants from Belarus.

The Eastern Partnership is a new Polish-Swedish initiative launched in May 2009, aimed at bringing six Eastern, post-Communist countries - namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - closer to the European Union. The partnership, with a budget of ?600 million until 2013, offers the participating countries association agreements, including free trade deals and a gradual liberalisation of visa regimes.

According to the rules of procedure, seen by Europolitics, Euronest will consist of 120 members (60 members of the European Parliament and 60 members from participating countries), including ten participants from Belarus with observer status. "The democratic opposition and civil society from Belarus will participate in the parliamentary assembly with ten observers pending full participation by the parliament of Belarus in the work of the Euronest parliamentary assembly," says the document, which was approved by the European Parliament's Conference of Presidents on 10 February. Since October 2008, the European Parliament has not recognised the Belarusian national parliament, which was elected in undemocratic elections on 28 September 2008.

It is not yet clear who will arrive in Brussels on 24 March to represent the Belarusian opposition parties (five observers) and civil society (five observers) at the first Euronest meeting. Exceptionally, in the case of Belarus, the participants will be chosen by the European Parliament on the recommendation of a fact-finding mission, which will visit the country on 25-26 February, an EP source told Europolitics.Thus the final list of names will be decided sometime at the beginning of March, she added. Europoliticslearned that the Polish MEPs are opting for Angelika Borys, the chairwoman of the Union of Poles in Belarus, to be chosen as one of the representatives of Belarusian civil society in Euronest.

The representatives from the other five Eastern countries will be delegated members of national parliaments, according to the rules of procedure. Their expenses will be covered by the national parliaments. This rule will not apply to observers from Belarus, however. "The participation costs of the Belarusian delegation will be met by the European Parliament," said the EP source. The observers from Belarus will not share - contrary to the participants from the other five countries - the costs of organisation and interpretation into the working languages (English, German and French) of the assembly either.

Should the situation in Belarus change towards a more democratic political system, Euronest will open its door to the representatives of a democratically elected national parliament, said the EP source. Once there are fair and free parliamentary elections, the Belarusian delegation might consist of five participants from the national parliament and five from civil society, according to a proposal discussed by the Euronest bureau - a body that has drawn up the rules of procedure. "As soon as elections to the parliament of Belarus are free, fair, democratic and recognised as legitimate by the European Parliament, the members of the Belarusian parliament will be invited to participate in the activities of the Euronest parliamentary assembly as members thereof," say the rules of procedure.

Euronest's role

"The assembly shall be the parliamentary forum promoting the necessary conditions to accelerate political association and further economic integration between the European Union and the Eastern partner countries. The assembly shall contribute to the strengthening, development and visibility of the partnership, as the institution responsible for parliamentary consultation, supervision and monitoring of the partnership."


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