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Friday, 26 October 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

2. Elections in Belarus (debate)
Video of the speeches

  President. − The next item is the debate on the Commission statement on the elections in Belarus.


  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. Madam President, honourable Members, Belarus held parliamentary elections on 23 September. It will not come as a surprise to this House to hear me state my disappointment at the way they were conducted. The day after the election, the High Representative and Vice-President Ashton and I issued a joint statement expressing the European Union’s regret that Belarus had missed yet another opportunity to hold elections in line with international standards.

We therefore share the assessment of this House, expressed both in the statement by President Schultz, Chairman Brok and other Members of the European Parliament, regretting the undemocratic nature of the parliamentary elections. This assessment is also reflected in last week’s Council’s conclusions and, I expect, will also be mirrored in your resolution.

According to the assessment of the OSCE Election Observation Mission: ‘many OSCE commitments were not respected, despite some improvements to the electoral law’. It also notes that ‘while there was an increase in the number of candidates put forward by parties, prominent political figures who might have played a role in this context remained imprisoned or were not eligible to register due to their [so-called] criminal record’ – ‘so-called’ was my addition.

Our assessment of internal developments in Belarus remains pessimistic; things are not getting better, and the grip on civil society is being tightened. There is no sign of willingness by the Belarusian authorities to address our core concerns: respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. Last week the Council adopted conclusions and decisions regarding the review of restrictive measures: the so-called rollover of the existing sanctions. Both express our concern about the internal situation in Belarus as well as the state of play of the European Union’s bilateral relations with the country. The outcome of the Foreign Affairs Council also confirms the continuity of our established and consensus-based policy, namely the will to continue our policy of critical engagement and call for the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners and the discontinuation of restrictive measures, while at the same time reaching out to Belarusian society.

In the current situation, where there are few signs of progress from Minsk, we can, however, look at how to invest in the future and, at the same time, how to keep technical and diplomatic communication channels between the European Union and Belarus open. We have an interest in keeping a working relationship with Minsk. Technical dialogues and cooperation continue with the Belarusian administration, and we are keeping the country engaged within the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership.

The main drive behind our policy is our commitment to strengthening engagement with the Belarusian people and civil society. It remains an essential aspect of investing in the future of Belarus. We must continue our engagement with Belarusian society as a whole, promoting people-to-people contacts. We are not trying to isolate the Belarusian people. It is particularly regrettable that the authorities are not taking up our offer to negotiate visa facilitation and readmission agreements between the European Union and Belarus. However, the Member States are striving to make optimal use of the flexibilities offered by the visa code to waive and reduce visa fees for some categories of Belarusian citizens or in individual cases.

The European message should be brought to as many ordinary Belarusians as possible, including through our assistance projects. This is a priority. The European dialogue on modernisation with Belarusian society is an important part of this engagement and an essential aspect of our policy, providing a rare positive element in this overall sombre picture. The participation of the Belarusian authorities in the dialogue is an issue. It is needed because their absence raises questions about the viability of the dialogue. From our side, we continue to stress to the administration that we would welcome their constructive participation at technical level.

Our financial assistance to civil society has increased five-fold since the 2010 post-electoral crackdown and clearly this cooperation still has great potential. Let me also inform you that we are currently looking at how to further rebalance and better target our aid for civil society.

In conclusion, and while fully acknowledging the challenges we face, we believe that the European Union is following a balanced approach which will allow us to have an impact on developments in Belarus and enhance the prospects for future EU-Belarus cooperation. I look forward very much to hearing your views.


  Filip Kaczmarek, on behalf of the PPE Group.(PL) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, in his latest interview for the British daily The Independent, President Alexander Lukashenko focused on criticising Western democracies, accusing us of behaving like bandits whilst claiming to promote democracy. According to President Lukashenko, the West is to demand a change of leadership in Belarus with a transfer of power to the opposition. The President is mistaken. We are not concerned about who governs Belarus. There are many shades of opinion in this House, and views as to which party would represent the best solution for Belarus vary. What we really want is for that country to be governed by people elected by the citizens of Belarus in free and fair elections. These are not just empty words. We are firmly convinced of the universal nature of fundamental rights and that they stem from the inalienable dignity of each human being. We are deemed to be behaving like bandits simply because we wish the people of Belarus to be able to benefit from the same rights and freedoms that the majority of other Europeans enjoy.


