The EU says it's taking the first steps toward helping Belarus

Interview with: Istvan Serto-Radics

31 May 2009 - Issue : 836

Istvan Serto-Radics from Hungary, who is the Vice-President of the Committee of the Regions, and rapporteur for the EU's proposed Eastern Partnership to six eastern European countries, including Belarus, outlined during the panel what he thought the country needed to do to get closer to Europe and talked about it later in an interview with NEtv

We've heard some pretty good conversations about this vexing problem: What do you do with Belarus? Do you sanction them? do you reach out an olive branch to them? Nothing seems to work, the last 12 years at least anyway. How do we achieve a breakthrough? What's the next step?

-It's not an easy question. We can point out some facts. One is the Eastern Partnership has been launched at the Prague's Summit on the 7th of May and now the Eastern Partnership initiative is going : what the 27 Prime Minister said, Vice-Presidents and then Governments of the European Union. When the governments of the six partner countries, like Belarus, like Ukraine, like Moldova, like Azerbaijan, like Georgia, like Armenia agreed on a closer cooperation between the European Union and the six countries. Belarus is one of these countries and the connection between the EU and Belarus is not an easy topic, but we start, we have to start to work, and from the point of view of the local and regional governments I can state that maybe the government and the President of Belarus has some political problems with the European Commission. So on the governmental level, there are some controversial issues now, but on the local and regional levels I don't see any controversial issues. So, we can start on the cooperation right now.

But, isn't the problem that even if you can work with local authorities in Belarus, the higher ranks in Belarus don't care and doesn't really pay attention to any progress it might make at the local level?

-Yes, still ... I take the role of the Committee of the Regions. We can encourage even the government of Belarus to involve more local and regional authorities and even civil societies, which are really representing the population of Belarus in the preparatory work of the Eastern Partnership. So we can encourage the government, not only the Belarus government but also the other five Eastern Partnership's governments that they could take the opportunity, they should take the opportunity to involve the local and regional authorities and civil societies into this process which is called Eastern Partnership.

It's been 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of Communism, allegedly, except in Belarus. How many more years is this going to take?

-You know, all point of view and my point of view that somewhere and somehow we will start to working on : we have to make the first step. Regardless the political situation right now, because if we are waiting, if we are taking some prerequisites, and we would need some specific measurements from the side of the Belarus government to ... as a prerequisite of the cooperation, we wouldn't proceed.

Shouldn't it be last steps by now?

The last steps : yes. The last steps could be : it could be an agreement between the Belarus government and the European Union's Commission for so-called cooperation agreement which will have other Eastern Partnership countries. But, I think we have to wait for a while for this agreement but in the meanwhile we have to start on with the concrete work

Belarus says that there has as much as democracy as has Russia. And that the EU has no real tangible problems with Russia.

It's a good question .. so .. you know, I have participated in the Summit on the seventh of May from the site of the Committee of the Regions and, for example, I see something which was new for me. For example, the Georgian Prime Minister was speaking for Belarus and his message was that the EU should cooperate internship with the Republic of Belarus. And, it seems that today Georgian government and government of Belarus have good connections. And if you look at what has happened between Georgia and Russia, in this context we will see that the Belarus has an independent foreign policy from the Russia federation.



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