Sunday

24th Jul 2016

Opinion

Belarus as a permanent challenge for the EU

  • Relative of political prisoner confronts police (Photo: EPA)

A new project for economic integration proposed by Russia's prime minister to create a Eusian Union based on the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus is a major challenge for the European Union.

The EU should not underestimate the importance of his proposal, since for Belarus it is the only offer of economic integration that does not require a liberalization of the political system by the authorities of that state. What is more, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka has referred enthusiastically to the Russian idea and said that his country will actively engage in shaping the new structure.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

This means that the EU faces a serious challenge not only in reaching new forms of co-operation with Belarus' authorities, since neither integration with the EU nor deepened co-operation is as attractive as it was before, but also mainly in dealing with the institutions that form civil society in Belarus. Regardless of the willingness of the Belarusian authorities to co-operate, the EU should support this society's European aspirations by increasing support for the development of civil-society, primarily independent NGOs and free media.

In this context, it would be particularly advantageous to provide funding for these projects at the EU level—both in the short- and medium-term frameworks. The European Union should also make financial instruments more flexible, which would allow to shift funding from projects supported by the authorities to those that support civil society.

The main tool of assistance for Belarusian civil society should be the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). Its flexible and non-bureaucratic structure should allow it to respond quickly to the needs of its Belarusian partners. The EED should also be able to conduct long-term aid projects.

It is also worth considering not only how to develop institutions such as the EED, but also how the EU and its member states can support entrepreneurs from small- and medium-size enterprises in neighbouring countries, for instance, through a system of preferential loans for development activities. One must remember that these entrepreneurs are the foundation for building a middle class and they may have a significant influence on pro-European mood in society.

Another important issue is the possibility for young Belarusians to study in the EU. Building future elites who have been shaped by European values
has helped many countries in transition, of which the Baltic states are excellent examples.

Also worth considering in this context is offering scholarship programs for young Belarusian officials from low and medium levels of the government to help them understand the mechanisms of governance in democratic countries in order to affect the future functioning of the Belarusian state.

The EU should therefore set out a concrete co-operation framework on which independent Belarusian political parties, media and NGOs can depend. This is particularly important because the Belarusian authorities are planning to strengthen penalties for accepting, storing or transferring unregistered foreign aid from 15 days' detention to three years in prison. In addition, the Belarusian regime wants to significantly increase the powers of its KGB officers, who while performing official duties will be exempt from any legal responsibility.

Given the increasingly difficult working conditions, Belarusian opposition parties want help in preparing for the parliamentary elections that will be held in autumn 20123. First of all, they expect help in the creation of anti-economic crisis programs for Belarus, campaign support (such as printing articles in independent Belarusian newspapers and flyers to be distributed amongst citizens), and with training sessions for young oppositionists who will be observers during the election.

If the EU takes these actions, it should give a clear sign to Belarusian society of an alternative to Russia's integration projects.

Anna Maria Dyner is an analyst at The Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit plans missing in action

The Brexit referendum has created an almighty political and economic mess, with little sign of a British or EU plan to clean things up.

Opinion

Brexit seed was planted in 2004

The clause allowing a member state to leave the EU was introduced at a time of prosperity. EU leaders should not repeat the mistake and use the crisis to reinforce eurozone membership.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Belgrade Security ForumMigration, Security and Solidarity within Global Disorder: Academic Event Agenda for 2016
  2. GoogleHow Google Fights Piracy: Creating Value While Fighting Piracy
  3. EJC"My Visit to Israel" - Opinion by MEP Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the EP Working Group on Antisemitism
  4. World VisionChildren Migrating, Out of School and at Work as Hunger Deepens in Southern Africa
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStand-Up (and Exercise) to Prevent Chronic Diseases
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersLaunches a Real-time News Hub Specialised in EU Stakeholders
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for International Probe Into Turkey Coup Allegations
  8. GoogleEU-US Privacy Shield: Restoring Faith in Data Flows and Transatlantic Relations
  9. World VisionWorld Leaders & Youth Advocates Launch Partnership to End Violence Vs. Children
  10. Counter BalanceReport: Institutionalised Corruption in Romania's Third Largest Company
  11. Access NowEuropol Supports Encryption. We Can Relax Now… Right?
  12. GoogleLearn about Google's projects across Europe on Twitter @GoogleBrussels

Latest News

  1. Munich attack might not have been terrorism
  2. A very British (and Corbynite) coup
  3. Poland 'changing for the worse' for Muslims and refugees
  4. EU aims to lift visas on Turks despite purge
  5. ECB in ‘bail-out’ of scandal-tainted VW
  6. EU failed to learn lesson from Brexit, Poland says
  7. UK accord on EU workers 'crucial', France says
  8. EU and US take different lines on Turkey crackdown