Rethinking EU-Belarus relations

2009 "offers unique opportunities for a common EU foreign policy towards [Belarus], which faces financial and economic hardship," argues Patrick Gilroy of the University of Düsseldorf in a March paper.

EU policy "needs to aim at democratisation and domesticating Europe's bête noire, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who still tightly controls the country from its capital Minsk," Gilroy writes. 

The academic believes there is a strong need for a strategy to democratise Lukashenka’s "authoritarian" regime, pointing out that the Belarusian authorities "effectively outplay and destroy political challenges and deprive citizens of resources and basic freedoms". 

Moreover, the "regime dominates all media" and "property confiscation by the state remains possible at any time," the paper adds. 

Warning against "approaching Belarus only via Russia and limiting interaction to the economic sphere" as per usual, Gilroy argues that the "current Czech [EU] Presidency and upcoming Swedish Presidency are in a good position to put democratisation back on the agenda". 

The EU strategy toward the country should be based on "two pillars", namely "consistent support for Belarusian civil society and the democratic opposition" and "conditional re-engagement with Lukashenka's regime," the paper states. 

In the short term, the EU should engage in "civil society capacity building" by ensuring that aid donations flow to "key forces pushing for democracy," Gilroy argues. 

Belarusian citizens also "need to feel EU solidarity," he says, indicating that "abandoning visa requirements to come to EU countries, student exchanges, integrating business and culture into closer relations with the EU are clearly good ideas". 

Gilroy believes that "Lukashenko should be given a second chance" too. The lifting of his visa ban should be extended "for another six months until October 2009". But when this decision is due, the "government should be presented [with] a list of clearly defining areas, measurement criteria and a timeline for liberalisation progress the EU demands to see implemented," he argues. 

Should monitoring the situation in Belarusia show "no measurable progress," "sanctions in the form of targeted financial or travel restrictions should be reintroduced," Gilroy believes. 

"A sustained EU engagement for Belarus has good chances of assisting […] a Belarus ultimately anchored in the club of European democracies," the paper concludes.

Read more