  Libor Rouček, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Madam President, at regular intervals we discuss here the outcome of the elections in Belarus, and at regular intervals we have to express our disappointment at the conduct of the elections because they are never free and fair. The Belarusian regime has again missed yet another opportunity to express its commitment to European values and, of course, also to end its self-imposed isolation.

What can we do? I think the critical engagement policy presented by the Commissioner is the right one. On the one hand we need targeted sanctions, but on the other hand we should try to use all the means at our disposal to help Belarusian society – young people, NGOs – to help open up the country. Of course we also demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, especially – as a social democrat, I have to say – that of the leader of the independent social democratic movement in Belarus, Mikola Statkevich.


  Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (NL) Madam President, Commissioner Füle, thank you for your excellent contribution this morning.

It is no surprise that the parliamentary elections of 23 September failed once again to meet international standards. Let us be frank: nothing will change as long as Mr Lukashenko rules Belarus with an iron fist. Elections without fair competition are not elections. They are no more than a farce. They have resulted in a parliament in which, literally, there is not a single opposition member to be found any more.

There is sometimes a tendency to resign ourselves to the isolation of Belarus but such apathy would be totally wrong. We should not lose faith in change and we must continue to work for the liberalisation of Belarus. I am pleased that Commissioner Füle demonstrated this morning that he is of the same opinion.

Sanctions are only partially effective. The pressure really needs to come from below. The Belarusians themselves have to want a different kind of government, a different life. There are democratic movements in Belarus. They need to grow and for that they really need our support. That is why I call on Commissioner Füle to continue to work on strengthening civil society in Belarus as part of the new Neighbourhood Policy.

We also need to put pressure on the Belarusian regime to simplify visa requirements for its citizens and make visas affordable. This would enable us to have more exchanges. A Commission proposal is on the table but Minsk refuses to sign it.

Madam President, the Belarusian economy is also going downhill rapidly and the gap between it and the European Union is getting wider all the time. The country had good reason to join the customs union with Russia and Kazakhstan. It depends on investment and loans from Russia, and increasingly also from China. These countries do not ask any questions about the human rights situation in Belarus. We must not stop doing that and, above all, we must not stop supporting the Belarusians themselves.


  Marek Henryk Migalski, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Madam President, thank you. Commissioner, you will be aware that I value you and your work. Good work has been done, too, on this resolution under the leadership of Mr Rouček, and I am grateful for that. Unfortunately, I have to give the House the sad news that although, on the one hand, we are taking positive steps, as is the case today, on the other, my country is helping to make the situation worse for the people of Belarus.

It was revealed some 10 days ago that the Polish Foreign Ministry had issued 30 tax return forms to members of the opposition in Belarus, demanding payments related to maintenance allowances paid to them by Poland. This enabled the Belarusian authorities to identify the opposition members concerned. Only the day before yesterday, in fact, all of the grants awarded to the opposition in Belarus by Poland were published on the Foreign Ministry’s website. As if that were not enough, pressure was put on the press to refrain from publishing information on this scandal.

I would like to offer a heartfelt apology to all Belarusians, and assure them that Europeans and the rest of us Poles do not think in the same way as certain civil servants in the Foreign Ministry. I consider such behaviour to be outrageous, and wish to offer an apology, and draw it to the attention of the President, the Commissioner and the House. First and foremost, however, I would like to apologise to all Belarusians for the action taken by the Polish side. This is inappropriate for Polish policy and inappropriate for European policy. We should all be supporting the Belarusians, not informing on them and reporting them to the Belarusian authorities.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))


  Krzysztof Lisek (PPE), Blue-card question. (PL) Madam President, it would appear that Mr Migalski has already launched his party’s election campaign. I should point out that the party concerned has not even reached 1 % in the opinion polls. I should like to ask Mr Migalski if he is aware that yesterday Mr Sikorski, the Foreign Minister, publicly apologised to the Belarusian people for that civil servant’s error and that disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the individual in question, who has now been sacked? I also wish to ask Mr Migalski whether he really considers that this type of private spat concerning Poland and its domestic political scene is appropriate in the European Parliament. How will this help Belarusians?


  Marek Henryk Migalski (ECR), Blue-card answer. (PL) Madam President, it is my impression that Mr Lisek is criticising me personally. I shall not respond in kind, however, but will instead focus on the case in hand. I do indeed believe that this House is an appropriate place in which to comment on how Member States are honouring their commitments. I believe that what has taken place in Poland is disgraceful and intolerable and will bring shame upon us. I also believe that my comments in this House are not detrimental to Poland or the people of Belarus. Rather, it is the Foreign Ministry’s actions that are detrimental to Poland and the people of Belarus. I would remind Mr Lisek that the Foreign Ministry is headed by a colleague of his, and that he and his associates have a great deal of influence on what happens there.

