Does the EU Conditionality Work? foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton recently announced the "readiness of the EU to consider further targeted restrictive measures in all areas of co-operation." The statement was made in response to the ongoing trials against political opponents of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Over the weekend the authorities sentenced former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau to five years in high security prison for his role in post-election protests which took place in December 2010.

Last week Alyaksandr Lukashenka used the pompous Victory Day celebration as another opportunity to challenge the West. The Belarusian leader said he was open to dialogue but also ready to “cross the Rubicon” if Europe so desired. Lukashenka seems to acknowledge that one of the pillars of his regime – balancing between Russia and the West – has tumbled. Unconditional dialogue is something the EU no longer welcomes, and the European approach to Belarus is undergoing fundamental revisions. What lessons should the EU draw from its past policies?

The previous EU attempts to induce policy changes in the country relied on the so-called conditionality approach. Belarus was promised specific rewards for fulfilling specific EU demands. Minsk could become a full participant in the European Neighbourhood Policy, join the bilateral track of the Eastern Partnership, restore its special guest status in the Council of Europe, have trade restrictions lifted, gain access to a sizable EU market, and secure a lot more financial support. In other words, it could embark on a path toward becoming a more prosperous post-Soviet state that is invited to events like the upcoming Warsaw Summit of the Eastern Partnership, is no longer called “the last dictatorship of Europe,” and gets more Western aid, but still remains outside of the European Union.  While this sounds better than being Russia’s buffer against the West, Belarus would still belong in a different category than its neighbours Poland and Lithuania.

Read the whole text
Belarus Digest