Updated at 18:18,16-07-2018

Maira Mora: EU believes in systemic reforms, not quick fixes

By Alyaksandr Klaskowski, BelaPAN

The head of the European Unions Delegation to Belarus, answers BelaPANs questions on the prospects for the EUs European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus (DoM).

Q: It has been over a year since Commissioner Fule announced the launch of DoM. Many have criticized the project for being "undercooked" while for now Belarus authorities have refused to be part of it altogether. It looks much like a fiasco; nevertheless, the European Union is planning a new round of DoM. Doesn't it resemble Sisyphean toil?

A: Before we say anything else, I'd like to make the most important point. No modernization is possible unless it is defined and undertaken by the Belarusian people themselves. The EU, especially the 'newer' Member States who have recent experience of transition and transformation, could play an important but experience-sharing role. The point second in importance is that one cannot modernize the economy only, and do it in isolation from world trends.

For the EU, partnerships and dialogues are important tools that help organize engagement and cooperation with third countries in a multitude of fields. One example is EU-Russia Partnership for Modernization launched in May 2010. The Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus was launched in March 2012. These dialogues and partnerships help ensure policy coordination, cohesion, continuity in the longer term. Our partnership with Russia allowed both sides to solve many concrete problems in a very short period of time. Understandably, every such dialogue develops at its own pace. Where the European Neighborhood Policy applies, the pace of reforms determines the intensity of cooperation, according to the principle "more for more".

Q: How is the next DoM round new?

A: We hope that the new phase of DoM will allow to enhance the expertise of participants (e.g. through trainings), help establish contacts between Belarusian experts and their EU counterparts, and foster research and discussions on modernization topics. In our opinion, DoM is and should be owned, organized and developed by the Belarusian participants themselves. It could develop to cover broader range of issues of modernization, engage different local stakeholders.

We also wish to further familiarize the Belarusian Government with the main areas of DoM, taking also into account already ongoing EU-Belarus sectoral dialogues. This could potentially include consultations with the Government on issues such as justice, electoral reforms, human rights, economic governance, trade and investment issues, etc. This could help to understand better what the modernisation needs of the Belarusian society are, and how the EU could support them when political circumstances allow it.

I would like to stress that it is entirely up to the Belarusians if they want to use the EU's generous offer of fostering stability and prosperity via modernization.

Q: Early this year Belarus' MFA sent to the EU countries a non-paper laying out its vision for the dialogue on modernization. What has become of those proposals?

A: The non-paper of Belarus' MFA prompted an exchange of views on the diplomatic level on the subject. We look forward to this exchange developing a dimension that would allow the society at large to play its vital role in it.

Q: Unofficially, representatives of Belarus' political opposition express frustration over their being "pushed away" from DoM. The popular belief is that today, as Brussels is attempting to normalise relations with Minsk, involvement in the project of those Belarus authorities refer to as "the fifth column" indeed make it more difficult for the European side to reach the objective. At the same time it is certain that Europe cannot withdraw its support from the democratic forces. Is a compromise probable?

A: We cannot be anything but happy to see a renewed interest on the part of Belarus' pro-democracy politicians to the findings and conclusions of expert groups participating in the Dialogue on Modernization. By definition, any constructive participation has been and will always be welcome.

Q: A number of analysts are convinced that today's Belarusian regime is not capable of undergoing deep modernization, not prepared for drastic economic, leave alone political reform, as well as that the authorities may use any fruits of DoM selectively, unilaterally, to the end of preserving the undemocratic system. It comes down to the EU doing a favor to the "last dictatorship of Europe," doesn't it?

A: There is a prerequisite to a dialogue between EU and Belarusian authorities, which is release of all political prisoners and restoration of their rights. And once it happens, we will need to compare notes to make sure all sides agree on what modernization means. The fact that the Dialogue on Modernization proposes EU Member States' experience in transition and transformation automatically puts first things first. In our understanding, the core element of modernization is restructuring of the economy to secure new sources of growth and observance of Belarus' internal laws and international commitments in the areas of democracy, rule of law, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Again, put plainly and simply, it is impossible to modernise the economy only.
Belarus authorities acknowledge the need for modernization. I hope they also recognise the need to modernize not only industrial assets but the society as a whole.
As initially conceived, the Dialogue on Modernization is just a stage in the preparation of a joint interim plan. We hope we will sit down and discuss it with the authorities when the political situation permits it. We were close to doing it in the past.

Q: Russia continues to grant enormous subsidies to Belarus. The EU isn't capable of providing such funds, is it? Clearly, what Belarus authorities want is the material, financial gain, not instruction in democracy. That's why many see the vector of Minsk's politics as predestined the east. Does the EU have the political will and resources to break the geopolitical fatalism and draw Belarus into its orbit? Does Brussels need that at all?

A: Is the EU capable of providing such funds? The EU does not believe that such funds are what it takes to achieve systemic and sustainable modernization. The EU remains ready to improve and deepen its relations with Belarus, but it remains conditional on progress towards respect by Belarus for the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. For the EU, Belarus is an important neighbor. It is worth noting that all EaP countries save Belarus have made substantial progress in the negotiations of Association Agreements with the EU.

The choice Belarus supposedly has to make between east and west has long been and will remain a false one. Every country has the right to choose alliances that serve its interest best, and involvement in one alliance does not preclude involvement in others as long as they all are based on compatible rules, values and principles. In addition, while Russia may be more flexible in helping Belarus' authorities address their immediate wants, the EU believes not in quick fixes but in conscious, systemic reforms that ensure sustainable development of economy and society and contribute to regional and global stability. DoM is one way for Belarus to take advantage of EU Member States' experience and expertise.