Relations between Belarus and the EU – an Outline
The European Community recognised the independence of the Republic of Belarus in December 1991. The bilateral relations developed steadily. Through participation in the TACIS program, through other programs and instruments Belarus received a considerable amount of technical and financial assistance. Negotiations on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) were completed in 1995. However, neither the PCA nor the Interim Agreement was concluded and ratified. The Council stated in its September 1997 conclusions that “the EC and their Member States will conclude neither the interim agreement nor the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement” due to the deteriorating political situation in Belarus."
At present, EU-Belarus relations are governed by successive conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council and subject to progress in the areas of democracy, respect of human rights, and the rule of law, the Council has been ready to take steps towards upgrading the contractual relations with Belarus.
In the aftermath of the violations of electoral standards in the 19 December 2010 Presidential elections and the crackdown on civil society, the political opposition and independent media, the EU was left with no alternative but to adopt a tough response. While remaining committed to its policy of critical engagement, including through dialogue and the Eastern Partnership, the Foreign Affairs Council on 31 January 2011 decided to reinstate the restrictive measures against Belarus. Against the background of the deteriorating situation in Belarus, the restrictive measures were strengthened at repeated occasions during the year. On 20 June 2011 the Foreign Affairs Council furthermore decided to impose an embargo on Belarus on arms and on materials that might be used for internal repression and to freeze the assets of three companies linked to the regime. The criteria were expanded in January 2012 to also target those responsible for serious violations of human rights, the repression of civil society and opposition and persons or entities benefiting from or supporting the regime. The EU has repeatedly stressed that the EU policy of restrictive measures remains under constant review. In parallel, the EU has strengthened its engagement with the Belarusian people and civil society through increased support to civil society and victims of repression, the offer to start negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements and by a dialogue on modernization with Belarusian society on 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.
Belarus is included in the European Neighborhood Policy although no action plan is currently foreseen for the country.
Belarus joined the Eastern Partnership initiative in May 2009 together with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Pending improvement of the situation in Belarus, it participates in the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership only.
In February 2011 the Council approved negotiating mandates for the Commission on visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Belarus to the benefit of the Belarusian public at large. An invitation to launch negotiations was extended in June 2011. In November 2013 Belarus announced its agreement to conduct such negotiations, and they began in January 2014. Belarus has signed local border traffic agreements with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. When implemented, the agreements provide for simplified non-visa regime for residents of areas located 30–50 km from the border on either side.
EU-funded assistance and cooperation with Belarus involves approximately €30 mln euros worth of projects annually including regional and thematic both ongoing and in preparation. The priority areas are social inclusion, regional and local development.
The EU stands ready to improve and deepen its relations with Belarus. For the EU, Belarus is important as a neighbour. It is an integral part of the European heritage and the European community of nations. For Belarus, the Union is a principal partner in trade and important partner in sectoral and regional development. The EU remains prepared to assist Belarus in democratisation and modernisation .