EU urges progress on democracy and human rights in Belarus

The European Union has called for the cash-strapped former Soviet republic of Belarus to step up reforms before it can expect any more financial help.

Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov met with senior EU officials in Brussels on Tuesday in an effort to bring his country, which has been hit hard by the economic crisis, closer to the European Union.

The European Union says it might be inclined to offer financial assistance, but also insists Belarus has not done enough on reforms or human rights.

EU external relations chief Benita Ferrero Waldner told a joint news conference with the Belarussian Foreign Minister: "We stand ready to support and re-engage with Belarus, if indeed Belarus shows to be very serious in pursuing the moves towards democracy, and fundamental freedoms." She added that the EU could "unlock the full potential of our relationship if indeed convincing and irreversible reforms will be there."

The EU has included Belarus as one of six eastern neighbors that could eventually benefit from partnership agreements, covering trade, visa liberalization and closer political ties. Relations with Belarus are considered key to the battle of influence between Europe and Russia, over the countries wedged between them.

EU financial assistance would be funnelled through the International Monetary Fund, which last month signalled it could increase its loan to the former Soviet satellite by roughly $1 billion. This would add to the $2 billion already lent to Belarus, and another $2 billion borrowed from Russia.

Belarus laments travel restrictions Square in Polotsk, Belarus with star-shaped sculptureBildunterschrift: Gro?ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: A symbol? Polotsk in Belarus claims to be Europe's geographical center

Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said he really wanted to see visa travel made easier for his country's citizens: " Visa facilitation is an obvious priority, our citizens and residents of Belarus cannot accept the fact that they have to pay at least twice as much as their neighbors pay for their visas, and also to have an extremely cumbersome and lengthy procedure of having visas to the Schengen zone." That, the foreign minister said, stands in the way of free travel in Europe, and has to be remedied.

The EU says visa-free travel, closer trade relations and financial assistance are all possible - but only if Belarus delivers on reforms, which will again be reviewed in the autumn.

Recent reform moves by President Alexander Lukashenko have already been rewarded by the EU, which recently lifted sanctions, including a travel ban for Belarussian officials.

All in all, Foreign Minister Martynov did not leave Brussels empty-handed: insiders say the fact that he was invited to Brussels is already a sign that relations are looking up.

Author: Nina-Maria Potts (db)



Partners: Social Network