Along with his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski, Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle has called on the Belarusian Government to ensure free and fair presidential elections.In Minsk the two Ministers met representatives both of the Government and of the opposition.Westerwelle and Sikorski delivered clear messages.
It was the first visit by a German Foreign Minister to Belarus for fifteen years. The mission was a difficult one. Germany and Poland's aim, in the run-up to the presidential elections to be held in Belarus on 19 December, was to influence the Belarusian Government and encourage it to move closer to European values and standards. Following his talks with President Alexander Lukashenko and Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, Guido Westerwelle said:
"Europe wants good-neighbourly relations with Belarus based on partnership. The bridge to Europe stands on pillars called democracy, rule of law, human rights, free and fair elections (...) We have an interest in democratic conditions prevailing in our neighbouring states."
Taking the Belarusian Government at its word
What was important when it comes to the elections, Westerwelle said, was not only the outcome of the vote, but also the process in the weeks leading up to it. All the candidates must be able to promulgate their ideas freely and to gain access to the electorate via the media. International election observers must be able to work without hindrance. If President Lukashenko promised free and fair elections, said Westerwelle, he would be measured by his actions. The further deepening of relations between the EU and the Eastern Partnership states also depended on these criteria.
The Polish Foreign Minister emphasized that, if the elections were held honestly, Belarus would have the possibility of using all the advantages arising from beneficial cooperation between the EU and the country.
Ministers Sikorski and Westerwelle now intend to suggest to their European counterparts and the EU High Representative that a large number of election observers be sent to Belarus. "Attracting public attention is currently a very important protection factor," Westerwelle said.
Meeting with the opposition
Following their talks with the Government, Westerwelle and Sikorski also met eight opposition politicians, including seven presidential candidates. The Belarusian opposition generally welcomes high-level foreign visits in the run-up to the presidential elections and is asking for international support.
After the meeting, Minister Westerwelle confirmed that the visit had been the right decision and had taken place "at the right time". The opposition candidates had been very supportive of the intention to direct "the European public's attention towards these elections".
The leadership in Minsk is the target of international criticism for its treatment of members of the opposition and human rights activists. The country's few human rights organizations face administrative hurdles and there is sometimes a very hard crackdown on unauthorized demonstrations. Belarus is the only European country not to be a member of the Council of Europe. It still enforces the death penalty. Belarus is a member of the EU's Eastern Partnership, set up in 2009 with the prime goal of bringing the EU and its partners closer together in political and economic terms.
The Eastern Partnership of the EU
Critical dialogue with the EU
For years the EU has been urging Belarus to respect human rights and democratic standards and looking for avenues for constructive cooperation. Guido Westerwelle and Radoslaw Sikorski regard the forthcoming elections as an opportunity for Belarus to set out on its path towards Europe. Foreign minister Martynov promised that his country wanted to "improve the opportunities for mutual relations" and make "determined" use of this chance.
As recently as 25 October the EU External Relations Council extended the EU's restrictive measures against Belarus until October 2011. These are mainly visa restrictions and freezes on the assets of leading officials. In the interest of a "critical engagement", however, some restrictions remain suspended. The Council reaffirmed its willingness to strengthen relations with Belarus on the condition of the country's progress in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Council of the European Union: Conclusions on Belarus, 25 October 2010 DOC