Relations between the European Union and Belarus have been restricted since 1997. The authoritarian leadership of President Lukashenko, the parliamentary elections of October 2004 and the presidential elections of March 2006, which - according to the OSCE/ODIHR - both neither met international electoral criteria nor honoured OSCE commitments have led to a further deterioration of the relations between the European Union and Belarus. The referendum on the constitution (October 2004) enabled the president to serve for an unlimited number of further terms in office.
In response to the events in 2004 the European Union adopted restrictive measures against those responsible for the disappearance of followers from the opposition. The restrictive measures were also directed against those responsible for irregularities in the framework of the elections and the referendum as well as against those responsible for the action against peaceful demonstrators. After the presidential elections of 2006 additional representatives of the government – including President Lukashenko – were added to the travel restriction list and their assets within the EU were frozen.
The European Union is still ready to re-intensify its relations with Belarus as soon as the Belarusian authorities have given a clear sign of their willingness to respect democratic values and the principles of the rule of law. By making progress in the preparation for the parliamentary elections at the end of 2008 and by releasing all political prisoners Belarus partially met the conditions for improving the relations with the EU. Subsequently in October 2008 the EU suspended its travel restrictions against most of the listed persons and put an end to the prohibition of contacts at ministerial (or at higher) level which was put in place in 1997. In the wake of the Presidential elections of 2010, when President Lukashenko became re-elected, many persons (including candidates from the opposition) were arrested. As a consequence the European Union decided to reintroduce its travel restrictions and to extend them even further. Assets were also frozen.
In the meantime the human rights situation in Belarus has further deteriorated. Subsequently, the EU extended its criteria for sanctions against Belarus. Both the visa ban list and the asset freeze list were extended a few times.
Despite permanent appeals by Austria, the European Union and other EU Member States, the political prisoners still have not been released nor have they been rehabilitated. In spite of repeated demands the death penalty has still not been abolished nor has a moratorium has been introduced.
The European Union has always been eager to support Belarus civil society. It has never been the intention of the European Union to isolate the country and its people. The aim has been rather to motivate the government to apply recognised European values and standards. To this end there have been and still are contacts at senior official level between the European Union and Minsk. In order to improve co-operation the European Commission set up a delegation in Minsk in March 2008.