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Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, brings two pieces of good news to Minsk

By Vladimir Yevseev

On meeting journalists at the Europe Hotel (the symbolism of which was clear) he explained that Brussels has a plan of co-operation with Belarus and that the EU is to begin talks with Minsk on simplifying the visa regime. Additionally, he stressed that steps to ease the visa regime won’t depend on political issues.

This is Mr. Fule’s second visit to Minsk. During his first visit, in July, he negotiated with Alexander Lukashenko and met several representatives of the opposition. However, in the midst of the electoral campaign, the European Commissioner is remaining neutral, refraining from meeting potential candidates for the presidency. Nevertheless, the elections were the focus of his conversation with journalists.

Mr. Fule was pleased to note progress in such issues as signature collection, registration of candidates and access of different political forces to the media. According to the European Commissioner, a shortcoming is that ‘less than one percent of the opposition are members of electoral commissions’. However, he allocated no blame: either to the authorities or the opposition. Rather, he diplomatically noted that the figure ‘doesn’t meet expectations’. He added that the European Union has a range of questions regarding the procedure of early voting.

Speaking of elections, Mr. Fule underlined the most vital aspect of the EU’s position, “We hope that free and fair elections will take place in Belarus. The decisions will be made by the Belarusian nation and we’ll respect its choice.”

Mr. Fule also met Belarus’ Foreign Minister, Sergei Martynov, and presented an EU intermediate plan regarding Belarus — likely to be launched after the presidential elections. According to Mr. Fule, it aims to promote reform and modernisation in various spheres in Belarus. The EU is keen to assist our country in developing democracy, human rights and economic transformations, while ensuring energy security (called ‘very important’ by Mr. Fule).

The European Commissioner noted that an EU working group will soon begin discussing how best to simplify the visa regime with Belarus. Of course, entry to the EU won’t become easier straight away, since many bureaucratic procedures and agreements lie ahead. However, the fact that Brussels has stopped connecting visas with the political situation is certainly welcome news for Minsk.

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