Eastern Partnership Summit: the Results Can Encourage Lukashenka

EaP Summit in Warsaw

The results of the second summit of the Eastern Partnership say nothing new about the EU policy in Belarus and in Eastern Europe. As always, the EU leadership is busy with internal problems. In light of the financial collapse in Greece and the major financial problems in Eurozone countries, one should have not expected allocation of additional large sums on Belarusian issues for Eastern Partnership projects. 

Rather, the summit confirmed that the development of cooperation in the framework of the Eastern Partnership will move very slowly. Fundamentally, the Eastern Partnership is still a deferred project for the EU.

The host of the summit Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk after his meeting with representatives of the Belarusian opposition said: "From our side there will be no concessions, no gestures of any kind towards Lukashenka's regime until all political prisoners are released".

There was not much discussion at the summit about what steps Lukashenka's regime should make to normalize its relations with the EU. The EU has already got used to the thought that normalization of relations was impossible while Lukashenka is in power. The real question was about taking some very small steps to change the current situation in relations for the better to some extent.

EU President Herman van Rompuy, urging the Belarusian authorities to establish dialogue with the EU, said: "We cannot support Belarus without seeing apparent progress in regard to respect of human rights in this country, and it means immediate release and exculpation of all political prisoners".

Statements by the representatives of EU bodies and member states implied that currently the EU demands towards Lukashenka's regime are limited de-facto to the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners. It was not specified, however, what is meant under the rehabilitation.

Donald Tusk also announced at the final press conference of the summit that its participants had approved a "Modernization Package for a Democratic Belarus". The package foresees a possibility of extending grants and loans to Belarus by international institutions, investment stimulus and mechanisms for the stabilization of the Belarusian currency, and the simplification of the visa regime.

According to the Prime Minister of Poland, the EU is ready to extend up to nine billion dollars to Belarus in exchange for the fulfillment of certain conditions: full amnesty and exculpation of the political prisoners, opening of negotiations with opposition and holding the parliamentary elections in accordance with the OSCE standards.

One gets the impression that Tusk voiced the maximum demands to Lukashenka's regime, and the EU does not really believe that they can be met.

At the final press conference, the EU President also said that the release of the political prisoners was the first condition for resuming cooperation with Belarus.

Belarus' ruling elite still does not see much of a 'carrot' in the Eastern Partnership projects and other EU proposals, or anything worth pushing Lukashenka to any significant steps towards the EU and the West and intensifying the internal dialogue on expanding cooperation with the EU.

Currently, the demands of the EU to carry out democratic reforms and to hold the parliamentary elections in accordance with the OSCE standards enter are in contradiction with the interests of the ruling elite. In Belarus, the process of the carving-up (appropriation) of a significant part of state property is gaining momentum. The nomenklatura needs its own convenient laws, its parliamentarians, judges and mass media in order to keep competitors both the West and Russia out of Belarus.

The figure of nine billion dollars, announced by the Prime Minister of Poland, is so far the biggest promise from the West (if the EU is indeed ready to allocate this amount). But it is still less attractive compared to what the nomenklatura can get as a result of the carving-up of a significant part of state property.

Andrei Liakhovich

Andrei Liakhovich is a contributing author. He directs the Center for Political Education in Minsk.

Andrei Liakhovich directs the Center of Political Education in Minsk.

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