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MEMO/12/332

Brussels, 15 May 2012

ENP Package – Belarus

Belarus is not a full participant to the ENP. It participates only in the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership. No Country Progress Report is prepared for Belarus because there is no ENP Action Plan in force.

Political situation and latest developments in EU relationship with the Country

Since the violations of electoral standards in the 19 December 2010 Presidential elections, there has been a serious deterioration in the respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles in Belarus.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, civil society, the independent media and the political opposition have been subject to increasingly repressive policies, media freedom has deteriorated and politically motivated trials have taken place, leading to the conviction of inter alia former presidential candidates, Nyaklyayew, Rymashewski, Sannikaw, Statkevich. Peaceful protests have been dispersed heavy handedly and there have been reports of torture and inhuman prison conditions.

In August and September 2011, 25 political prisoners were released and some politically motivated charges dropped. However, the repressive policies continued to be strengthened throughout the autumn and winter, including through restrictive legislation outlawing external financing of NGOs and further restricting the right to assembly, and by further politically motivated sentences, including against human rights defender Ales Byalyatski. Uladzislaw Kavalyaw and Dzmitry Kanavalaw were convicted to capital punishment in November 2011 and executed in March 2012 for inter alia their alleged involvement in the March Minsk metro bombing. On 14 and 15 April 2012 two prominent political prisoners - former Presidential candidate Andrei Sannikaw and his campaign aide Dzmitry Bandarenka - were released from prison

The EU has throughout 2011 and 2012 at numerous occasions expressed its grave concern regarding the lack of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles, including in Conclusions adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council in January and June 2011 and in March 2012. The EU has in particular repeatedly called for the immediate and unconditional release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners and for the repressive policies to be reversed.

The EU has also reactivated and broadened its restrictive measures. By April 2012, the EU had designated 243 individuals to a visa ban and assets freeze; imposed an embargo on arms and internal repression material; adopted a restrictive approach to EIB/EBRD lending; and frozen the assets of 32 companies.

Economic and social issues

Belarus experienced a severe balance-of-payment crisis in 2011. The widening of the current account deficit, coupled with low and declining international reserves, exerted strong depreciation pressure on the local currency. Initial attempts to preserve the currency peg were unsuccessful and the currency was devalued twice in the course of the year before its floatation in October. The steep devaluation contributed to acceleration of the CPI inflation to above 100% at the end of 2011.

The EU held in October the first economic dialogue at technical level with the Belarusian authorities. The EU supported during the dialogue the implementation of adjustment policies to address macroeconomic weaknesses. It also stressed the need for acceleration of economic liberalisation and structural reforms.

Belarus' authorities tightened considerably fiscal and monetary policies in the final months of 2011, which helped bringing back inflation under control. The policy tightening was also conditioned by the USD 3 billion (EUR 2.2 billion) bailout agreement with the Eurasian Economic Community Anti-Crisis Fund reached in 2011. Restrictive policies, coupled with the unification of the exchange rate in October, were successful in narrowing macroeconomic imbalances, but brought economic activity to a standstill in the second half of 2011 and will likely negatively affect economic performance in 2012.

The balance-of-payment crisis had negative repercussions for structural reforms, which were largely put on hold as focus shifted entirely on economic stabilisation. There were reversals in major reform areas such as price liberalisation, where some controls were re-introduced as inflation soared. Progress with privatisation was insufficient.

In view of the economic crisis, the authorities requested in mid-2011 a USD 3.5 billion (EUR 2.5 billion) programme from the IMF. Belarus is not eligible for EU's macro-financial assistance as it does not meet the political criteria.

Trade-related issues

Apart from political conditions, WTO accession is a precondition for any enhancement of EU –Belarus trade relations. Belarus applied for WTO membership in 1993 but progress in its accession negotiations has been limited and political commitment appears insufficient. At present, Belarus is focusing on setting up a Customs Union (CU) with Russia and Kazakhstan and building a Single Economic Space with these partners. Belarus remains suspended from the GSP preferential trade regime.