I am glad that the civil servant responsible for publishing the pages in question has been sacked. Why was he not sacked earlier, however? It has emerged that he had been sacked previously but the process had not been completed. I am conveying this information to the House for information. It is indicative either of total ineptitude within the Polish Ministry or a rather worse scenario. Mr Lisek, I hope that you, Mr Sikorski, and all Members of this House will work together to ensure that there is no repeat of this situation, and that nothing similar occurs, because it would make a laughing stock of us all, not just one particular person or party.


  Helmut Scholz, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, 92.72727 % was the result celebrated by President Lukashenko’s associates in the most recent parliamentary elections. Otherwise, everything is following an all-too-familiar pattern: the election observers deliver their detailed verdict on the obviously-not-free-and-fair nature of the elections, we adopt our motion for a resolution and the Council imposes a few more sanctions or extends the existing ones. Beyond the Bug, the new parliament remains without an opposition and, therefore, exempt from criticism and correction, while those who want to see a different Belarus are still excluded, persecuted or locked up. The daily lives of Belarusians are still governed by the arbitrariness of politics and the greed of oligarchs.

In the description and assessment of this development, there is barely anything to choose between the political groups of this House. I also believe that nobody expected any other result or any changes to take place in Belarus. However, if that is true, then I must, at this point, reiterate the doubts I have already expressed on repeated occasions. Sanctions appear to be ineffective as a tool. They have not previously had any serious impact, either in Belarus or elsewhere.

Mr Füle has spoken again on the EU’s current activities as regards Belarus. We consider much of that to be worthwhile, such as the direct engagement with civil society under the European dialogue on modernisation. The problem with these activities, however, is that they fail to address Belarusians in their specific circumstances as consumers and workers. People want to discuss the job market, not industrial relations, co-determination rights or compliance with International Labour Organisation or environmental standards and so on. However, if these sessions are not used to tackle the issues of social justice faced on both sides of the Bug, then the foundations of the autocratic system undeniably still in place in Belarus will barely shake.

I would like to conclude with the following point: when we lived in a divided Europe, it was extremely important that, in spite of all the criticism levelled at those in power, a line of communication was kept open. Historically, we have shifted from sanctions to dialogue. It seems to me that, at present, we are moving in the opposite direction. In view of the obvious ineffectiveness of this policy, the question is: what do we do when we have exhausted all the options, when we have tightened the last thumbscrew? It is better to begin to confront the political leaders of Belarus with our arguments and demands in the context of political dialogue. That requires the EU Member States to cast aside their contradictory policy. The use of sanctions against repressive states does nothing to alter the repressive system of the State in question.


  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (NL) The official turnout at the most recent parliamentary elections in Belarus at the end of September was 74 %. Laughable was the damning verdict of Belarusian political analyst and author Valery Karbalevich. At numerous half-empty polling stations throughout the day of the elections on 23 September, independent observers and voters witnessed a crushing blow being dealt to Lukashenko’s regime. The repressive government in Minsk reaped what it had sown. If you systematically rig elections, you need not be surprised if civil society reacts accordingly.

Mr Karbalevich rightly concludes that distrust of the Lukashenko regime has come out into the open with these elections. That should give the reform-minded elite in the country, in particular, a great deal to think about. The Council and the Commission would therefore do well to invest time and energy in patiently establishing relationships with them at this moment in time.

We must combine principles with change. As they say in German, Werte und Wandlung. That would greatly benefit both Belarus and the EU and I have every confidence that Commissioner Füle is thinking about this and working on it.


  Peter Šťastný (PPE). – Madam President, the last election in Belarus was another example of the brutal regime of Mr Lukashenko. International observers noted a number of serious violations. The election took place in an atmosphere of political persecution and repression of the opposition, many of whom are still in prison. Strong sanctions and EU support for the opposition must continue. The IIHF should relocate the 2014 Ice Hockey Championship to prevent Lukashenko’s regime from self-promotion. The IIHF is fast losing credibility by collaborating with dangerous individuals who conspired against democracy and their citizens.

The Communist spy and KGB officer from Slovakia, Mr Široký, and Mr Lukashenko seem to be protégés of Mr Fasel and his IIHF. Such trends must change. The relocation of the Championship away from Lukashenko’s Belarus would be a good start.


