Political Developments in EU-Belarus Relations – From isolation to limited cooperation and critical engagement

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Political Developments in EU-Belarus Relations – From isolation to limited cooperation and critical engagement

Relations between the EU and Belarus have traversed various stages since 1991 when the European Community recognized Belarus’ independence. The early stages of cooperation appeared promising, however, between 1994 and 1997 the positive trend in EU–Belarus relations came to an end following President Lukashenka’s attempt to extend his presidential mandate in the 1996 referendum by changing the constitution, as well as increasing repression of the opposition, independent media and judiciary. In the early 2000’s cooperation seemed to be entering a new phase as the EU experimented with abandoning the policy of isolation towards Belarus and embracing a democracy-promotion approach that relied on negative conditionality and passive leverage. A further stage in the EU’s relations with Belarus was the initiation of the Eastern Partnership in 2009, which marked a clear departure from the democracy-promotion paradigm espoused in the ENP and institutionalized a new paradigm for EU relations with Belarus: engagement through functional co-operation. After several years of gradual rapprochement and pragmatic engagement, EU-Belarus relations hit rock-bottom after rigged presidential elections in December 2010 and the subsequent violent crackdown of opposition protests by the Belarusian regime. More recently, in October 2015 the EU suspended the visa-bans and assets freeze against most Belarussian individuals and companies in a tentative attempt at a rapprochement with Belarus. The paper aims to explain these distinct strategies of engagement both on the EU’s and Belarus’s side by deploying the conceptual and theoretical lenses of mainstream EU Foreign Policy approaches, ranging from the enlargement-based mechanism of conditionality to external governance and normative power Europe. Having highlighted the inability of these approaches to comprehensively explain the complexity of EU-Belarus relations over the past decades, the paper proceeds to tentatively exploring the potential contribution of rational-choice, agency-based approaches to furthering our understanding of the EU’s foreign policy toward Belarus, but also of the EUFP more generally.


Madalina DobrescuMadalina.Dobrescu@coleurope.eu

College of Europe

Dr Madalina Dobrescu is a Junior Research Fellow at the College of Europe, Natolin campus (Warsaw) which she joined in February 2016, having previously held teaching positions at King’s College London and Royal Holloway (University of London). Her teaching expertise covers a wide range of International Relations and European Studies subjects including Foreign Policy Analysis, Comparative Politics of the European Union, European Integration and EU Foreign Policy.

Dr Dobrescu holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Bucharest, a MA in International Politics from the University of Manchester and a Phd in European Studies from the London School of Economics. Her Phd thesis explored the impact of EU civilian missions in the Eastern Neighbourhood with a particular focus on the role of national governments and local actors in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in shaping the EU’s contribution to conflict management and domestic reforms on the ground. Dr Dobrescu’s research interests revolve around the European Union’s foreign policy and in particular the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as well as processes of Europeanisation, external governance, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, all of this with respect to the Eastern dimension of the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy.