Belarus prepares safe grounds for negotiations with the EU
On May 16th, a seminar took place in Minsk with the participation of the Belarus’ Education Ministry, the EU delegation and European Commission and Council of Europe representatives.
Belarusian authorities consider opportunities for more active participation in the Eastern Partnership Programme. Collaboration through EaP social and humanitarian projects is associated with the least challenges for the Belarusian ruling group and is therefore considered the ‘safest’. Meanwhile, the EU conditions for Belarus’ participation in the EaP are disappointing the authorities.
The seminar with the participation of the Education Minister Maskevich and EC Representative Maira Mora within the EaP 4th Platform Contacts between people, implies that Belarus is considering its official participation in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in 2013.
Belarus adheres to the wait-and-see approach, since there are no clear instructions from the very top to resume dialogue with the EU, as well as due to the failure of the “Dialogue with the West” in 2008-2010. Maskevitch’s statements at a seminar on the Bologna process were explicitly balanced and cautious: the Minister acknowledged the positive aspects of the international cooperation on education, but also emphasized the risks associated with academic exchange programmes graduates’ migration.
Of the four EaP platforms, the platform Contacts between people is the most comfortable for the Belarusian authorities, since it provides room for maneuver, allows for broad interpretations and delayed implementation. Potentially, this platform was chosen by the authorities for contacts between Education Minister and EU representatives as ‘lesser evil’.
Simultaneously, the fact that the seminar took place implies that Belarus is ready to make cautious steps towards the EU in the preparation for the Vilnius Summit and as a first step for further negotiations, if more intensive international dialogue is resumed.
Nevertheless, the situation is highly volatile. For example, the recent invitation of the Belarusian opposition to take part in the Euronest session is likely to block cooperation within the remaining three EaP platforms (Democracy, Economy and Energy Security).
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.