Belarus and the European Union are ready to step up efforts to develop cooperation. The statement was made at the meeting of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn on 21 June.
The head of state praised the role of European Commissioner in normalizing the relations between Belarus and the European Union and thanked Johannes Hahn for the participation in the political and economic development of Belarus. “Your role is significant, first of all, because our major partners are the European Union and Russia. It is in many ways due to your efforts that our relations have been improving and have reached some level of stability,” Alexander Lukashenko noted.
Alexander Lukashenko emphasized the fact that the EU is Belarus’ neighbor. “Neighbors are given by God, therefore we should be on friendly terms with them and promote partner relations. We took our time; we did not promise you the things we could not deliver. You were watching us closely; we were feeling the European Union out, too. Taking into consideration the ongoing transformations in Belarus and in the EU, we came to the conclusion that we should stop looking askance at each other while watching each other across the fence. We decided to make advances and restore friendly and partner relations,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“We did not ask for EU membership, but we would like to have that level of relations with the EU that could be envied even by the EU members. If the European Union is ready for that, we are willing to do our part,” Alexander Lukashenko assured.
Speaking about Belarus-EU partnership agreements that are in the pipeline, Alexander Lukashenko noted that they should be underpinned by trade and economic relations. “Topics like democracy, freedom of speech, political prisoners, abolition of capital punishment are still on the agenda, we are not taking them off the table and we make no bones about it. However, the focus should be made on trade, economic and financial relations,” the head of state is convinced.
“If we see it in our relations with the EU, this will encourage us to embark on transformations and to reform our political system. Otherwise, we risk following suit of the Soviet Union that disregarded economic issues and ignored public opinion while breaking the political system. They destroyed the country and left it bankrupt. We are learning lessons from it,” he added.
The President emphasized that “if we embark on transformations, we should transform everything, but do it step by step taking into account economic interests and people’s needs”. “This should be at the heart of everything,” Alexander Lukashenko added.
“While building relations with any country or union, we, experienced politicians, understand very well that it is better to anticipate certain events, restore and establish close relations at our own initiative. It is not good when it happens under the pressure of some circumstances, events. Therefore, we need to meet each other halfway openly, without any pressure from outside," the head of state said.
He noted that “despite difficulties, sometimes considerable ones, Belarus has never been an obstacle to your movement to the East, Russia, China, and perhaps even Japan”. “We have always been a good transit window for the European Union. We have never banned your businesses from moving goods, workforce, and capital to and via Belarus,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
The President stressed: “Unfortunately, we do not see the same on the part of the European Union. I want you to understand: we will insist that the European Union be as open for us as we are open for you. This is the major issue which needs to be addressed, since trade and economic relations, and also the freedom the European Union stands for (freedom in the broadest sense – freedom for business, citizens) are the fundamental principles on which any state is based.”
The head of state touched upon the topic of Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership. He believes that the Eastern Partnership is a good example of Belarus’ commitment to economic cooperation with the European Union.
“We strictly adhere to the Eastern Partnership agreements,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He explained why Belarus develops cooperation in this initiative: “We offer specific regional economic projects which benefit both the European Union, Belarus and eastern neighbors, ours and yours.”
Johannes Hahn, in turn, remarked that Belarus and the European Union have managed to build relationships of trust in recent years.
“First of all, I would like to agree with you that in recent years we have managed to develop relationships of trust. This is the only way to achieve anything specific for the benefit of people. My vision rests on creation of a prosperity belt within the framework of the European Union and the European partnership. This will serve as the best guarantee for our security and stability,” Johannes Hahn said.
He underlined that this can be achieved only through improving the economic situation. “Economic growth means social advancement and development of the country,” he believes.
“We still see a huge gap between the economic development in the EU and in the neighboring states. This is the issue we would like to come to grips with,” the Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations concluded.