Dialogue between Minsk and Brussels: mutual stand-by mode
Relations between the EU and Belarus are at the minimally acceptable level for both. The reduced interest of Minsk to the European External Action Service representatives visit meant to demonstrate that the Belarusian government had no intent to meet the EU’s political demands and re-start a dialogue in the near future.
On June 11, Head of Directorate for Europe, Mr. Romanovsky met with representatives of the European External Action Service. One of the EU delegates was Head of the Eastern Partnership Department of the European Commission Mr. Kjaer.
European officials also met with the EU ambassadors present in Belarus, Belarusian opposition politicians and civil society representatives.
The visit did not attract significant attention from the Belarusian authorities, which signals that they are generally pleased with the “truce” and do not intend to strengthen political cooperation. This trend occurred in April 2012, when the EU ambassadors returned to Belarus, overcoming the most acute phase of the diplomatic crisis.
Both sides, Minsk and Brussels, maintain their relations in a standby mode, without increasing the level of cooperation. In contrast with the February visit of Director for Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia of the External Relations Directorate General of the European Commission Mr. Wiegand, who was received by Foreign Minister Martynov, representatives of EU delegation visiting Belarus on June 11-13 met with lower level Belarusian officials.
An appropriate meeting level would be at least a Deputy Foreign Minister, for instance, Mr. Kupchina, who took part in an informal Eastern Partnership Summit on June 5 in Chisinau. However Mr. Kjaer met with a Foreign Ministry directorate head. The low involvement and coverage level for the visit demonstrates that today Belarus regards Eurasian foreign policy cooperation as more important.
The most relevant factors for Eurasian cooperation are two loan programmes between Belarus and Russia. In particular, firstly, the third tranche of the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund loan (USD 440 million), which, following long negotiations, was disbursed on June 15. Secondly, a more important factor is the upcoming consultations between Belarus and Russia regarding the nuclear power plant construction. It is anticipated that a general contract will be signed and a credit line will be opened by the end of June. Moreover, Belarus is expected to start negotiations with Russia about compensation to the Belarusian economy for Russia’s accession to the WTO.
Since the EU had no proposals regarding economic cooperation on a comparable scale, the Belarusian authorities continue waiting, hoping the EU will make the first step (eg, reducing or lifting sanctions).
The Labour and the Tax Ministries are considering the possibility to include persons engaged in some economic activity without forming a legal entity in the social security system. When the decree No 337 comes into effect, the number of private entrepreneurs is likely to reduce due to the possibility of reducing the tax burden when switching to a tax payment as an individual. 95% of self-employed, including PE, pay insurance premiums on the basis of the minimum wage. The number of self-employed citizens is expected to increase, the number of insurance contributions to the pension system from PE will decrease, the number of citizens who will pay a fee to finance government spending will decrease by several tens. Self-employed citizens have the alternative not to pay social security fees and save resources for future pensions, which, given the gradual restriction by the state of pension requirements could be a more long-sighted option.