Sunday

25th Feb 2018

EU invites 'last dictator' to Brussels summit

The EU has invited Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenko to a summit in Brussels in a move deemed "scandalous" by some.

If he comes to the so called Eastern Partnership summit on 24 November, it would be the first-ever visit to the EU capital of a man who is still often called Europe's "last dictator".

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Lukashenko likes to bring his son Kolya to meet heads of state (Photo: Amnesty International)

Lukashenko's 23-year rule has been marked by the murders and jailing of opposition leaders, rigged elections, and goon-squad beatings of peaceful protesters on the streets of Minsk.

But a spokesman for European Council head Donald Tusk confirmed to EUobserver on Tuesday (10 October) that "Belarus has been invited to participate in the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels in the same manner as the other partner countries".

"Who will represent Belarus at the summit is a matter for Minsk to decide," he said.

The summits, which take place every two years, are designed to build closer relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Belarus, a close ally of Russia, normally attends at the level of its foreign minister.

But an EU official noted that Europe lifted its visa ban on Lukashenko and 169 other Belarusians in February.

The official said this was done "against the background of steps taken by Belarus over the preceding two years that contributed to improving EU-Belarus relations".

They said Lukashenko had freed political prisoners, did not beat up anyone during the last elections, and had resumed EU human rights talks.

"Further development of relations between the EU and Belarus will depend on Belarus taking further tangible steps in strengthening democracy and human rights", the official said.

In due time

Speaking the same day, Belarus foreign minister Vladimir Makei said Lukashenko would decide "in due time" whether to come to Brussels, but that he first expected "high-ranking [EU] officials" to come and see him in Minsk.

The Belarusian embassy in Brussels also told EUobserver that EU relations were "getting better".

But Tusk's invitation was immediately dubbed "scandalous" by Petras Austrevicius, a Lithuanian MEP.

Austrevicius, who has worked closely with the Belarusian opposition for two decades, said activists, who still faced temporary detentions, house arrests, and other forms of harassment, would feel demoralised by the EU's red carpet treatment.

"The opposition will no longer have an argument why they are fighting against his regime if he is being welcomed in the EU capital," the MEP said.

An EU diplomat also voiced concern that if the Belarusian "dictator" came, he would steal attention from other leaders, from Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, who really do want to align with the EU.

"The whole summit would turn into a Lukashenko show," he said.

Other commentators took a more geopolitical view, however.

Minsk-Moscow axis

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish leader and Nato head, who now advises the Ukrainian president, said "dialogue" with Lukashenko "could be beneficial for Europe" because it could weaken the Minsk-Moscow axis.

"The future of his [Lukashenko's] relationship with Moscow is not at all clear at this stage," he told EUobserver on Tuesday.

"It [his visit to Brussels] couldn't do any harm. It's an Eastern Partnership summit and, like it or not, Belarus is part of the EU neighbourhood," he said.

Hrant Kostanyan, an expert at Ceps, a think tank in Brussels, said there was no reason not to invite Lukashenka so long as the EU continued to invite Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev.

"I could spend an hour or more talking about human rights problems in Belarus, but the situation in Azerbaijan is much more serious," he said.

"In Azerbaijan, you get years in jail for being in the opposition, but in Belarus, these days, you get a few days," he said.

"If you're going to invite Aliyev, you might as well invite Lukashenko, and if you don't invite either of them, then what's the point of having a summit?", he said.

Aliyev, who is also invited in November, has so far declined to say if he will come.

Kostanyan said this was because he was trying to "blackmail" the EU to include more pro-Azerbaijan language on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in a joint summit declaration.

Past summit declarations have formally "acknowledged" the "aspirations" of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine to one day join the EU.

Enlargement fatigue

But Kostanyan said this year might be the first time that the phrase is redacted from the text due to pressure from anti-enlargement states Germany and The Netherlands.

EU ambassadors aim to finalise the text in Brussels on Wednesday before sending it to the six former Soviet capitals for their approval.

Rasmussen said that if the EU cut out its "acknowledgement" it could harm prospects for reform.

"I sense, in some EU capitals, a Ukraine fatigue and, at the same time, I sense, in Kiev, an EU fatigue," he said.

"We are at a crucial point [in Ukraine's future development] and this is really the wrong time to demonstrate fatigue. Right now, the EU should voice optimism and try to reinvigorate the Eastern Partnership," he said.

MEPs call for reset in relations with Belarus

A group of 72 euro-deputies have written to EU leaders, asking them to stop funding Europe's last dictatorship and increase their support for democracy activists instead.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

Opinion

EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy

Not extending the EU fisheries deal with Morocco to fish off the disputed coast of Western Sahara could deprive the Sahrawi people of much-needed income - and throw into question future EU foreign policy in the name of human rights.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?