  Justas Vincas Paleckis (S&D).(LT) Madam President, we have not seen any change or innovation in the European Union’s neighbour Belarus for almost 20 years. The power pyramid there is monumentally stable. Once again, we have seen elections without choice, recognised by the OSCE and other international organisations as undemocratic and unfair. However, I agree entirely with Commissioner Füle that even in this situation we need to continue a critical dialogue with Minsk and not isolate the people of Belarus.

The electronic archives show that over 18 years as many as 116 European Parliament resolutions on Belarus have been adopted, mostly in response to specific events in the country. I believe that it is time to prepare a more wide-ranging report that would try at Parliament level to propose ways of breaking the deadlock in EU-Belarus relations and modernising Belarus.


  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD).(EL) Madam President, I fully endorse Commissioner Füle’s description and assessment of the situation in Belarus, and consider it to be objective. I respect the policies which he is proposing and consider them prudent. The observers who were present during the elections on 23 September found that the ballot was not conducted impartially, and claimed that many civil rights, such as the right of assembly, right of association and freedom of expression, were not respected by the authorities; irregularities were also noted in the counting of votes.

Unfortunately, the assessments give no indication of imminent change in the internal political situation in Belarus – a situation which has remained unchanged since 1994. The expulsion of the Swedish ambassador is a case in point. It is now clearly evident that Russia’s plan for the Eurasian Union is fully under way. Within the scope of the Neighbourhood Policy, amongst other things, the Union should redouble its efforts to encourage respect for human rights, freedom of expression and democratic principles in the country – though this should, of course, always be done with great care.


  Eduard Kukan (PPE).(SK) Madam President, President Lukashenko has stated that other elections in Belarus were only as democratic as was possible. We have to take his word for it. Where it is possible that opposition leaders were behind bars and not in the voting booths, where many candidates were not even able to register freely and the freedom of expression was degraded to a minimum, it can also be said that the elections were as democratic as possible.

We must condemn the Belarusian regime for constantly depriving its own people of their fundamental rights and freedoms and even degrading their human rights. Such a regime cannot be a partner of the Union. It should rather be those parts of Belarusian society that are trying to stand up to the regime. Indeed, there are some such people in Belarus. The Union should therefore invest in, and support the future of, a Belarus that is more democratic than is currently possible.


  Kristian Vigenin (S&D). – Madam President, it is becoming increasingly difficult to prepare resolutions on Belarus which can say something new. The next one could be one sentence long: ‘We reiterate the findings and positions stated in our previous resolutions’. It looks as if the President of Belarus has invented a time machine. This is the only reasonable explanation for why and how a country in Europe can freeze itself in today’s dynamic and interconnected world. There are very clear indicators which can measure whether elections are free and fair. They apply to every country in the world, and Belarus cannot be an exception. There, no elections have been recognised as free and fair since 1995: in other words, the legitimacy of all elected representatives is insufficient. If we talk to them we do not talk to the Belarusian people: it is as simple as that.

So what can we do? Stay and wait? Engage and support? Punish and sanction? Everything has been tried so far, with ups and downs, but the final result is zero. The option is to invent something completely new, which would shake the people in Belarus and wake up a critical mass – not very realistic. Another is to follow an enhanced version of the current long-term strategy: a roadmap to democracy. Its course should be to gradually raise the awareness of the Belarusian people and Belarusian society, because change can be supported in Brussels but it should be prepared and should happen in Minsk.


  László Tőkés (PPE).(HU) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, at its most recent session, the Foreign Affairs Council expressed its grave concerns at the deteriorating situation in Belarus, the lack of respect for human rights, and the complete lack of democracy and the rule of law. The Council noted that the conduct of the parliamentary elections in September was non-transparent and unfair. In view of the critical situation, the EU has rightly suspended the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement concluded with Belarus. I recommend that the new message we send to the Government of Belarus be equally unambiguous. On the other hand, we must assure the Belarusian people of our unconditional solidarity, since the European sanctions are targeted not at them but at the dictatorial regime.

I call upon the European External Action Service and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to act with the utmost resolve with a view to ensuring that Belarus cooperates unconditionally with international human rights forums, releases political prisoners with immediate effect, and calls a halt to torture and executions.


