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The European Union reconfirmed the importance it attached to relations with Belarus and its commitment to work with Belarus towards a stable, democratic and prosperous future for the benefit of its people. The delegations discussed the state of play on EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities, which, once concluded, will mark a new phase of engagement between the EU and Belarus and shape future cooperation based on common interests. The EU expressed its commitment to the swift conclusion of the negotiations on EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities. On nuclear safety, the Belarusian authorities provided an update on the preparation of the National Action Plan for the implementation of the Stress Test Peer Review recommendations and the EU stressed the importance of continued cooperation with European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group in the next steps of the process.
As in previous meetings of the Coordination Group, a special session was dedicated to human rights and democracy. The EU recognised Belarus’ increased cooperation in multilateral fora and the continuation of the bilateral dialogue on human rights, with the agreement to hold the next EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue on 18 June 2019 in Brussels. The EU reiterated its opposition to the death penalty under any circumstances and advocated the introduction by Belarus of a moratorium as a first step to its abolition. The situation as regards freedom of expression and assembly in Belarus continues to be of concern, and the EU raised several of the most recent cases. For the first time, the meeting also included a discussion on prospects for cooperation in the area of good governance, following up on a presentation of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)/Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) programme that took place back-to-back with the Coordination Group. The EU reiterated the need for Belarus to undertake comprehensive reform of its electoral legislation, in line with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Venice Commission recommendations.
In the context of the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership initiative, the EU and Belarus discussed the implementation of the 20 deliverables for 2020 and preparations for the Eastern Partnership anniversary events. An active exchange of views with the civil society took place on the achievements and future of the Eastern Partnership.
The EU presented its on-going and planned financial assistance programmes, which have doubled to approximately €30 million per year since 2016. The delegations discussed how to enhance the impact of different financial assistance tools and how the EU can support reforms and modernisation in Belarus in order to deliver concrete results for citizens.
The EU and Belarus also discussed the state of and prospects for enhanced sectoral cooperation, including in the areas of economy and finance, trade, digital economy, private sector development, customs, transport, agriculture, environment, education and youth, labour, employment, social protection, research and innovation. For the first time, the participants also discussed cooperation in the area of statistics, underlining the importance that statistics play in evidence-based policy-making.
In the context of further promotion of people-to-people contacts, youth and business exchanges, the EU and Belarus welcomed progress in the negotiations on EU-Belarus Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements and discussed implementation of their Mobility Partnership.
In the margins of the Coordination Group meeting, the EU delegation met with Belarusian human rights defenders and representatives of the civil society, as well as the beneficiaries of the EU funded programme EBRD Advice for Small Businesses.
The EU delegation was led by Thomas Mayr-Harting, Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia of the European External Action Service (EEAS), and included representatives of the European Commission responsible for the European Neighbourhood Policy, customs, taxation and statistics. The Belarusian delegation was led by Oleg Kravchenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and included representatives of sector ministries and agencies. As on previous occasions, experts and representatives of Belarusian non-governmental organisations also participated in parts of the meeting.
It was agreed to hold the next meeting of the Coordination Group before the end of the year in Brussels.
For more information on EU-Belarus relations please see here: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/35606/EU-Belarus%20relations