The EU must reach out to citizens of Belarus and send a clear message that the repression of democracy will not be tolerated, according to Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule.
Speaking at the extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the Commissioner said the EU's objective was to obtain the release of political prisoners and the safety of all those detained. He added, however, that a balance between sending a clear message of condemnation to the authorities and reinforcing contact with the Belarusian people must be achieved.
"My clear view is that we have a duty to react quickly and proportionately, but that we must do so without isolating the citizens of Belarus," said Commissioner Fule. "This means we should keep open the channels of direct assistance to NGOs, the media and students, and it also means that we should continue to take steps to increase mobility for Belarusian citizens wishing to travel to the EU."
For example, Commissioner Fule stressed that ENPI assistance to Belarus should not be blocked, "provided we continue in our approach of targeting the needs of the population. Once again, this means ensuring the orientation of aid is suitably focused on civil society." He added thatBelarus should continue to participate in the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership. "I also believe that visa facilitation, in parallel with readmission, should remain on top of our agenda for the sake of the Belarusian citizens," he said.
Commissioner Fule emphasised how profoundly shocked he was by the events which followed the elections on 19 December, noting that some 700 people have been detained in the last few weeks. He added that as many as 30 people, including some presidential candidates, face charges that could lead to 15 year prison sentences.
"Our message to Minsk is clear: the timescale for these releases is measured in days and hours, not weeks. I have conveyed this message to Foreign Minister Martynov, and Catherine Ashton further insisted today on the urgency of the situation in her own meeting with Mr Martynov." The reintroduction of a travel ban for Belarus President Lukashenko, and its extension to further individuals, is one option that is being considered in the run-up to the Foreign Affairs Council of 31 January.