On 17 and 18 July, Andreas Peschke, Director for Eastern Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, and his French counterpart Florence Mangin visited the Belarusian capital Minsk. Just a few months before the EU summit with the countries of the Eastern Partnership, they conducted talks with the Belarusian Government.
Before the summit in November
The Franco-German delegation emphasised that, at the top-level EU meeting with its eastern neighbours in November, the focus will have to be on achieving concrete results for the citizens such as economic cooperation, education cooperation and youth exchange. They welcomed Belarus’ readiness to be actively involved in preparations for the summit. They made clear that, also in the future, the EU will support democratic and economic reform in the 6 countries of the Eastern Partnership to which, alongside Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan also belong.
Prior to his talks with his French counterpart in Minsk, Andreas Peschke visited the Khatyn memorial site north of Minsk which commemorates the destruction of the village by German occupying forces in 1943. He remembered the victims of this horrendous crime and emphasised that Germany will always recall its historic responsibility for the National Socialist atrocities committed in Belarus. During World War Two and German occupation, a quarter of the Belarusian population lost their lives.
Pushing forward with liberalisation of society
In Minsk trafen Peschke und Mangin den belarussischen Vize-Außenminister Oleg Kravchenko. Sie ermutigten die Regierung von Belarus, weitere Schritte in Richtung einer gesellschaftlichen und wirtschaftlichen Öffnung des Landes zu ergreifen. Die kürzliche Tagung der Parlamentarischen Versammlung der OSZE vom 5. bis 9. Juli in Minsk, an der auch Abgeordnete des Deutschen Bundestages teilnahmen, sei ein positives Signal gewesen. Der deutsche Beauftragte würdigte auch die Gründung des Deutsch-Belarussischen Unternehmerrats in Minsk im Juni. Das zeige das Interesse deutscher Unternehmen, sich in Belarus zu engagieren, wenn die rechtlichen und wirtschaftlichen Rahmenbedingungen weiter verbessert würden.
Human rights and the rule of law: further steps needed
Alongside Members of Parliament, the Franco-German delegation also met representatives of civil society in Belarus and found out more about the situation in terms of human rights and the rule of law in Belarus. They underscored the EU position that more steps should be taken in the field such as implementing the OSCE recommendations on electoral reform, allowing peaceful protest or putting in place a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty. Belarus is now the only country in Europe in which the death penalty is handed down and carried out. These and other topics feature regularly on the agenda of the Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and Belarus of which the next session is to be held in Brussels on 20 July.
Following the release of political prisoners in 2015, the EU lifted almost all sanctions against Belarus in 2016 and began a process to gradually bring the eastern European country closer. In March, Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, and Michael Roth, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, visited Minsk. Germany and Belarus are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of their diplomatic relations this year.