European Commissioner says ‘Belarus is not Europe’

Thierry Breton, the EU’s Commissioner for Internal Market has said that “Belarus is not Europe” and that talks with Russian Vladimir Putin would take into account the nature of Belarus’ relationship with Russia. This is not the view of the Polish government and would put Poland on the periphery of Europe.

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The European Union leaders during their emergency video conference on Wednesday that had been asked for by Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki decided to tighten sanctions against Belarus and to call for the Presidential election in the country to be repeated so that it reflects the will of the people. It also condemned unacceptable levels of violence and the lack of respect for the rule of law in the country.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio the European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said that “It is clear that (the outcome of the Belarus presidential election) is not in line with the wish of the people, there has been unacceptable violence, and the rule of law is not respected.”

Putin’s word is law?

He also stated that talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin would take into account the nature of Belarus’ relationship with Russia. “Belarus is not Europe, it is on the border of Europe, between Europe and Russia, and the situation is not comparable to Ukraine or Georgia. Belarus is really strongly connected with Russia and the majority of the population is favourable to close links with Russia,” he said.

His words will come as some surprise to the Polish government. The Polish PM has argued that the EU must do all it can to ensure that people in Belarus can make a choice for themselves in their future. Poland has also initiated a programme of aid for Belarusian civil society. It has for years been sponsoring the existence of TV Belsat which broadcasts into Belarus.

Rule of law again

Commissioner Breton went on to say that aid within a EUR 750 billion European coronavirus recovery package for EU members would be conditional on respect for the rule of law in member states. “Every six months we verify whether countries respect a certain number of criteria, notably the rule of law. The decision to provide funds (as part of the recovery plan) will be conditioned in respect for these criteria,” he said.

Poland and Hungary at July’s EU summit argued against making EU funding conditional on rule of law compliance. The resolution finally agreed to keep the rule of law issue in play but acknowledged that it would be the European Council that could veto any EC proposal for linking EU funds to rule of law matters.

Comment:

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Mr Breton seems to be saying that Belarus is recognised as a country within the Russian sphere of influence. And he says that it is not Europe. That makes Poland a periphery of Europe in his eyes.

His assertion that Belarusians are favourably disposed towards Russia jars with his declaration that Belarus is not a democracy. Since the people of Belarus have not been able to say what it is they want, how does Mr Breton know that it’s an ever-closer relationship with Russia?

Mr Breton’s declaration that Belarus is not Europe is a slap in the face to that country. It is part of Europe geographically. Its citizens travel and work in Europe. It is also a part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership.

The Commissioner further mentioned that the EC verifies rule of law among its members every six months. For the sake of transparency, the Polish government for one would like to see these reports. And the criteria on the basis of which these assessments are made.

Mr Breton is an EC official who should not be expressing views that are clearly not in line with the resolutions of either the European Council or the European Parliament. As far as we are aware his salary is funded by money from the member states for the functioning of the EU and not by Russia and Mr Putin. It is therefore hard to explain why he gives Mr Putin the automatic power of veto over what happens in Belarus and to have a say in the future of that country.


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