On September 11, Belarus held parliamentary elections. As a result, for the first time since 2004, two representatives of the democratic opposition will hold seats in the parliament.
However, a number of long-standing unresolved issues remain in the political sphere, such as restrictions to freedom of expression, unequal access to media, restrictions in the registering of political parties and problems with vote counts. In light of these shortcomings, we cannot recognise these elections as free and fair. The presence of two members of opposition parties in the parliament is seen rather as a political appointment than the result of the electoral outcome.
A complicated situation for the Belarusian opposition
Paradoxically, the situation of the opposition - which was already weak and divided - has now been further complicated. With seats in the parliament, it will be expected not only to contest the activities of the current regime, but also to propose constructive reforms.
On the other hand, recognising the Belarusian parliament (Palata) as a legitimate institution would be contrary to European values and would mean giving recognition to the practices broadly condemned by the international community.
We would argue however that some form of cooperation with Belarusian parliamentarians - provided it does not come at the cost of the democratic opposition - should be found.
We reiterate our call on the Belarusian authorities to respect the values of democracy and human rights enshrined in the international agreements to which Belarus is signatory
Some progress - but not enough
We recognise the attempts of the authorities to make progress. The release of six political prisoners in August last year was a broadly-welcomed step. However, we are still waiting for their rehabilitation and the restoration of their full civic rights.
We welcome the constructive role Belarus played in facilitating the ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, we cannot accept that Belarus remains the only country in Europe that still carries out capital punishment.
In 2016 alone, the judiciary has announced four death sentences. The normalisation of relations between Belarus and Europe will not be possible without Minsk joining a global moratorium on the death penalty. Regrettably, at this point, progress is not sufficient.
The normalisation of relations between Belarus and Europe will not be possible without Minsk joining a global moratorium on the death penalty
We therefore reiterate our call on the Belarusian authorities to respect the values of democracy and human rights enshrined in the international agreements to which Belarus is signatory. Above all, we would like to see Belarusian authorities continue to work on electoral reform and truly start the democratisation process.
EU-Belarusian dialogue must be based on the values of democracy and human rights
After their presidential elections in 2015, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) set out a number of recommendations that must be implemented in the Belarusian electoral code. We heard numerous declarations from Minsk that they would be implemented ahead of parliamentary elections. This was not the case.
We would like to see further progress in adhering to international standards before municipal elections planned for March 2018.
We would like to see Belarusian authorities continue to work on electoral reform and truly start the democratisation process
All activities we launch are intended to benefit first of all the people of Belarus, who must know that they belong to the European family.
We believe in dialogue and that no understanding can be achieved without it. And that's why we hope that this dialogue continues.
But a successful dialogue cannot be achieved without mutual respect and an agreement on the basic values of democracy and human rights.