The Eastern Partnership Summit has advanced Belarusian-European relations half a step
The Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels was the major issue in relations with the West last week. Albeit there were no decisions made with respect to Belarus, Belarusian and European officials positively assessed the Summit and prospects of relations between Belarus and the EU.
On November 21st, 2017, the intrigue about the Belarusian representative at the EaP Summit was resolved. Due to the lack of progress with the signing of the fundamental treaty with the EU, the agreement on visa facilitation, as well as the overall low-profile relations between Minsk and Brussels, Alexander Lukashenka's participation was deemed inexpedient. Lukashenka's refusal to visit Brussels was also a message that Belarus expected reciprocal steps from the European Union and more tangible results from cooperation.
In addition, during the Summit, Belarus and the EU failed to agree on the final text of the agreement on Partnership Priorities, a working document which should become the base for joint projects.
Nevertheless, during numerous interviews, Foreign Minister Makei emphasised positive moments of the summit and expressed optimism about the future of the Belarusian-European relations. According to him, "by the next Eastern Partnership Summit in 2019, Belarus will for sure approach to a new level of cooperation with the European Union (...) At the next summit, agreements may be signed, which everyone would talk about and which would be beneficial for Belarus and Europe”.
Belarus still has hopes to promote a more pragmatic agenda within the Eastern Partnership framework. This was partially reflected in the final declaration of the Summit. Some Belarusian proposals on specific projects were included in the multilateral agreement on trans-European transport cooperation signed at the Summit.
Overall, the last EaP Summit has demonstrated that the initiative has somewhat lost the dynamics and Belarus’ interest in it, especially amid the developing bilateral dialogue between Minsk and Brussels. Belarus has retained the focus on developing practical cooperation with the EU, and at the same time has publicly declared that she is not ready to make concessions on matters of concern to Brussels (human rights, reforms, the death penalty).