Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

MEPs condemn the Belarus elections - "It won't always be winter in Minsk

Noticias - 26 March 2006

Mr Hans WINKLER, Austrian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, said that it was very important to send a "clear signal" on Belarus. There had been concern for some time about repression of opposition groups and the series of measures taken against the opposition prior to the elections only served to boost this concern. The negative expectations were borne out by events. The elections were not free or fair and did not meet OSCE standards. The EU Presidency took a clear stance on 20 March. The Council was now considering what practical measures could be taken against Belarus. The Council would support the strengthening of civil society and consider what further measures might be appropriate. The Council had also contacted Moldova, and Ukraine on this issue and it must also talk to Russia. "It is the last country in Europe where human rights are not respected." He quoted the Austrian Foreign Minister who said after the election "It won't always be winter in Minsk."

For the Commission, Commissioner László KOVÁCS said that the Belarus regime was repressive and politically oppressive. He welcomed that there had been some limited consolidation of opposition groups. The elections clearly failed to meet OSCE standards on freedom of assembly, association and expression. The Commission considers that the elections were "fundamentally flawed" he said. Commissioner Kovács also deplored the fact that EU observers were not permitted access as well as the arrest of opposition activists. The Commission was now considering sanctions in line with what the Council would agree. The Commission continued to support Belarusian civil society and worked with "middle-ranking officials". The Commission was active, he said, in the health and environment sectors. The important television and radio channels that the Commission was supporting would be important for the development of democracy and the visibility of the EU.

Political group speakers

Bogdan KLICH (EPP- ED, PL) said of Belarus that we must "isolate the government - but not the society, we much show Belarus support". He noted that the House has "for a long time been calling for the imposition of some sanctions against the government and the leaders." However he recommended that our borders should be opened to the Belarusians "who cannot live in Belarus any more". Mr. Klich also suggested the introduction of a "special programme of bursaries" for the young people of Belarus: "we owe it to them".

Jan Marinus WIERSMA (PES, NL) opened by saying that "the only line of action is to condemn out of hand" what happened on Sunday, and that the elections were obviously "not free, and not fair". He wanted to say "loud and clear" that "we will not idly stand by while there is a dictatorship ruling over the country". She considered the problem of how to impose sanctions without adversely affecting the Belarusian population itself, and noted there to be a "need for consultation between the EU and Russia on this issue".

Jeanine HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT (ALDE, NL) said that it was important to "help the ordinary people of Belarus" but that the "role of Russia is vitally important" also. Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert asserted that it is Russia that "keeps Belarus's economy ticking over" and that "we really need to talk with President Putin". She said that "we cannot allow the very ideas that our Union is based on to be dissolved in Russian oil and gas".

Elisabeth SCHROEDTER (Greens/EFA, DE) sent a special greeting to the Belarusians who gathered on October Square, calling them "our greatest hope", and that we must "recognise these people as our partners and support their democratic activities". She also suggested that the political situation should be discussed in the next G8 summit.

Michał Tomasz KAMIŃSKI (UEN, PL) asserted that the only reason that the government of President Alexander Lukashenko is still in power is because he has "friends in the Kremlin that support it". He called on the Union to make it clear that this situation entirely unacceptable, and that President Lukashenko's regime "exists purely because he's brainwashing his fellow citizens".

British Speaker

Charles TANNOCK (EPP-ED, UK) described Belarus as the "Cuba of Europe", saying that President Lushenko obviously conducted his affairs with the Stalinist mantra: "it doesn't matter how the vote is conducted, it's who controls it that counts". He saluted the courage of those who have taken to the streets and declared that "we must support their civil society".

Council and Commission responses

Responding to the debate, Austrian State Secretary Winkler said the EU would try to find some means of hitting the regime without affecting the lives of ordinary people. He said the Council intended to follow many of the recommendations made by MEPs: "We have every admiration for courageous opposition in Belarus and we will support them. Sanctions and restrictions are a possibility, including extending existing measures, perhaps a visa ban on whole leadership... We will analyse this in more detail. We hope any measures will not affect people who want to travel to see how democracy works here in Europe."

Commissioner Kovács said the EU was a community of shared values: "We must make clear we do not accept the repressive regime of President Lukashenko, the violation of campaign rights, the arrest of the opposition and peaceful demonstrators. We need to introduce and maintain sanctions, but avoid economic measures which would hit the general population. We must precisely target the persons responsible for elections and survival of repressive regime." He said the Commission would also aim to support NGOs in Belarus. He was pleased there appeared to be unity between Parliament, Council and the Commission, and hoped this might help democratic change in Belarus.
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