31 October

Counsellor of the European Commission insists on release of political prisoners


All 12 proposals of the European Union are principal for us. We can say that the most politically sensitive question is one of the release of the political prisoners, - Jean-Eric Holzapfel, Counsellor of the European Commissions representative office in Ukraine and Belarus said in the interview to Euroradio. It should be reminded that recently Aliaksandr Lukashenka permitted to open the ECs representative office in Belarus and now the negotiations on this issue are held.

- Why Europeans want to open the European Commissions representative office in Belarus?

- The opening of the EC representative office in Belarus is a normal step, because such offices were opened all over the world. In its turn, Belarus, for example, has its representative offices at the EU institutions in Brussels. So, the opening of our office in Minsk is a normal diplomatic step. Out department is to work in different spheres. Firstly, it is the cooperation and technical aid in the frames of TACIS and ENPI (European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument) programs. The programs are bilateral and agreed with Belarusian authorities. The second competence of the office is trade issues. The third one is informational, because the EUs aim is broadening and strengthening of the relations between people in the EU and Belarus. Thats why we are interested that people in Belarus know more about the European Union. And of course, the competence of our representative office in Belarus will be the policy of external relations of the EU, because the European Commission has competences to determine the EU external policy together with the EU members.

- If the agreements points have been already discussed with MFA? If so, which points? Are there ayn questions arisen?

- A meeting with head of the Belarus department at the EC and your countrys representative in Brussels Mr. Senko took place 23 October. The talking has just been started, so we cant tell now, what was discussed.

- Will the mandate, which the EC will have during its work in Belarus, be discussed on the negotiations? Can be the term of this mandate be limited as it is done with the OSCE representative office?

- The agreement on opening the diplomatic office is a document, which has no expiry date. Theoretically, the term of validity can be limited in the text, but I have never met it.

- In your opinion, how long will the process of approval be? How much time will it really take to open the ECs representative office in Belarus?

- It is difficult to say, as we are in the early phase of the negotiations. For the time being, we cant say how much time it will take. It can be done very quickly, and can take more time. The speed depends on the process of discussion. Moreover, it is the international practice not to spread any information until the negotiations are over.

- What will be the differences between the ECs office in Belarus and those in European countries?

- There are no differences from the diplomatic point of view. But what concerns the concrete activity of the office, there are some of them. EC is not a separate country, - it is a specific international organization consisting of some member countries. In some spheres, for example, in trade, the EC has a certain mandate. In other spheres the EC should work together with other EC members. These spheres are cooperation and technical aid. The EC has power to work on TACIS ENPI programs. This is the main difference. Besides, our activity in informational and cultural spheres differs from the embassies activity, because we inform not about a certain country, but about the whole European Union and about the European integration process. We also perform a function of popularization the information about Belarus in Europe.

- Which of 12 proposals is Belarus able to fulfill right now, in your view? Are there such points at all?

- I wish I myself had an answer to this. The question was discussed by the EU members, but unfortunately, there is no answer.

- Are there points among these questions, fulfillment of which is principal for Europe?

- All 12 points have such character for us. We can say that the most politically sensitive question is the release of the political prisoners.

- Concerning the question of political prisoners. Has Europe managed to find a common language with the Belarusian authorities on the negotiation? Is there a situation when, for example, Europe says: There are political prisoners in Belarus, but the official Minsk answered till recently, until Andrei Klimau has got to prison, that they havent? Or, for example, the EC says the independent press is oppressed, but the answer is: We have enough independent press!..

- I have no rights to give information about the subject matter of the negotiations. I can say the only thing: all points of 12 proposals of Europe are discussed.

- The question about visa prices at 60 euro for Belarusian citizens. In your opinion, will this question turn from economic one as it was in the beginning into a political one?

- The question is very important, indeed. If begin with the advantages, we should note that with the price increase people will get right to visit several countries, not one. Besides, the Schengen rules give opportunity to the EU countries to grant free visas for example, students for education and so on. If Belarus became a full member of the European Neighbourhood Policy, the decision to reduce visa prices could be made. As in Russia or Ukraine. In the end, visa issues are the competence of the EU countries.