Minsk interested in EU dialogue only on economic issues
Belarusian authorities continue to ignore activities within the EU Dialogue on modernization with Belarus, where the opposition and independent experts play an important role. In turn, Belarusian authorities keep in contact with the EU officials directly and discuss only economic, rather than political issues of bilateral cooperation.
On November 21st, the second round of expert dialogue between EU and Belarus on economic and financial affairs was held in Brussels.
As we have mentioned before, the Belarusian authorities are not interested in taking part in the EU Porgramme launched in spring 2012 on expert-political cooperation “Dialogue on modernization with Belarus”. The authorities ignore this programme because it was launched without their participation, but with the participation of the Belarusian opposition and independent expert community. The authorities refused to take part in the launch due to the fact that the programme meant to address highly sensitive political and economic issues for Lukashenko’s regime.
Therefore, Belarusian officials prefer maintaining direct contacts with the EU and address politically neutral issues without the opposition’s and independent experts’ involvement. The November 21st event was attended by Deputy Economy Minister Golukhov, Deputy Finance Minister Ermolovich, Permanent Representative of Belarus in the EU Evdochenko, as well as representatives from the National Bank of Belarus and other agencies. From the EU side, there were Head of Department for the EU neighboring countries and macro-financial assistance of the European Commission Directorate General for Economy and Finance, Mr. Temprano and officials from the European External Action Service of the European Commission. The next round of talks was scheduled for autumn 2013.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities have launched an alternative programme for expert dialogue “Smart Networks”. They invited young professionals to take part in it with an incentive that they will receive job offers from state analytical and expert centres to develop professionally. The programme is yet to be formalized and will be carried out under the auspices of the Information and Analytical Centre of the Presidential Administration and with the participation of public administration and education bodies. The project work is organized in several thematic areas: the need for political reforms in Belarus, the need for privatization, the role of a welfare state, European and Eurasian integration, etc.
The situation is developing so that both ‘expert dialogues’ will continue co-existing in parallel and independently of one another. Similar parallelism and mutual independence will be preserved in the contacts of the authorities and the opposition with the EU and U.S.: the authorities will not allow the opposition to mediate the dialogue process and will focus discussions on economic issues. In addition, the authorities have a number of regional security issues to put on the agenda for a possible dialogue with the EU (smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal migration, etc).
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.