The European Union-Belarus Coordination Group met in Brussels on 19-20 December 2017, following previous meetings in the same format in April 2016, in November 2016 and in April 2017.
This meeting was an opportunity to exchange views on the latest political developments in the region and to discuss how to advance cooperation following the outcome of the Eastern Partnership Summit and the agreement on the 20 Deliverables for 2020. In this context, they highlighted the areas which are of particular importance for Belarus: facilitation of trade with non-Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) partners; communication and visibility not only of the EU in partner countries, but also of the partner countries in the EU; and cooperation with third countries, for instance China or India.
The EU and Belarus are currently in advanced negotiations on new, tailor-made EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities. The main areas of interest in the Partnership Priorities are economic development and modernisation, strengthening institutions and good governance, connectivity and people-to-people contacts.
As in previous meetings, a specific session was dedicated to human rights and political freedoms. The EU raised the need to re-launch the work on comprehensive improvements in the electoral legislation in line with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Venice Commission recommendations; its opposition to the continued use of the death penalty in Belarus; concerns related to the arrests of journalists; as well as fines against participants of public events and demonstrations. The EU side also brought up several concrete cases of particular concern related to respect of international commitments on child protection. Many areas of sectoral cooperation were also discussed, including mobility, people-to-people contacts, trade, energy, customs, transport, environment, research, education, sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, agriculture and social security. During discussions on the energy sector, the European Union side stressed the need for full transparency and cooperation on nuclear safety issues, in particular on the new Nuclear Power Plant in Ostrovets. The signature of a High Level Understanding between the European Union and Belarus in the margins of the Eastern Partnership Summit, which defines indicative maps on the core TEN-T networks, was welcomed as a basis to enhance transport connectivity and the identification of common infrastructure priorities.
The European Union reconfirmed its commitment to a stable, democratic and prosperous future for Belarus, for the benefit of its people, and will continue its work with all stakeholders in achieving this important objective. It also presented the on-going EU assistance programmes and how this toolbox of assistance can be expanded.
The European Union delegation was led by Thomas Mayr-Harting, Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia of the European External Action Service, and included representatives of the European External Action Service and the Directorates-General of the European Commission responsible for the European Neighbourhood Policy, trade, energy, home affairs, agriculture, finance, customs, research, education and culture. The Belarusian side was led by Oleg Kravchenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and included representatives of other relevant ministries. Experts and non-governmental organisations representatives from Belarus also took part in the meeting.