Solana: "Lukashenko, not the EU, is isolating Belarus"

Javier Solana, speaks of the conditions needed to bring Minsk closer to the EU.

Javier Solana, 63, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is the former Secretary General of NATO. This former Spanish socialist minister is recognised for his outstanding diplomatic qualities.

How would you describe the political regime in Belarus?

I would say that we are talking about a country in Europe, which is utterly un-European in terms of respect for democracy and human rights. Belarusian people deserve much better.

The EU has denounced human rights' violations in Belarus many times. Which means does the EU have to punish or isolate its regime?

The EU has demonstrated its willingness to take strong action in response to negative developments in Belarus. These include the use of travel bans - for example in connection with failure to investigate and cover-up of the disappearances of three opposition politicians and a journalist in Belarus in 1999-2000 and after the parliamentary elections in October 2004, which the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) concluded fell considerably short of OSCE commitments, the EU imposed a visa ban on 6 high-ranking Belarusian officials.

Moreover, as a response to reported infringement of basic civil liberties of trade union members and leaders in Belarus, the EU will consider temporarily withdrawing preferences under the EU's Generalised System of Preferences.

But let me be clear, the EU does not wish to isolate Belarus. It is Lukashenko who is isolating the country. The EU remains open to dialogue and has clearly set out the steps Belarus authorities need to take to normalise relations. Respect for democracy and the rule of law is a basic pre-condition for such a process to start.

Through which means can the EU to promote democracy in Belarus?

The EU has taken steps both to support democracy and to respond to negative developments in Belarus. These include transferring 2 million euros to EIDHR (European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights) last year to support democratisation, support for the European Humanities University, media projects and dialogue with democratic forces in the country. We also responded strongly to previous fraudulent elections and have imposed visa bans where appropriate.

When do you think Belarus will be ready to join the Union?

The EU said time and again that we want to have closer and better relations with Belarus - including in the framework of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and the European Neighbourhood Policy - once the Belarusian authorities clearly demonstrate their willingness to respect democratic values and the rule of law.

Do you think Belarus will see post-election demonstrations as we saw in Ukraine in 2004?

The EU supports the process of democracy and the rule of law. If demonstrations do take place following the elections, the EU will urge all sides to refrain from violence.

Can traditional alliance between Russia and Belarus condition the UE in the application of its foreign policy in Belarus?

It is true that Russia and Belarus have close social, political and economic relations, but Belarus is a sovereign independent state and we treat it as such.

Mariona Vivar - Paris - 13.3.2006