Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: “Belarus Remains the Weakest Point”

The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament Jacek Saryusz-Wolski expressed his view on possible participation of Belarus within the EU program of Eastern Partnership.  

How do MEPs influence the “Eastern Partnership” program? What role do they play in its establishment?

In its essence, the “European Partnership” program is a document that was issued with European Parliament association.  The program was initiated within the EP and later on the document was accomplished by the European Council and the European Commission. In Parliament there are groups of people, so-called delegations that are specialized in affairs with a definite country.  There are delegations for Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and one for the three Caucasian countries. At the moment we are arranging extended interparliamentary summit with parliament representatives of these countries and MEPs. This summit is called “Euronest” – European Neighborhood- East. The beginning of the summit is planned this autumn. Euronest will include 60 MEPs and 60 delegates of “Eastern Partnership” member-states. 10 representatives of each country. But as the Belarusian  House of Representatives is not recognized by the European Community and the EP in particular, only 10 representatives of Belarusian democratic opposition will be invited to participate in Euronest. This will be a forum, specializing in monitoring and analyzing of the events that are connected with Eastern-European partnership. Naturally, this project shouldn’t resemble a project of bureaucrats and official authorities, but it should be a summit of peoples representatives. Its main objectives – economic integration of these countries into the European community, relaxation of visa, border control and trade cooperation, etc. The process will be based on bilateral association agreements. On the basis of the agreement that is currently being developed between the European Union and Ukraine.

And what about the relations with Belarus in this context?

In theory, the kind of agreements will also be concluded with Belarus. We want to include it into the process, but everything will depend on liberalization rate. The decision on Belarusian participation will be adopted during the summit in March, and declared a bit later. But I’ll tell you that among the six candidate-states, Belarus remains the weakest point, due to its problems in democracy and human rights. Today, there are some optimistic changes, but they are not enough.

How will the “Eastern partnership” program develop if Belarus refuses of participation in it?

Belarus won’t refuse of it, as it is greatly interested in participation within this program. The Foreign Affairs Minister Martynov stated so, as well as Lukashenko proved that during the visit of Solana in Minsk. Another matter is that how great is the intention of Belarus to accomplish the conditions for inclusion into this program. I’m talking about the conditions of democratization, observance of human rights, freedom of speech and Mass Media. The list is long and is not limited only to 5 points. Yes, we admit that several independent newspapers have obtained the right of free distribution, that some changes are introduced into electoral legislation, the movement of Milinkevich “Za Svabodu” (“For Freedom”) gained registration. But unfortunately, it’s not enough. Yes, opposition leaders are no more in jail. But instead they are doing military service now. We’ve got a list. Depending on how close Belarus reaches European standards, it will be included into the program fully or partially.  

On April 2nd, Belarusian Parliament will consider the issue of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If the decision is positive, how will it effect its participation in the program?

This will be a serious obstacle for Belarus to become the member of Eastern partnership.

The funding of the program is not that generous, about 350 million euro. Is that enough to attract Lukashenko?

The final decision of the program funding has not yet been adopted. And this is not so important. The most important, is what will happen after the beginning of the program on May 7th. The point of the program is not about money transferring, but about the establishment of free trade area. For Belarus as well as for the EU. In general, in April the EP delegation visits Minsk. We want to assess the current changes in Belarus. It’s urgent to decide what to do with the sanctions towards Belarusian authorities that have been suspended for six months. They can be lifted, re-imposed or their suspension can be prolonged. The decision to be made by the EU Council Ministers and the European Parliament. But frankly speaking, I doubt that the sanctions will be lifted. But we want to see with our own eyes those liberal changes in the country. The European Parliament is the body that cares of the issues of human rights and democracy most. The last thing we are interested in are business-projects. We do care about foreign policy, grounding on democratic values. Funding of all European projects should be approved and ratified by the European Parliament. If we conclude that liberalization of Belarus is only nominal, we’ll simply say “stop” to our executive power. Our force is not about conviction, but about decision-making.

What are the prospects for member-states to join the European Union?

The participation of the countries within the program of “Eastern Partnership” doesn’t imply that they gain the right to join the EU automatically. People ask us this question frequently. Frankly speaking, we prefer not to answer it. Not no, not yes. The European Union is not yet ready to the kind of events, as well as these states. I think that these countries and the EU will benefit a lot from this economic, trade, cultural, legislative and political integration, that are laid in the “Eastern Partnership” participation.

Translated from www.euramost.org