Belarus Forces Way To Top Of EU Ministers' Agenda

The EU's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, issued a declaration last week warning Belarus's relations with the EU were at risk.

By Ahto Lobjakas

Belarus has forced its way to the top of the EU agenda once again as member states' foreign ministers meet today in Brussels.

Ministers are also expected to discuss plans with respect to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, and Haiti, as well as to adopt a declaration on relations with Moldova.

The debate on the situation in Belarus comes at the request of Poland, increasingly worried about Minsk's moves against the autonomous leaders of the some 400,000 ethnic Poles in the country.

Dozens of ethnic Polish activists have been briefly arrested and Polish community buildings have been seized by Belarusian authorities in the crackdown on the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB). The head of the ZPB, Anzhelika Borys, is in Brussels this week.

In a letter sent to other EU governments, Poland cast doubt on the "genuineness" of Belarus's commitment to improve relations with the EU and asked for an "in-depth reflection about the future of the EU-Belarus relations in case the negative tendencies continue."

The EU's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, issued a declaration last week warning Belarus's relations with the EU were at risk.

The EU has previously suspended a visa ban on Belarusian leaders, admitted the country into its Eastern Partnership outreach project, and offered tentative talks on further assistance in response to apparent assurances from Minsk to allow some democratic reforms. Belarus is seen by many EU member states as a crucial link in the bloc's drive to secure its eastern flank against the encroachment of Russian influence.

Postelection Ukraine

Aside from Belarus, EU ministers will hold a lunch debate on the situation in Ukraine in the wake of the presidential elections won by Viktor Yanukovych.

EU governments have received indications to attend the new president's inauguration ceremony in Kyiv on February 25. Yanukovych has indicated he will visit Brussels shortly.

The EU remains concerned about the state of the Ukrainian economy, urging the country to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This is one of the preconditions the bloc has set to release its own $6 billion aid package for Ukraine. The European Commission has also put together a short-term "crisis package" identifying key sectors in the Ukrainian economy for reforms and another 600 million euros in assistance. To gain access to the package, EU diplomats say, Ukraine must, as soon as possible, adopt a "realistic" budget for 2010.

Security Issues

On Afghanistan, EU ministers will review the country's preparations for parliamentary elections, postponed from May to September 18.

Most EU countries support U.S. "red lines" for providing the $120 million needed for the elections, which include demands for changes in the leadership of the Afghan Independent Election Commission and the preservation of an international presence in the Electoral Complaints Commission. Diplomats say France especially fears President Hamid Karzai will ignore the demands of the international community.

Diplomats say former Lithuanian foreign minister Vygaudas Usackas will be appointed the EU's new representative for security and development aid coordination in Afghanistan.

Today's EU discussion on Iran's nuclear program is not expected to produce concrete results, with the bloc awaiting developments in the UN Security Council.

The EU has said it is ready to strengthen existing sanctions on the country if it doesn't accept an international offer to conduct the enrichment of uranium outside Iran. Diplomats say the EU remains very concerned about continued repressions against supporters of the opposition.

EU foreign ministers will also broach an escalating spat between Switzerland and Libya, which has led Tripoli to close its borders to citizens of the EU's Schengen countries, of which Switzerland is a member.

A declaration will be adopted on Moldova, extending existing sanctions on the leadership of the breakaway Transdniester region. However, diplomats say, the EU visa ban on the leaders will be suspended until the end of September. The number of people affected by the visa ban will also be reduced -- although Romania has forcefully argued for limiting the cuts to only two people, citing national security concerns.


Partners: Social Network