Belarusian Official Challenges EU On Policy

Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Voronetski has challenged the European Union over its policy toward his country. Speaking at a European Neighborhood Policy conference in Brussels as an observer, Voronetski told diplomats from the 27 EU and 16 neighborhood countries that the EU needed the cooperation of Belarus.

"Belarus does not view [the EU goals of stability, security, and prosperity] from the position of a recipient," he said. "Our geographical position, our economy, our universal potential [all] make our contribution to strengthening Europe possible and necessary on the basis of a mutual use of [our] common advantages."

The EU says Belarus is ineligible to join the ENP as long as the country's authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka keeps blocking democratic reforms.

Voronetski did not touch on democracy or human rights during his seven-minute speech. Instead, he portrayed EU-Belarusian relations as a question of give-and-take, in which Belarus plays a key role in helping secure Europe's energy provisions.

He offered cooperation in areas like combating crime, human trafficking, and the narcotics trade. He also invited EU companies to invest in Belarus's energy and industrial sectors.

Sanctions 'Counterproductive'

Voronetski criticized current EU sanctions against Belarus as counterproductive.

"What will not help these goals -- the consolidation and strengthening of a 'Great Europe' -- is measures aimed in the opposite direction, aimed at creating new artificial barriers: customs, visa, and other types of restrictions creating obstacles for the extension of contacts between governments, business circles, and the peoples of our countries," he said.

Voronetski said Belarus would ease visa requirements for EU citizens.

But there is no respite for Belarusians visiting the European Union.

As of 2008, EU visas will cost 60 euros for Belarusian citizens -- an increase of over 10 times in the case of some EU countries.