The European Union and Belarus
Factsheet: The European Union and Belarus
Since the violations of electoral standards in the 19 December 2010 presidential elections and the subsequent violent crackdown on civil society, the political opposition and independent media, the EU has at many occasions and in different fora expressed its concern about the lack of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles in Belarus.
The EU’s concerns are many, and spelt out in the Council conclusions of 31 January 2011, 20 June 2011 and 23 March 2012, as well as in the numerous statements by High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Catherine Ashton on Belarus.
The first priority is the immediate and unconditional release and rehabilitation of individuals that the EU considers political prisoners. All harassment of members of the opposition, and of civil society must stop and the repressive policies must be rolled back.
The restrictive measures of the EU are an important instrument to keep up the political pressure on Belarus. The EU has repeatedly stressed that the measures remain open and under constant review.
In January 2011, the Council decided to target those responsible for violation of international electoral standards in the presidential elections or the crackdown on civil society and the democratic opposition. The criteria were expanded in January 2012 to also target those responsible for serious violations of human rights, the repression of civil society and opposition and persons or entities benefiting from or supporting the regime (see annex on restrictive measures against the Belarusian regime).
To make it clear that the EU’s policies are not directed against Belarus as such nor against its population, the EU has, in parallel, strengthened its engagement with civil society, the political
opposition and the public at large. In June 2010, the Commission invited Belarus to start negotiations for visa facilitation and readmission agreement to the benefit of the population at large. However, so far, there has been no formal answer by the Belarusian authorities. Meanwhile, the EU’s member states are using the existing flexibilities offered by the Visa Code to waive and reduce visa fees.
The EU has also significantly stepped up its support to civil society and the independent media in Belarus, and has even gone beyond its pledge at the February 2011 donors conference in Warsaw to quadruple its funding. The assistance now stands at €19.3 million for 2011-2013. It takes different forms and there are a number of opportunities for financial assistance. Regular meetings are held to coordinate the work of international implementers and donors.
On 29 March 2012, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle launched a European dialogue on modernisation with the Belarusian civil society and political opposition on necessary reforms for the modernisation of Belarus and on potential development of relations with the EU, as well as possible EU support in this regard.
The EU policy is also not one of isolation. The EU remains committed to the policy of critical engagement, including through the Eastern partnership’s multilateral track. We maintain technical dialogues and cooperation with Belarus is a number of areas of mutual concern. In summer 2011,
the EU upgraded its delegation in Belarus and Ambassador Maira Mora was accredited to Belarus in September 2011.
The EU also made clear on many occasions that the broader development of bilateral relations between the EU and Belarus is conditional on progress by the authorities towards the principles of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.
A Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Belarus was signed on 6 March 1995, but the ratification by EU member states remains suspended since 1997.
Restrictive measures against the Belarusian regime
The EU first imposed restrictive measures against the Belarusian regime in 2004 in response to the disappearance of four opposition activists in 1999 and 2000. The sanctions have been gradually reinforced since then. Following the violation of international electoral standards in the 2006 presidential elections, those responsible for the fraudulent elections, including President Aleksandr Lukashenka, were added to the list of those subject to a travel ban. Asset freezes were subsequently imposed.
In October 2008, the travel bans on President Lukashenka and 31 other Belarusian politicians and senior officials and were suspended so as to encourage dialogue with the Belarusian authorities and measures to strengthen democracy and the respect for human rights. In the wake of the violation of electoral standards in the December 2010 presidential elections in Belarus, the suspension was revoked in January 2011.
Including the decision adopted on 23 March, 243 persons are targeted by a freeze of their assets within the European Union. They are responsible for the violation of international electoral standards in the presidential elections in 2006 or 2010 or serious human rights violations and the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition, or are businessmen associated with, or benefiting from and supporting the Lukashenka regime. The same 243 persons are subject to a ban from entering into the EU. A total of 32 business entities have also been listed.
An embargo on arms and material that can be used for internal repression was imposed in June 2011.
The restrictive measures are currently valid until 31 October 2012.
The legislation that is the basis for the EU sanctions can be seen at http://eeas.europa.eu/cfsp/sanctions/docs/measures_en.pdf