The 6th meeting of the European Union-Belarus Coordination Group took place in Brussels on 12-13 December 2018. The EU reconfirmed its commitment to work with Belarus, in line with its policy of critical engagement, to support a stable, democratic and prosperous future for Belarus directly benefiting its people. The participants discussed recent developments and the state of play of bilateral relations including the next steps towards finalising negotiations on the 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 and values.
Human rights and democracy were an important part of the discussions. Belarus’ increased cooperation in the international fora and willingness to engage with the EU is a positive development, but the EU expects Belarus to fully implement its National Human Rights Action Plan and to improve the situation of freedom of media and of assembly. In view of the 2020 Parliamentary and Presidential elections, the EU reiterated the need for Belarus to undertake a comprehensive reform of its electoral legislation, in line with the OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations. The EU recalled its firm opposition to the death penalty under any circumstances and stressed the benefits of introducing a moratorium as a first step to its abolition. The EU also raised several concrete human rights cases.
Participants discussed the follow-up to recent dialogues on environment, customs and economic and financial issues, as well as the preparations for the trade dialogue that takes place on 14 December 2018. Cooperation on mobility, people-to-people contacts, energy, research and innovation, education, digital economy and private sector development was also discussed. The EU welcomed the collaboration by the Belarusian side in completion of the Stress Test Peer Review on the Ostrovets nuclear power plant earlier this year and called for further transparency and cooperation in the next steps of the process, notably the swift preparation and subsequent peer review by European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group experts of the National Action Plan for implementation of the Stress Test Peer Review recommendations.
On migration and mobility, the participants discussed the follow-up to the 5th round of negotiations on the visa facilitation and readmission agreements that took place on 11 October 2018. In view of further promoting people-to-people contacts, youth and business exchanges, both sides hoped for swift completion of negotiations on both agreements.
The EU welcomed Belarus’ increased participation in the multilateral format of the Eastern Partnership and discussed Belarus' implementation of the 20 deliverables for 2020, the preparations for the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership in 2019, as well as the sides' expectations for the Eastern Partnership post-2020.
The EU also presented its on-going and planned financial assistance programmes which for the period 2014-2018 amount to over €120 million. Parties discussed how to enhance the different financial assistance tools and how they can support reforms and modernisation in the country in order to deliver concrete results for citizens.
The EU delegation was led by Mr Thomas Mayr-Harting, Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia of the European External Action Service (EEAS), and included representatives of the EEAS, the EU Delegation to Belarus, the Directorate General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations and other Directorates-General of the European Commission. The Belarusian delegation was led by Mr Oleg Kravchenko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, and included representatives of ministries and government agencies. Representatives of civil society from Belarus also participated in parts of the meeting.
The next meeting is expected to take place in the first part of 2019 in Minsk.