EU, Belarus have ‘unique opportunity’ to turn tide – official

There is currently a marked change in Belarus’ attitude to the relations with the EU, Oliver Varhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, stated during Tuesday’s meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In the course of the event, Slovak MEP Miriam Lexmann mentioned the Belarusian activists’ courage and resolve in combatting the coronavirus pandemic and urged the EU officials to seize the opportunity to win the people’s hearts and minds and support the ‘genuine civil society’ in the country.

Belarusian civil society steps forward as strongman defies coronavirus threat

When responding to the call, Oliver Varhelyi reiterated the bloc’s readiness to engage with any of the EaP countries more on condition that ‘they are interested in more engagement’ as well.

“There is a unique opportunity now in Belarus. We are reaching out to the country and interestingly enough, it is because of the COVID-19 crisis that we see a completely different approach to the EU. The government is engaging with us; we have had several contacts already; they have been asking for microfinancial assistance,” the top official said.

Oliver Varhelyi expressed regret that Belarus had recenly failed to come to terms with the IMF, which the EU considers to be a precondition for lending financial aid.

“And once we can set up the right conditions <…> then, of course, we will immediately provide the macrofinancial assistance. We have a historical opportunity to turn the tide and try to build a positive momentum in our relations,” Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement stressed.

Minsk asks for loan to fight epidemic

According to the Delegation of the European Union to Belarus, support package for the six Eastern Partnership countries has been put in place totalling €80 mln for immediate needs in the health sector and €883 mln for short-term needs for socio-economic recovery. Out of this support, Belarus will specifically benefit from over €60 mln of redirected bilateral funds.

In early April, Josep Borell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that the Belarusian authorities asked for the European Union’s help to fight the coronavirus crisis and its consequences. A few weeks later, the top EU diplomat warned that the EU would provide Belarus with financial aid for combatting COVID-19 if the country complied with WHO recommendations.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has repeatedly said that the introduction of tough quarantine measures and placing a curfew would not improve the coronavirus situation in Belarus. In his opinion, such steps might deal a crippling blow to the daily life of Belarusians. Earlier, the head of state denied the coronavirus deaths in the country, but he counts on Europe’s financial aid. He promised that the funds received would be allocated to bringing the country’s healthcare system up to date.

WHO recommends Belarus take more severe measures to prevent COVID-19 spread