The first line of the Positionspapier reads that improved EU-Belarus relations are rooted in bilateral interests. Members of the Bundestag’s ruling party advocate the study and use of possibilities to ensure further co-operation with Belarus.
German expert Wolfgang Sender, a Programme Director for Belarus of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, has praised the document’s aim of further developing Belarusian-German ties within a European context:
Mr. Sender, what meaning does this memorandum have? What signals are German deputies sending?
In their memorandum, the deputies of the German Bundestag’s CDU/CSU fraction — responsible for foreign policy — clearly advocate improving relations with the Republic of Belarus. The country’s political tendencies (as observed in recent months) are the basis for outlining a new position. In May 2015, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that Germany was ready to improve co-operation with Belarus if your country created the necessary grounds.
Evidently, the present situation is positively viewed in Berlin and, in this respect, the Bundestag deputies’ new position is consistent. The decision coincides with the position of EU foreign ministers on lifting well-known sanctions. This decision by our deputies also indicates a change of view on Belarus, via the document. The European Union is keen to stand behind Belarus’ independence, supported by lessons of security learnt from the Ukrainian crisis. At the same time, German politicians have no wish to aggravate Russia while stressing Belarus’ absolute sovereignty. It’s extremely important for me to note this, bearing in mind our German history.
What is the practical significance of the adopted document — primarily, in the economic sphere?
The memorandum attributes special attention to supporting the Belarusian economy. Deputies believe that our sphere of economic collaboration is underdeveloped, stating that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development should invest more into the Belarusian state sector. However, deputies’ demands go far beyond these limits, wishing to examine the possibility of Belarus returning to the system of EU General Trading Preferences, which would help the Belarusian economy.
Deputies also advocate a simplification of the visa regime for businessmen. For these proposals to be realised, economic reform is needed in Belarus. Various aspects require discussion and we should wait for the Belarusian Government to voice its proposals. Belarus should proceed from the fact that, to achieve better relations, iminimum compatibility of economic framework conditions between the EU and Belarus is needed.
I’d like to stress the significance of further steps proposed by parliamentarians, who believe that Belarus should apply for an IMF loan and join the WTO. This would be extremely useful for you at the moment. In addition, our deputies proceed from the belief that Minsk’s Eurasian Economic Union membership does not exclude the possibility of closer co-operation between the EU and Belarus. It’s an area worth our time and effort. Of course, peace in Ukraine is an important prerequisite for such an approach. Our experts have begun laying plans for collaboration, in order to be ready for when appropriate political conditions are present. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation would love to support such discussion.
How do you see Belarus’ role in Europe?
The new memorandum demonstrates that Belarus is receiving more attention, with an increasing number of politicians recognising the significance of the support rendered by Belarus in talks on the Ukrainian crisis, alongside certain political decisions taken by your country in recent months. Of course, the West is pushing Belarus towards further economic reform, and to abolish the death penalty. However, fewer western politicians are arguing with Belarus; for example, Michael Georg Link, the ODIHR Director, on a recent trip to Minsk, stated that election observers are neither teachers nor enemies. These are important signals.
In order to transform CDU/CSU deputies’ proposals into concrete political moves, we must realise the following. Firstly, western politicians need to receive clear signs from Belarus indicating readiness to conduct dialogue on economic and human rights issues, as well as on conditions for various political forces within the country. Secondly, these signals should be accepted in Western Europe. The EU tends not to pay much attention to Belarus, for various reasons, but we’d like to change this. It’s a goal of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Belarus is a neighbour of the European Union and, accordingly, deserves more attention than it has received to date.
By Nina Vasilieva