  Andrzej Grzyb (PPE).(PL) An unambiguous assessment of the elections has been made and there is no more to be done on the matter. We must bear in mind, however, that Belarus is still our partner within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. All of our efforts should be focused on Belarusian society, especially on those sections of it that can have some kind of contact with the outside world. I am thinking of students, people working in companies and those engaged in economic activities. As regards private entrepreneurs, I think that we should focus on people working as independent journalists, on those who represent the future of Belarus. I believe that is an area where many institutions and countries could make an effective contribution to shaping a new civil society in Belarus.

Such action is vital to ensure that Belarusian society is adequately prepared when the conditions are right for change. I feel that some of the instruments we are developing in this House and in the European Union could prove helpful in this regard. I should like to express my satisfaction with the efforts of the European Commission, particularly as regards the European dialogue on modernisation. I believe that many of the assessments made here are correct. Accordingly, I should like to call for instruments that could help to create something that would serve as a sound foundation for further development of the relationship between the European Union and Belarus, to be put in place at the earliest opportunity.


  Sari Essayah (PPE). (FI) Madam President, Commissioner, I am pleased that the disappointment that undemocratic elections have again been held in Belarus has been so clearly expressed in the EU and on more than one level, including through Lady Ashton and the Berlin European Council conclusions. No opposition representative succeeded because several of the prominent opposition leaders are either in jail or were prevented from standing as candidates.

In the EU, we have practised a ‘two-track’ policy where we have sought to maintain dialogue with the public and have imposed sanctions on the political leadership. I would like to ask the Commissioner first, now that the sanctions are expiring, how we intend to continue so that our approach remains consistent, and, secondly, given that we initiated a modernisation dialogue with Belarus in the summer, what the fate of that dialogue will be?


Catch-the-eye procedure


  Krzysztof Lisek (PPE).(PL) Madam President, Commissioner, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Commissioner for his statement. What you described, Commissioner, what the European Commission is doing and planning to do, is just what we have all been referring to in this House. The issue is pretty clear. Essentially, we need to be consistent. First and foremost, we must be consistent in relation to sanctions against those who violate human rights. We know who they are, and unfortunately their number is increasing. Secondly, we need to be consistent in our support for civil society and the free media.

I should like to draw attention to two specific issues. Firstly, there is a project known as Telewizja Bielsat, which has so far been consistently supported by Poland and a couple of other countries. I think it is now time for European funding to be devoted to this initiative. Secondly, we cannot fail to provide assistance to people who are suffering. I actually met with Mr Alexei Mikhailevich, a former presidential candidate, a few days ago. Mr Mikhailevich was tortured and was granted asylum in the Czech Republic. However, his family, wife and children have remained in Belarus, and to put things plainly, they have nothing to live on. We should deal with this, too.


  Liisa Jaakonsaari (S&D). (FI) Madam President, Commissioner, I too would like to thank Commissioner Füle on an intellectually convincing speech and the fact that both the Commission and the European Parliament are very much of the same view about what now should be done in relation to Belarus.

It is, of course, a great shame that there is one country in central Europe in which there are no free elections, where torture is practised, where the death penalty is in place and where political opposition is not allowed. As others have said already, it is important for us to continue cooperation with civil society; for example European youth and student organisations could be in closer communication with Belarusian young people and students, and the Member States could have some sway, offer university places to young Belarusians, because that would enable contact to be established with the strong, influential generation of the future.


  Karin Kadenbach (S&D).(DE) Madam President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for his impressive statement. Following on from what Ms Jaakonsaari said, I would like to refer to a project that has been running in my home province of Lower Austria since 1989 between the city of Baranovichi in Belarus and the municipality of Stockerau. It is a twinning arrangement under which people in Baranovichi are able to make contact with Austrians, an exchange takes place via school projects and children from the city are able to travel to Stockerau and experience a different environment.

It also encourages us in Stockerau to discuss the situation in Belarus. With personal contact comes a far greater personal interest in how the people we have got to know actually live. The towns and cities partnered with Stockerau were invited to participate in the municipality’s 1 000th anniversary celebrations. They laid on a real feast for us and a really close connection has developed. Examples of this kind of human political action help ensure that democracy can be felt in countries whose democratic standards lag far behind our own.


  Ivo Vajgl (ALDE).(SL) Madam President, I was prompted to speak today by what Mr Šťastný said. In former times I admired him as a hockey player and I would not want his proposal, which in fact has great political weight, to just be passed over.

Dictators are sensitive when someone takes their favourite toy away. Their favourite toy is public display, showing off.

I think it would be very appropriate if we were to support the cancellation of the hockey championship in Belarus. In this way Lukashenko would lose a big show and it would be clear to people why he lost it. Those to whom it was not clear would find out. It is difficult for us to get close to the public in this country. With this type of gesture we would get close to the public.

