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IP/09/970

Brussels, 19 June 2009

Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner visits Belarus to encourage further steps towards democratisation - assistance package of €10 mio announced

On 22 June Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner will pay an official visit to Belarus. During her stay she will have meetings with President Alexander Lukashenko, Foreign Minister Sergeij Martynov as well as with representatives of the opposition and civil society. The situation in Belarus and the ways in which the relationship between the EU and Belarus can develop in future if and when the authorities take further positive steps with regard to democratic freedoms, human rights and respect for independent media, will be central to discussions. The Eastern Partnership initiative and its potential for active involvement of Belarus especially in the multilateral framework will figure on the agenda as well. During her visit to Minsk, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner will also announce the allocation of an assistance package of €10mio for the improvement of food safety and quality in Belarus.

Before her departure for Minsk Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner underlined: “Belarus has taken steps in the right direction and we have recognised that, notably by inviting Belarus to participate in the Eastern Partnership. This is an important step forward in our relationship. However, if our relations are to deepen, we will need to see further moves to develop democratic freedoms, for example the possibility for civil society to work and hold meetings without fear of harassment or arrest, and allowing national and international journalists to do their work freely and to distribute their products without restrictions. If we see convincing progress of this kind, the EU has a lot to offer to Belarus in a wide range of areas of mutual interest. How we proceed together, depends on the choices Belarus will make for itself."

She added: "The EU stands ready to support Belarus in many different areas and therefore I am pleased that we could allocate an assistance package of €10mio to the improvement of Belarusian food safety and quality. This is a good example of the cooperation which could develop between us if Belarus chooses the right path. Deeper relations between us would bring very concrete benefits for Belarusian citizens."

Background on EU-Belarus relations:

In October 2008, the EU suspended the visa ban against certain Belarusian people for a six month period and in March renewed this suspension until the end of 2009.

The second EU-Belarus Foreign Ministers Troika after the suspension of the restrictive measures took place on 27 January 2009. It provided an occasion to take stock of developments in Belarus and to set out how the EU could work with Belarus if progress is seen in certain areas of policy, in particular on media freedom, conditions for NGOs, freedom of assembly, co operation with OSCE/ODIHR on improvements to management of elections, and an end to imprisonment for political activities. The Eastern Partnership offers Belarus the possibility to work in a new way with the EU. Belarus is participating in the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership on an equal basis with all other partners, and has already taken part in the first multilateral meetings on democracy, good governance and stability; on people to people contacts and on energy security.

As regards the bilateral relationship between the EU and Belarus, there are currently technical dialogues between the European Commission and the Belarusian authorities on energy, environment, agriculture, customs, transport and norms and standards. Exploratory talks on establishing an economic dialogue are ongoing.

Background on the assistance package:

This year's Annual Action Programme concentrates on the improvement of Belarusian food safety and quality. In Belarus, as a consequence of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, due to which some 23% of the national territory remains contaminated to this day, food safety is a highly sensitive topic. The programme aims to bring about a gradual alignment of the country’s Quality Infrastructure System with the relevant EU and international regulatory and administrative practices.

The assistance package will for example seek to strengthen professional organisations and business associations and support the establishment of the Belarusian market surveillance system. In addition, aims to support the development of a civil society movement for the protection of consumer rights.

Of the €10 million, €8.5 million are reserved for the quality infrastructure / food safety support, and €1.5 million more generally to enhance the capacity of Belarusian institutions to implement the ENPI Annual Action Programmes. This year's allocation compares with €5 million last year.

Further information:

- On external relations EU-Belarus:

http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/belarus/index_en.htm

- On EU assistance to Belarus:

http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/where/neighbourhood/country-cooperation/belarus/belarus_en.htm

- On Eastern Partnership:

http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/eastern/index_en.htm


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