EU cancels visit of its commissioner to Belarus

The working visit of Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, has been cancelled, a spokesperson for the EU’s Delegation to Belarus, told BelaPAN.

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According to the spokesperson, Mr. Hahn will be unable to travel to Minsk on October 17 “due to unexpected but very important preparatory meetings ahead of the European Council.”

The next meeting of the European Council is to take place in Brussels on October 19 and 20.

Dzmitry Mironchyk, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, told BelaPAN that the ministry had been informed about the postponement of Mr. Hahn’s visit.

“We are sorry that the visit has been postponed,” Mr. Mironchyk said. “The Belarusian side is interested in the further expansion of cooperation with the European Union.”

While in Minsk, Mr. Hahn was expected to have meetings with Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey, opposition politicians, the leadership of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and participants of the EU’s Mobility Scheme for Targeted People-to-People Contacts (MOST).

Mr. Hahn was also expected to deliver an official invitation to Belarus to attend an Eastern Partnership summit that will be held in Brussels on November 24.

Last week, Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the European External Action Service, told BelaPAN that invitations for all the six member countries of the Eastern Partnership (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) had been signed by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council; Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission; and Juri Ratas, prime minister of Estonia, which holds the EU presidency this year.
Belarus was invited to the summit on the same terms as the other Eastern Partnership countries, Ms. Kocijancic said, noting that Minsk would decide by itself who would represent Belarus at the summit.

The Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels may become the first one to be attended by Mr. Lukashenka.
At the previous Eastern Partnership summit, which took place in Riga, Latvia, in May 2015, Belarus was represented by Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey.

Mr. Lukashenka was unable to attend Eastern Partnership summits because he had been banned from entering the EU.

In February 2016, the European Council decided to lift most of the restrictions against Belarus, including those that banned entry for 170 Belarusians, in particular President Lukashenka, and therefore there are currently no formal obstacles for him to attend the summit.

The decision to lift sanctions was made following steps taken by Belarus in the past two years, including the resumption of the Belarus-EU human rights dialogue, the release of political prisoners in 2015 and the conduct of a presidential election in a “violence-free atmosphere,” which contributed to improving relations with the European Union, an EU source told BelaPAN.