Vienna, 17 December 2009 – “There still remains a lot of unleveraged potential in relations between Austria and Belarus. Belarus is an interesting partner, particularly from the economic point of view, and we hope that we will be able to intensify our cooperation,” stated Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger following talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Sergei Martynov, on Thursday in Vienna. Austria is already among the largest foreign investors in Belarus, but Austrian business circles assess that greater Austrian involvement is hampered by excessive red tape and the slow implementation of privatisation projects.
“The quality of our bilateral relations also relates to the development of relations between the EU and Belarus,” emphasised Spindelegger. The Foreign Minister pointed out that tensions in relations between the EU and Belarus had been removed in recent years. The extended suspension of travel restrictions by the EU, together with the offer to participate in the Eastern Partnership, clearly testifies to this development. “However, this is not a blank cheque, but linked to the clear expectations of the European Union. We are sending out targeted signals of encouragement to persuade Minsk to embark on a consistent course of reform,” continued the Federal Minister. He stressed that improvements were necessary in particular in the fields of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, electoral law, as well as the treatment of opposition parties and NGOs. “In this context the local elections to be held next April will constitute an important indicator of the further development of our relations,” affirmed Spindelegger.
“Our message to Minsk is clear: for a long-term rapprochement with the EU we need to see more reforms. A partnership in Europe must be based on common values and convictions, and if there is no such basis it is bound to fail,” asserted Spindelegger. Belarus, for instance, is the last European country where the death penalty is still in place.
The Foreign Minister expressed his satisfaction at the legal safeguard introduced last summer as regards the continuation of the private summer holiday programmes that have been carried out for many years for Belarusian children, in particular those suffering from the continuing consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. A supplement to this agreement, which will extend the circle of children entitled to spend holidays in Austria, is to be completed in the near future.
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