Do EU-Belarus Relations Need a Rethink?


Alena Vysotskaya Guedes Vieira BRIEFING PAPER 18, 7 April 2008

  • In the first months of 2008, the Belarusian leadership made some unprecedented declarations, demonstrating its willingness to cooperate with the EU. In contrast to similar declarations in the past, the current statements were supported by tangible cooperation-oriented steps on the part of the official Minsk, including the decision on the opening of the Delegation of the European Commission in the country and the release of several political prisoners.
  • The recent attempts of the Belarusian leadership to establish its own terms for the fulfilment of EU demands on the one hand and the establishment of the Commission’s Delegation in Minsk on the other, invite further consideration of EU-Belarus relations. Nevertheless, the existence of concessions as far as the official Minsk is concerned should not be mistaken for a fundamental change in the Belarusian approach towards the EU. As before, the official Minsk is not simply promoting cooperation with the EU, but cooperation of a very special type, namely one whereby it defines its own conditions, rather than adopting those defined by the EU, thus developing something of a reverse conditionality.
  • The EU should clarify whether it can reward the Belarusian leadership for single cooperation-oriented steps, and to what extent such rewards can be granted. In other words, the EU needs an inventory of the instruments that are, or can be, employed in its policy towards Belarus.
  • As far as the character of different instruments is concerned, the EU approach might appear contradictory, but this strategy is paradoxically the only way to move forward in its relations with Belarus. If the EU wants to promote the democratisation of Belarus, it should try to find synergies among its own measures and the policies of other actors. As the recent changes have demonstrated, only a combination of pressures from different sides will create a sufficient basis for EU leverage in Belarus.

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