Horse-trading with Lukashenko sanctions should be the last of its kind

Finally, the European Union leaders managed to agree on joint sanctions against Lukashenko’s henchmen. This very crucial and long awaited move also sends a signal of support to the Belarusian people and opposition who have been protesting on the streets for two months to show that they wish to have a democratic future. However, it was disappointing that Lukashenko himself, who is responsible for stealing the presidential elections from Belarusian people and for using violence to silence the protesters, was not on the initial list but was added later. This made the European Union seem weak.

Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash

In the bigger picture, it is even more problematic that the EU’s policy towards Belarus became the hostage of Cyprus’ concerns over Turkey. Namely, for a time, it was clear that the EU Member States had agreed to impose sanctions on the Belarusian regime, except for Cyprus, which was blocking this joint decision. At least officially, Cyprus’s reasoning not to allow these sanctions was that it wants restrictions on Turkish leaders as well.

And thus, as strange as it was, the European Union’s policy towards Belarus became entangled with Cyprus’ concerns over Turkey. Because of that, it took the EU almost two months to agree on Belarus sanctions, which is clearly too long. This situation highlights a number of issues.

The situation shows how even in seemingly clear and simple EU foreign policy decisions, other unrelated issues come into play. The result is that there is no decision making at all and the EU’s authority suffers.

For some time now, we’ve had debates in the EU, whether all foreign policy decisions should still be made by consensus or whether it would make sense to move, in certain cases, to qualified majority voting. As the situation with the Belarusian regime made clear, the search for consensus meant that, in fact, no decisions were made at all. Meanwhile, the time was ticking, the EU’s credibility kept declining and Lukashenko continued to rule Belarus with his repressive methods.

Such procrastination and ambiguity does not contribute to the EU’s foreign policy credibility, nor does it send a clear message of support to the democratic opposition in Belarus.

Furthermore, based on the example of Belarus, we can see that the existence of a veto right by Member States on every issue may not always contribute to a functioning foreign policy of the EU. Same goes for the EU sanctions against Russia, which need to be extended every six months. It only takes one Member State to say that it does not agree with the sanctions any longer and they will not be renewed despite the fact that the situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine remains unchanged.

If we are serious about becoming a stronger geopolitical player in the world, we cannot allow ourselves such shakiness when making foreign policy decisions. Especially when it comes to protecting human rights, democracy and international law. In addition, we must keep in mind that if we are not able to have a successful foreign policy in our own neighborhood, we also should not expect to be successful more globally.

Therefore, it is time for the EU to turn the page and no longer search for consensus on human rights issues, because, unfortunately, as we are seeing now, it means shooting ourselves in the foot.

Member of the European Parliament @RenewEurope & Vice-Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee, Estonian Foreign Minister 2005–2014 & Minister of Culture 2003–2005.

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