The Political Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on May 26 voted to restore Special Guest status in PACE for a delegation from Belarus, which was suspended in 1997.
The committee unanimously adopted a report by Andrea Rigoni of Italy on the situation in Belarus. Mr. Rigoni, who is PACE’s rapporteur on Belarus, proposed that the status be restored provided a mechanism was found for the Belarusian delegation to include representatives of the "extra-parliamentary opposition".
Goran Lindblad, chairman of the committee who visited Belarus in February, said following that visit that PACE "wants to bring Belarus closer to Council of Europe standards". "Isolation has been tried and it has not worked", he said. "Mr. Rigoni’s proposal would allow the beginning of a structured dialogue, partly as a response to some positive developments in the country".
However, he pointed out that any restoration of Special Guest status – if it was decided by the Assembly – should be temporary, and renewal would depend on Belarus making further progress towards democratization. The issue of Special Guest status for Belarus is expected to be discussed by PACE at its June session.
Belarus’ national legislature held Special Guest status in PACE between 1992 and 1997. The status was suspended in 1997 following a November 1996 national referendum condemned by foreign observers as undemocratic. Shortly after that, Belarus’s application to join the Council of Europe was frozen, and it remains the only European nation that is not a member of the organization.
Special Guest status was created by PACE in the 1990s to help countries meet the conditions to become full members of the Council of Europe. It enables parliamentarians to take part in the Assembly’s activities, but without the right to vote.