I would also like to thank Commissioner Füle for his sensitivity when delicate political problems are considered in these countries with which we must have contact, above all contact with the people and the public in these countries.


  Charles Tannock (ECR). – Madam President, I was extremely disappointed – but not altogether surprised – to receive the negative reports about the recent Belarus elections. These elections represented a rubber-stamping exercise to support a foregone conclusion. The Lukashenko regime, now in its 19th year, has been ruthless in its persecution of political opponents and gagging of the press as part of a desperate attempt to cling on to power by whatever means.

To this end, one man’s hubris has come at the expense of the hopes and dreams of a generation of Belarusian people, denied the opportunity to determine their own future in an atmosphere of fairness, transparency and freedom from fear, including fear of the KGB. Our only hope must be that the citizens of Belarus will eventually be granted the chance to vote for their own leaders, and live the lives that they choose. We in the European Union and in this Parliament should afford them every assistance to achieving that noble goal.


(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)


  Werner Schulz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Madam President, I am afraid I was held up in traffic and arrived late to this debate. I would be grateful if you could allow me the minute and a half allotted to my political group.

Once again, we have witnessed a parliamentary election in Belarus that was no such thing. What was new, however, was President Lukashenko’s cynical recommendation that Europe could learn a thing or two from this electoral manipulation. Fortunately, the days of such hubris are numbered, even if this dictator has followed the example of North Korea and already marked his youngest son out as his successor to the throne. Events in Moscow leave me questioning, however, whether Mr Lukashenko really is Europe’s last dictator.

Unfortunately, 10 seats in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly remain empty, as we cannot tolerate the presence among us of representatives of a parliament that has no legitimacy. The Foreign Ministers have extended the sanctions against the regime, which is the right thing to do. We must be careful, however, that these measures are not undermined. There are around a dozen known agents who acquire foreign currency via private and bogus firms and organise exports and foreign investment, the proceeds of which end up in the dictator’s pockets. Instead of an entry ban for the regime’s supporters, we should adopt arrangements facilitating visas and travel for the Belarusian people.

The appeal and attraction of a Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning European Union will not be lost on Belarus. However, we should avoid giving Mr Lukashenko’s truncheon-wielding lackeys the opportunity to practise dispersing mass demonstrations, as we succeeded in doing in Germany. The ‘soft power’ we can exert should also include targeted economic sanctions – which means, for a start, that Lufthansa must cease its maintenance of President Lukashenko’s government jet.


  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I would like to thank honourable Members for this interesting debate. As I said, I fully share the concerns expressed by Members regarding the political situation in Belarus. Let me reassure you that, together with High Representative and Vice-President Ashton – and I am very glad that this is actually the first occasion for her new managing director, Felipe Fernández de la Peña, who is also dealing with Belarus, to participate in this debate – we will continue to encourage the Belarusian authorities to take steps to fully implement Belarus’s international commitments to democratic principles and human rights.

It is clear that, under these circumstances, we have every interest in seeking to increase the impact of our policies on Belarus. We will continue to call for the unconditional release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners and insist that the development of bilateral relations between the European Union and Belarus remains conditional on progress in the field of human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. I share your opinion that the forthcoming world ice hockey championship is an opportunity not to be missed for us to make our policy more visible and clear and to have an impact.

Our policy of critical engagement with Belarus is a long-term challenge. The European Union’s policies are principled and have the clear goal of including Belarus in the family of democratic and open nations. However, we know that, for political and economic reasons, bigger changes in this country are likely to take time. We discuss our policy of critical engagement towards Belarus regularly and, as you can see, our policies and messages stay calibrated and balanced.

Thank you very much for the views you have expressed during the debate and for the draft resolution. There have been a number of critical remarks but, in addition to the critical remarks, some concrete suggestions on which we will reflect. In a situation like this, the principled position has to be combined with creative thinking, reaching out to those who would sooner or later deliver on the change.

I also very much appreciate your call in the draft resolution to strengthen the dialogue for modernisation. I believe that, with even greater involvement of the Member States and with your support, we can turn this dialogue into an effective instrument for change.

Let me add a personal remark. Time is not on the side of political prisoners, but I firmly believe that time is on the side of democratic change. Change will come sooner or later. It is inevitable and it is a strong European lesson to a European country.


  President. − I have received six motions for resolutions(1)in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 11.30.


(1)See Minutes.

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