Thursday

21st Jan 2021

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU offers to buy Belarus for $9bn

EU leaders have promised authoritarian Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko $9 billion if he frees political prisoners and holds normal elections.

EU sanctions causing pain for Lukashenko

EU countries are probing who else to hit with sanctions in Lukashenko's nomenklatura. But the existing blacklist is already causing discontent inside his ranks.

Feature

Belarus' brutal crackdown – the 19 December anniversary

On 19 December one year ago, 50 000 people gathered at Independence Square in central Minsk to protest the reelection of Belarussian President Aleksander Lukashenko. response was decisive and violent. Around 600 were arrested and thousands of others beaten.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary gives initial ok for UK and Russian vaccines
  2. Russia files for Sputnik vaccine registration in EU
  3. Destruction and three deaths in Madrid explosion
  4. Liberals kick out Lithuanian MEP for homophobic jibes
  5. Air pollution killing thousands of Europeans a year
  6. First migrant tragedy of 2021 claims 43 lives
  7. Train revival needed to meet EU climate goals
  8. NGOs shame Monaco for persecuting UK whistleblower

Column

BioNTech: Stop talking about their 'migration background'

I understand that the German-Turkish community - often subjected to condescension in Germany - celebrated the story. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türecki represent scientific excellence and business success at the highest level.

Italy's return to statism spells trouble for the eurozone

There are profound questions about whether the windfall of cash from the EU coronavirus recovery fund will truly help Italy recover or whether it will cause more problems than it solves, for Rome and the rest of the eurozone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'
  2. Big tech: From Trump's best friend to censorship machine?
  3. Turkish minister in Brussels to discuss new migrant deal
  4. EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates
  5. On Erdoğan and Europe's 'ontological' choice
  6. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  7. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  8. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us