Finland - Belarus a Northern Dimension partner?

The EU foreign ministers will draw up an interim review of the European Union's relations with Belarus in November. During his visit to Finland, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov of Belarus, hopes that the EU will abandon its remaining sanctions. Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb hopes that the country will proceed further in granting political liberties and would give up the use of capital punishment.

Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb met his colleague, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov of Belarus.Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb met his colleague, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov of Belarus.

"Finland intends to raise relations with Belarus to a new level. This will take concrete shape by sending a Finnish diplomat to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. I also support the idea of including Belarus as full member in the Northern Dimension," Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said in Helsinki on 13 October at the press conference held following talks with his colleague, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov of Belarus.

The talks between Stubb and Martynov focused on relations between Belarus and the EU and on bilateral political and economic relations between the two countries.

At present the EU has called a time-out in its relations with Belarus, where the authoritarian government has taken small steps towards increasing political freedoms. Sanctions have been eased, and the EU foreign ministers will discuss their position in November.

According to Stubb, Belarus has progressed in the right direction. The EU awaits additional steps towards freer elections, alleviation of the restrictions on NGOs and political parties, and abandoning the use of capital punishment.

According to Foreign Minister Martynov, Minsk considers that progress has been made and expects that, in November, the EU foreign ministers will not decide merely to postpone the implementation of sanctions but will instead given them up altogether.

Finland opens the way

Both Stubb and Martynov underscored Finland's role in the rapprochement between Belarus and the EU. Stubb was the first EU foreign minister to visit Belarus, coming in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE when relations between the EU and Belarus began to get warmer in August 2008.

If the Union and Belarus continue their rapprochement, according to Stubb there are four concrete steps for the future. Sanctions would be lifted, preparation of a partnership agreement would begin, visa practices would be eased and Belarus would become eligible for development financing meant for the EU neighbours.

The customs union that Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have agreed to form was also brought up at the press conference. According to Martynov, the customs union representatives met as a joint negotiating team with representatives of the WTO secretariat for the first time on 13 October. The intention is to form the customs union by the start of next year. Martynov though that it could join the WTO in two or three years' time.

Martynov stressed that the customs union would open up opportunities for Finnish companies also on markets in Russia and Kazakhstan, if they invested in Belarus. Trade at present between Finland and Belarus is estimated at about 300 million euros a year.

During his visit Foreign Minister Martynov also met with President of the Republic Tarja Halonen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Vayrynen, Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen and Erkki Tuomioja, Chair of the Grand Committee of the Parliament of Finland. Foreign Minister Martynov ended his visit with a talk at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, where he spoke about the change in relations between the European Union and Belarus and future prospects.



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