EU Cooperation

EU assistance to Belarus is currently limited in scope and focuses on directly and indirectly supporting the needs of the population and democratisation.

Given the complex political situation of the country, the bilateral allocations funded under ENPI aim at supporting cooperation in sectors of mutual interest (environment, energy efficiency, food security, etc), putting emphasis on civil society participation and at the same time maintaining contact with lower- and mid-level officials within the Belarusian administration that are more likely to be prone to change.

The total envelopes allocated for Belarus for bilateral cooperation are as follows: EUR 43.07 million for the period 2007-2011 and EUR 41.50 million for the period 2012-2013. Belarus also participates in some regional projects, mainly in the area of Environment, Education and Cross Border Cooperation.

The EU and Belarus discussed market integration in the course of their technical energy dialogue in Minsk in September. Belarus committed to carry out nuclear safety and risk assessments ('stress tests') for its nuclear power plant project. In October, a first technical economic dialogue was held in Minsk. The technical dialogue on environment, scheduled to take place in Brussels in November, was postponed until 2012.

Civil Society: role and EU support

During 2011 and 2012, the EU has strengthened its engagement with civil society, the political opposition and the public at large.

The Commission has more than quadrupled the assistance to civil society and victims of repression through its special assistance package worth over EUR 20 million to support the civil society and the students following the post electoral crisis.

In June 2011, the Commission offered Belarus to start negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements to the benefit of the population at large. So far, the Belarusian authorities have not responded to the offer. In the absence of a response, the 23 March 2012 Foreign Affairs Council in its conclusions welcomed the intention of EU Member States to unilaterally make optimal use of the existing flexibilities offered by the Visa Code, in particular the possibilities to waive and reduce visa fees for certain categories of Belarusian citizens or in individual cases.

The EU has throughout 2011 and 2012 strengthened its substantial dialogue with civil society and the political opposition. Building on discussions in the latter half of 2011 between the senior representatives of the EU and so called 6+ group, which reunites the main actors within the Belarusian opposition, the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle on 29 March 2012 at an event in Brussels launched a European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian society.

Within the European dialogue the EU and its Member States will discuss with representatives of the Belarusian opposition and civil society the necessary reforms for the modernisation of Belarus and on the related potential development of relations with the EU, as well as possible EU support in this regard. A first thematic seminar within the dialogue was organised by Poland on 16 and 17 April on the issues of privatisation and entrepreneurship. Work will mainly be taken forward in four working groups in Minsk and through supporting thematic seminars on key transition related issues.

EU–Belarus – Background

FACTS AND FIGURES

1995: Signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (ratification by EU Member States suspended since 1997).

2006: The European Commission presented a non paper on “What the EU could bring to Belarus ".

April 2006: The Council decided to adopt restrictive measures against President Lukashenka, the Belarusian leadership and officials personally responsible for the violations of international electoral standards.

October 2008: The Council decided to suspend the restrictive measures against Belarus to encourage dialogue and the adoption of positive measures to strengthen democracy and respect for human rights.

November 2009: The Council welcomed increased high-level EU-Belarus political dialogue, the establishment of an EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue, the intensified technical cooperation and the active participation of Belarus in the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership, as ways of building mutual understanding and creating opportunities to address issues of concern.

January 2011: Against the background of the violations of electoral standards in the 19 December 2010 Presidential elections and the subsequent crackdown on civil society and the political opposition, the Council expressed its concern about developments and reactivated the EU's restrictive measures against Belarus. The restrictive measures were further strengthened in March, May, June and October 2011, as well as in January, February and March 2012. Further Council conclusions were adopted in June 2011 and March 2012.

March 2012: Launching of the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian society.

More info at:

http://ec.europa.eu/world/enp/documents_en.htm

http://eeas.europa.eu/enp/index_en.htm

http://eeas.europa.eu/belarus/index_en.htm


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