The European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) is currently the key EU financial instrument for bilateral cooperation with Belarus. From 2014-2017, the EU's initial assistance package to Belarus under the European Neighbourhood Instrument was lower, but following a decision taken in September 2016 the amount was increased to €91.5 million.
The strategic framework, key results and indicative financial allocations for the EU's bilateral cooperation with Belarus in 2014-2017 is set out in the Multi-annual indicative programme. The three priority sectors under the current programme are social inclusion, environment and local/regional economic development.
The strategic framework for EU bilateral cooperation with Belarus for the period 2018-2020 will be set out in the Single Support Framework, which will replace current Multi-annual indicative programme. The Single Support Framework will focus on economic development and market opportunities, strengthening institutions and good governance, connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate change, mobility, and people-to-people contacts.
Increasing mobility and contacts between the European Union and Belarusian citizens
Belarus participates in the European Union's flagship mobility programme Erasmus+. From 2015-2017, 1,000 students and academic staff members from Belarus have benefited from studying or teaching in the EU, and 420 Europeans have studied or taught in Belarus. Twelve Erasmus Mundus scholarships have been awarded to masters' students from Belarus. Thirteen capacity-building projects (e.g. modernising curricula, introducing new MA programmes, enhancing entrepreneurship and relations with the economic environment, etc.) support the modernisation and internationalisation of higher education institutions in Belarus. Six Jean Monnet projects promote excellence in teaching and research in the field of European Union studies. Belarusian youth organisations and almost 2,300 young people from Belarus have been actively involved in the Erasmus+ youth exchange and volunteering programme.
Mobility is also made possible through the ongoing MOST (Mobility Scheme for Targeted People-to-People-Contacts) project offering short-term mobility and cultural exchanges for professionals. For instance, about 300 Belarusians interested in creating their own business or in facilitating small and media enterprise (SME) development have taken part in short events in the EU in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation.
The EU4Youth programme will benefit young Belarusians through its support to skills development, creativity and entrepreneurship, as well as capacity building for youth organisations. The goal is to empower young people and enhance their participation in decision-making.
Support to civil society and NGOs
Support for civil society remains an essential part of the EU's policy towards Belarus, and grants are awarded through competitive procedures with funding from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), Non State Actors and Local Authorities (NSA/LA) thematic programme as well as the bilateral ENI support. During 2017, close to €7.5 million was allocated to civil society and local authorities. The EU will also remain engaged with the opposition and the public at large.
The European Union is Belarus' second main trade partner with almost a one third share in the country's overall trade. EU-Belarus bilateral trade in goods has been growing steadily over the past years. Belarus' exports to the EU are dominated by mineral fuels, while the EU exports mainly machinery, transport equipment and chemicals to Belarus.
In the past two years, the EU and Belarus have established a formal Dialogue on Trade, which gathers twice a year in order to exchange on a regular basis, including on domestic regulations and other trade concerns. This dialogue also offers a platform to reflect on relevant opportunities to improve mutual trade, for example the abolition in 2017 of textiles quotas. The EU considers that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) accession process should be at the top of the agenda. Belarus' accession to the WTO would contribute to the creation of a more predictable and stable business environment in the country, which is a necessary condition to attract investors and diversify the Belarusian economy. The European Union is providing technical assistance to help with this process through the TAIEX twinning instrument.
The lending mandate of the European Investment Bank (EIB) has been extended to include Belarus in November 2016, while the financing activities of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has also been extended.
The EU-Belarus Customs Dialogue was initiated in 2016 and is aimed at identifying possible cooperation and assistance activities with a view to facilitating trade, ensuring supply chain security and safety, and combating fraud. Another important goal is to ensure the smooth flow of goods in border crossing points, including the convergence of customs and border procedures.
Boosting sustainable development and green growth
The EU is also stepping up the implementation of a number of measures that will enhance EU-Belarus relations in several fields related to the economy, trade, and assistance. The Strengthening Private Initiative Growth in Belarus (SPRING) Programme backs private local economic initiatives in order to develop the private sector, increase job creation, and promote economic growth in Belarus. EU support also includes a large-scale business consultancy programme implemented by the EBRD and a project supporting the development of employment-generating strategies and eco-systems to support SMEs and entrepreneurship at the local level, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
A local development project implemented by UNDP supported 232 local development initiatives based on territorial development principles, e.g. promotion of rural green economy, agro- and eco-tourism local clusters, financial education resources centres, business education courses at rural schools, integration of vulnerable groups in business, incubators to support youth initiative, cultural entrepreneurship etc.
EU technical assistance has allowed Belarus to develop an Action Plan for the Development of green economy and adopt regulatory measures in sectors such as organic agriculture, marketing of ecosystem services and biosphere reserves management. In addition, 23 pilot projects implemented across the country in fields such as renewable energies, natural resources management and sustainable tourism have demonstrated the environmental economic and employment benefits of green economy.
EU has also supported Belarus efforts towards increased energy efficiency and a sustainable energy policy. Six new energy efficiency testing laboratories were established and equipped with modern specialised equipment, making Belarus' energy efficiency testing laboratory network unique not only in the post-Soviet space. Numerous energy efficiency standards were harmonized with the international and European Union legislation.
Other EU initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors East – Phase II and Mayors for Economic Growth projects offer grant support to local authorities most active in adopting pilot measures in energy efficiency and job creation, reinforcing the roles of local authorities in economic development.
On 19 June 2017, Belarus joined the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership (E5P). This Trust Fund, managed by the EBRD, supports loans for municipal sector projects across the Eastern Partnership countries on energy efficiency and the environment.
Another key aspect of EU support to Belarus is promoting healthy lifestyles and prevention of non-communicable diseases at regional and local levels. This project is implementing pilot screening programs for breast cancer at the regional level, improving the system of child disease and injuries prevention and also strengthening the system of mother and child medical care. Additionally the EU is financing a €1.4 million programme to increase capacity of the pharmaceutical inspectorate and laboratories of Belarus to the level of the EU requirements in a field of medicine quality control.
Belarus is one of the strongest-performing Eastern Partnership countries in the Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. In September 2017, the conference "From innovative ideas to successful businesses: promoting national systems of early stage financing of innovative companies in EaP countries" was held in Minsk. In the 2018-2020 Work Programme for Horizon 2020, almost €200 million have been allocated to a series of calls focusing on energy and resource efficiency in the process industry ("SPIRE") with a particular geographical focus on the Eastern Partnership countries.
Under Horizon 2020 more than €12 million were allocated to Belarus for different projects for the period 2002-2017. As a result Belarusian scientists took part in 113 projects which aimed among others at strengthening of the Scientific and Technological cooperation between the EU Member States (and Associated Countries) and the Eastern European and Central Asian, bridging the gap between research and innovation, exchanges of technological innovations and practices, strengthening the links and boost cooperation among the Information and Communications Technology research and industrial communities, etc.
In this context, the respect of the highest nuclear safety standards is a key priority for the EU, especially since new facilities are being constructed so close to EU borders. It is important for the European Union that nuclear safety is ensured beyond its own borders and Belarus should cooperate constructively with the relevant international authorities. This cooperation is of particular importance for the nuclear power plant under construction in Astraviec (Belarus). The EU has already been engaged in capacity-building assisting to Belarus' nuclear safety authority, through the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation and in close cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.