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 country's leadership has instructed the local authorities to raise minimum wages at enterprises by the end of 2019 to BYN 1,000, which would lead to an increase in the average wage in the economy as a whole to BYN 1 500. The pace of wage growth in 2017 is insufficient to ensure payroll at BYN 1000 by late 2017 without manipulating statistical indicators. In order to fulfil the president’s order, the government would have to increase budgetary expenditures on wages in healthcare and education, enterprises – to carry out further layoffs and expand the practice of taking loans to pay wages and restrict investment in modernisation of fixed assets. In 2010, the artificial increase in wages led to a threefold devaluation in 2011, an increase in the average salary to BYN 1500 will not match the capabilities of the economy and would lead to yet another devaluation.