REVIEW - EU's Borrell Says Bloc's Credibility At Stake As Brussels Mulls Belarus Sanctions

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 22nd September, 2020) The foreign ministers of the EU member states met in Brussels on Monday with several key issues, including the ongoing public unrest in Belarus and the developing situation in Libya, on the agenda, leading the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, to say after the talks that the European Union's credibility was at stake if it fails to levy sanctions on Minsk.

Belarus took center stage at the talks, particularly as the bloc's foreign ministers had a breakfast meeting with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the former opposition presidential candidate who finished second behind incumbent Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus' August 9 election. Following the vote, Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania.

The European Union has refused to recognize the results of the Belarusian presidential election and is seeking to impose sanctions on roughly 40 Belarusian officials who stand accused of falsifying the election results or orchestrating the security forces' response to weeks of unsanctioned opposition protests.

There must be unanimity among the member states in order for the bloc to impose sanctions, and according to sources in Brussels, Cyprus is believed to be the one country preventing the punitive measures from being enforced.

The Cypriot authorities are believed to be demanding that the bloc takes action against Turkey amid the ongoing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean Sea over seismic exploration surveys being conducted by Turkish vessels. After weeks of heated talks, it appears that Cyprus is still refusing to support the imposition of sanctions.


Before the session of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Borrell told reporters that he was happy to meet with Tikhanovskaya, and said that the meeting did not constitute an act of interference in Belarus' internal affairs.

"I am happy that we could meet with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in the hours before the Council. The members had the opportunity to meet her and she gave us her account of the events in Belarus ... Let me stress that we will support an inclusive national dialogue and the right of Belarusian people to free and fair elections. This cannot be regarded as an interference in internal affairs, because democracy and human rights are at the core of the European Union," Borrell remarked.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz had earlier said that the opposition leader's participation in meetings in the Belgian capital was an act of foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Belarus.

Prior to Monday's meeting, Borrell said that the situation in Belarus was deteriorating, and during a press conference following the conclusion of the day's talks, the EU foreign policy chief once again reiterated that Brussels would not recognize the results of the August 9 Belarusian presidential election.

"The ministers sent a strong signal. We do not recognize Lukashenko's legitimacy as a result of elections that we consider falsified. As clear as that," Borrell stated.

The EU foreign ministers are calling for "free and fair" elections under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, the official stated.

Borrell also said that the EU did not have a "hidden agenda," adding that Brussels is committed to having the people of Belarus chose their leader.

"We don't have a hidden agenda. We do not seek to interfere in the internal affairs of the country. We just want to support people who are asking to have a political system that allows them to elect their rulers. We only ask for national dialogue on how to resolve the current crisis and for free and fair elections," the bloc's foreign policy chief stated.

On the topic of sanctions, Borrell said that there was a "clear will" for imposing punitive measures on Belarusian officials, although unanimity has yet to be reached. Borrell said that one country was holding up the sanctions process, although he did not specify which member state has yet to agree.

"The issue will have to be considered by the heads of state and governments at the European Council later this week," Borrell remarked.

Brussels will downgrade its relations with Minsk as a result of recent events, although the EU is not yet ready to withdraw its ambassador from the country, the bloc's top diplomat said.

However, the EU's credibility is at stake if the member states cannot agree on the need to levy sanctions on Minsk, Borrell stated.

"I will do whatever I can, whatever I can, in order for the next Foreign Affairs Council that sanctions against Belarus be adopted. It's becoming a personal commitment because I understand clearly that it depends very much the credibility of the European Union," the EU's foreign policy chief said.


The EU foreign ministers agreed that there is a "window of opportunity" in Libya as a tentative ceasefire holds and the Libyan National Army partially lifts its blockade on the country's oilfields and terminals, Borrell remarked.

"It's clear that the latest developments and especially the ceasefire give a window of opportunity to advance on what we see as the three main priorities that we have in Libya," he said.

At this stage, the EU's three main objectives are to reach a permanent and "sustainable" ceasefire, mobilize efforts to fully lift the oil blockade, and continue the required work to resume the political dialogue between the North African country's rival factions, Borrell said.

"We are not doing every that is needed, but nobody is doing more than the European Union on that side," he remarked.

During the meeting, the bloc's foreign ministers also agreed to remove Aguila Saleh, the head of Libya's eastern-based parliament, from its list of sanctioned individuals, Borrell said.

Additionally, the bloc's top diplomat urged the United Nations to appoint a new special envoy to Libya, following Ghassan Salame's resignation back in March.


Borrell also went on to discuss the state of affairs between the EU and the African Union, citing the recent postponement of October's planned EU-AU summit.

"The coronavirus restrictions have been slowing down our outreach efforts but not our ambition to move our partnership to the highest possible level. We have to use the coming weeks to agree on joint priorities that should pave our cooperation for the next decade," Borrell remarked.

During their meeting, the EU foreign ministers also unanimously agreed with the decision of the International Contact Group on Venezuela to continue negotiations in the hope of holding elections in the South American country, Borrell said.

"The Council unanimously supported the decision of the International Contact Group to continue these negotiations in order to look for the possibility of an election that could be observed by our missions," he commented, adding that the bloc would need five to six months notice in order to prepare observers for any future election.

The bloc's foreign ministers also discussed the ongoing circumstances surrounding Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny's illness and reiterated calls for an international probe.

"We again call for an urgent international investigation into the poisoning of Mr. Navalny and full transparency and cooperation with the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]," Borrell said.

The EU's top diplomats also touched on the issue of the ongoing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean as Turkish vessels continue their drilling and exploratory activities in waters that Cyprus considers to be part of its exclusive economic zone.

Borrell called Ankara's recent decision to extend a Navtex advisory "regrettable," although he added that this matter will be discussed in-depth at the upcoming European Council meeting later this week.