Opening remarks by Head of EU Delegation to Belarus Ambassador Maira Mora at press-conference on 21 September 2011

Ladies and gentlemen,

I cannot resist to remind us all that Belarus is situated in the heart of Europe and is a very close neighbour of the European Union. It tells something about the state of our relations, therefore, that it took us a full twenty years to establish a proper diplomatic presence in Minsk.

I am pleased and honoured to be the first resident EU ambassador to Belarus. I am hopeful that this could mark the beginning of a new chapter in our relations. 

My accreditation comes at a critical juncture in our relations. We welcome recent steps of the Belarusian leadership to free imprisoned politicians and opposition activists, and very much hope that all of them can walk free in the nearest future. The EU cannot consider any move towards normal dialogue before all political prisoners are released and rehabilitated. The development of bilateral relations is conditioned on progress by the authorities on human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

Our return to dialogue, we hope, could go hand in hand with open discussions within Belarus on how to solve problems that the country is now facing. The EU wants to see economically strong and independent Belarus.  

I would like to stress that even in these difficult times we never ceased relations with Belarus, we continued our policy of critical engagement. Belarus has continued to be a member of the Eastern Partnership project.  We have scheduled a number of technical dialogues. A few months ago we offered Belarus to start negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission. We are still waiting for an answer.  We would like to see more Belarusians visiting the EU, travelling freely, studying and doing business.

The EU has continued supporting civil society and numerous projects in areas such as energy, environment, food safety, regional and local development, higher education, as well as on civil society, media and the social domain. Part of the EU assistance focuses on measures of nuclear safety, but in my opinion too little is being done for the areas of Belarus which were affected by the Chernobyl disaster, and this could be a priority. This is just one of many areas where we can do much more together. 

Belarus is also involved in regional and cross-border cooperation projects in areas such as transport, border management and customs, migration and asylum, measures against human and drug trafficking, management of man-made and natural disasters, and other areas of regional and cross-border importance. There are three cross-border cooperation areas where Belarus is a participating country: Poland-Belarus-Ukraine , Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus and Baltic Sea Region. Regional dimension is also addressed in the multilateral domain of the Eastern Partnership.

The EU calls on Belarus to observe its international obligations in the areas of human rights, the liberty of the press, freedom of speech and of assembly. Parliamentary elections next year provide a new chance for Belarus to deliver elections fully in line with the accepted international standards and set out on the path of modernisation. We are keen to encourage Belarus to move steadily towards democracy, full respect of the rule of law and human rights.

The EU has important economic interests in Belarus as a promising market on our doorstep. The EU is the world's biggest market and is also Belarus' most important export destination - Belarus would have much to gain from improved trade relations. The EU is also interested in unhindered energy transit and transport through Belarus.

We offer to develop our relationship with Belarus as we do with the other Eastern Partners. But, if our relationship is to develop to its full potential, has to make decisive steps towards privatisation and opening up of the economy that would help Belarus overcome the severe impact of the economic crisis and attract badly needed technology and foreign direct investment. And we hope that Belarus will find the strength to make further steps towards democratic standards.

The EU's engagement with Belarus will be commensurate with Belarus’s efforts to carry out political and economic reforms.

The EU is ready to turn a new page in our relations, once the circumstances in Belarus so allow. We will continue to follow developments closely and stand ready to respond as appropriate.

Thank you for your attention.

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