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Minsk, 30 January 2018

 

I am glad to be back in Minsk after 3 years and as we mark 26 years of the EU–Belarus relations.

Today had very good and open dialogue with President Lukashenko and Foreign Minister Makei on EU-Belarus relations and the importance of closer cooperation within the Eastern Partnership. I look forward to continuing discussions later today with Prime Minister Kobyakov.

Since the lifting of the restrictive measures two years ago, our relations developed further. The EU aims to build greater links between the EU and Belarus and on supporting reforms which have a direct positive impact for the people of Belarus.

Our work together in the Coordination Group allows us to monitor progress in our cooperation. Together we have kicked off several sectoral dialogues. On trade, we are addressing existing barriers in international trade and discussing Belarus' access to the WTO. Similarly, on migration, asylum and border management, we are focusing on tackling challenges, including the protection of refugees; prevention and combating trafficking in human beings.

Additionally, our Human Rights dialogue supports implementation of reforms in this key area where tangible steps are needed to address concerns about human rights situation, rule of law, fundamental freedoms and particularly the continues application of capital punishment.

Our intensified co-operation can also be seen in the EU's financial support of €29 million, more than a doubling of the budget initially planned. We strongly support regional and private sector development, especially SMEs, offer new opportunities for skills and professional development and support the civil society. I am looking forward to meeting later on today the participants of one of our most successful projects, MOST, which aims to develop professional exchanges between Belarus and the EU.

We strongly assist civil society to strengthen capacity further on a number of social, economic and human rights issues and to co-operate with all key stakeholders. Hundreds of exchanges are ongoing in the areas of education, culture, science and technology, and generally youth exchanges.

I look forward to soon agreeing on joint Partnership Priorities which will set the strategic frame for our further cooperation for the coming years.

Let me highlight that the EU and Belarus are partners cooperating within the Eastern Partnership framework. The EaP Summit last November was a key occasion to discuss cooperation, progress and challenges of EaP on the highest political level. It confirmed our intention to work together to demonstrate the tangible benefits for people that the EaP brings. Joint ownership and commitment to reforms on both sides is crucial.

In this respect, the 20 deliverables for 2020 set a clear vision and work plan for 2020 with the aim to deliver concrete results. Work will continue under our four key areas of cooperation, to ensure stronger economy, stronger governance, stronger connectivity and stronger society. We are taking our commitments very seriously. This is why the Summit also endorsed a revised multilateral structure of the Eastern Partnership.