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Statement by Valery Voronetsky, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, at the Meeting of the Heads of Governments of the Member States of the Central European Initiative, Bucharest, 13 November 2009

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to praise the Government of Romania for the organization of this meeting and the hospitality extended to our delegations.

The capacity to pragmatically adapt its practices and methodology to changing geopolitical environment has always been at the heart of the CEI value and vitality. Today, with 20 years of rich experience behind it, the CEI should further assert itself as an indispensable player in shaping a Wider Europe without dividing lines.

To Belarus, strategically positioned at the junction of the two huge integration conglomerates – the EU and the nascent trilateral Customs Union, as well as four regions – the Central and Eastern European, the Baltic and Black Sea regions, this role of the CEI is of crucial importance.

To consolidate this role, the Organisation should fully grasp the opportunities emerging from the new Eastern Partnership initiative of the EU.

The CEI is uniquely positioned to assist in the accomplishment of the EaP agenda and maximizing its benefits for the Eastern Partners. The valuable experience, best practices and resources of our Organisation could be pooled into the cooperation process within the four major Eastern Partnership platforms.

We would welcome targeted and practical input from the CEI to all pertinent topics on the Eastern Partnership regional agenda. They may include in particular, wider market access, energy efficiency and security, regulatory harmonization, border management and social well-being. Belarus already discusses a number of its multilateral project ideas in the framework of the Eastern Partnership with other CEI Member states. We have recently signed a memorandum with Ukraine concerning joint development of EaP projects.  

To this end and by way of further raising its visibility in Europe the CEI could seek an observer status for itself in the EaP thematic platforms. Belarus would be ready to support such an interest.

As a CEI member Belarus is committed to making the EaP instrumental in reaching our common goal: building a stable, prosperous and increasingly cohesive region free of rivalries and competition over “spheres of influence”.

The attainment of this strategic objective of the Eastern Partnership however, is subject to a number of serious constraints that have to do with the current state of relations between Belarus and the EU.

First, our country remains outside the bilateral format of the EaP cooperation as a result of the political restrictions the EU imposed in 1997. Belarus – EU relations are still governed only by the archaic 1989 agreement between the Soviet Union and the European Economic Community. The 1995 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed but never ratified by the EU, has also become outdated. This leaves a tremendous void in our contractual framework.

Second, Belarus is suspended from the EU generalized system of commercial preferences since 2007, and faces a number of serious politically motivated barriers in its trade with the European Union.

Third, Belarus now is the only country in Europe whose citizens have to pay as much as 60 euro for a single EU visa. This is a stark example of how the political constraints imposed by the EU defeat its own professed commitment to freedom of movement.

As you see, the current state of play in Belarus – EU relations is a complex mix of challenges and opportunities. The remaining obstacles still hinder further progress. May I hope that pragmatism and common sense will finally prevail in EU capitals and the European Union will make full use of the advantages of cooperation with Belarus for the benefit of entire region and Europe as a whole. On our own part, we are ready to continue practical steps to intensify our relations with the EU.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

20 years ago we pledged to make this organization a success. We kept the promise. And I am certain that today the Central European Initiative looks ahead to at least another 20 years of active and fruitful work. 

Finally, may I express my appreciation to the Romanian Presidency for its remarkable work throughout this year and wish every success to our Montenegrin colleagues who are taking over in 2010.

Thank you for your attention.

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