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Dialogue could be the best incentive for democratic reforms in Belarus (2013 07 12)

MEP Justas Paleckis, A.Pliadzis photo, alfa.lt 

Opening “all the doors and even windows” for direct contact between people could be the best incentive for democratic change in Belarus. This is one of the main ideas of the European Parliament's recommendation for EU-Belarus policy that was adopted with a broad majority in the foreign affairs committee on Tuesday 9 July. 55 of the committee members voted in favour, one against and five abstained.
S&D vice-president Libor Rouček said:

“In the last 19 years the European Parliament has adopted many resolutions about violations of human rights in Belarus, but this time the recommendation tries to take a broader look at EU-Belarus relations and consider a new strategy.”
Lithuania S&D MEP Justas Vincas Paleckis, who prepared the recommendation for EU member states, the European Commission and the European External Action Service, emphasised that Belarus, in the centre of Europe, and its 10 million people should be not be lost to Europe. He commented:

“Regarding Belarus, the EU can choose one of three approaches: to be passive and abandon all efforts; to increase the sanctions and risk encouraging the self-isolation of the country; or to renew dialogue once political prisoners have been released.”
The foreign affairs committee members chose this last option, encouraging the EU to continue its “critical engagement” policy. The unconditional and immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners is an absolute prerequisite for re-establishing good relations. In the adopted recommendation, members of the European Parliament call on the Lithuanian presidency and Eastern Partnership meeting in Vilnius to make use of the chance to improve EU-Belarus relations.
The temporary suspension of Mr Vladimir Makei, the Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs, from the list of Belarusian officials banned from entering the EU should be used first and foremost in the negotiations for the release of political prisoners.
Discussing the key points of the recommendation, S&D vice-president Libor Rouček mentioned the possibility of increasing contacts with reform-orientated Belarusian officials who are not personally involved with repression in the country. Democratic reforms in the country could come faster if they were supported by officials. However, the main initiators of change should be civil society and business.
European Parliament members noted that the human rights situation in Belarus is still very difficult, with an atmosphere of repression and harassment. The MEPs urged EU member states and institutions to look for ways to encourage Minsk to begin democratic reforms, start dialogue with civil society and the opposition, and stop obstructing the independent media. They called on the EU to continue supporting Belarusian civil society, dialogue for modernisation and the independent media, and to considerably reduce the price of Schengen visas for Belarusian citizens. 
During the committee meeting, Justas Vincas Paleckis stressed:

“It is very important to demolish all artificial barriers at border crossings, in consulates and in other institutions in order to facilitate people-to-people contact.”
The recommendation asks the EU to carry out an in-depth evaluation of the current restrictive EU measures against Belarusian officials and entities, with a view to improving their effectiveness and adapting their scope, nature and validity if needed, in reaction to developments in the country and in its relations with the EU.
The European Parliament will discuss this recommendation in the September plenary session.

Komodromos Dimitris © Group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, 12 July 2013


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