Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Authorities encouraged to take advantage of new initiative to improve ties with EU

By Alyaksandr Klaskowski, BelaPAN

The European Commission has approved a two-year project called Reforum to reinvigorate its European Dialogue on Modernization (EDM) with Belarus. The commission will work closely with the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), a Minsk-based think tank registered in Vilnius.

The BISS held a news conference in Minsk on January 21 to unveil the project.


Four cycles, 16 reforms

During four six-month cycles the authorities, businesses, civic society and the public are expected to place orders with BISS to work out 16 specific reform proposals, BISS Academic Director Alyaksey Pikulik said, noting that reforms must be relevant and feasible. The EU is expected to share its experience.

He said BISS will not consider any measures of populism.


Room for opposition

Although opposition groups are not listed among the potential customers, they are eligible to make an input in the civic society category.

Some politicians may be unhappy that the opposition has not been offered preferential treatment. “This is a dialogue about improvements, not power struggle,” Pikulik stressed, noting that opposition groups are welcome to use BISS reform proposals for their campaigns.


Other players

Business associations are likely to contribute many ideas because they have experience in making proposals to the government. Opinion polls will be conducted to receive feedback from the public.

The European Commission and BISS face the challenge to involve the authorities, which have ignored the EDM since its launch in March 2012.

If relations between Minsk and the EU remain frozen, Reforum would be happy if the authorities allowed it to function without obstruction.

If Minsk released what the EU calls political prisoners to qualify for aid, the Belarusian government could take advantage of Reforum to improve ties with the EU.


Officials are welcome

Reforum is interested in working together with experts from governmental agencies, Pikulik said, noting that think tanks have few members with academic degrees.

In addition, government experts have access to information on how the economy and other state mechanisms work.

On the other hand, independent experts have an advantage because they have more freedom of action, Pikulik added.

He notes that the authorities may ignore proposed reforms of the political system, but they may take interest in proposals concerning investment, education and private sector development.