EU Parliament president under fire for ‘not supporting’ democracy in Belarus

Andrzej Halicki speaks at the EP Plenary session - The continuous violations of human rights in Belarus, on 26 November 2020. [European Parliament Multimedia Centre]

A leading Member of the European Parliament is organising a debate on Wednesday (10 February) intended to overturn a decision by the assembly’s President David Sassoli not to open an office in Brussels representing the Belarus opposition, presumably under the advice of EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

Andrzej Halicki, a Polish MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party, is gathering like-minded colleagues on Wednesday to revise Sassoli’s decision to deny a representation office for the Belarus opposition in the European Parliament.

The EU assembly awarded its annual Sakharov Prize for human rights last October to the democratic opposition movement in Belarus led by the exiled Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who stood up against strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The award ceremony took place in Brussels on 15 December.

Belarus opposition wins European Parliament's human rights award

The European Parliament awarded its annual Sakharov Prize for human rights on Thursday (22 October) to the democratic opposition movement in Belarus led by the exiled Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who stood up to strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

“They have stood and still stay …

The idea of opening a representation office for the Belarus opposition came from Pavel Latushka, the head of the National Anti-Crisis Management in Belarus (NAM), representing the country’s opposition, who made the suggestion in a letter to Sassoli in November.

NAM was created in late October 2020 with the goal of managing a peaceful transfer of power in Belarus, including the organisation of new elections. NAM states that it will lose its powers when a “new president of Belarus is inaugurated.”

Halicki obtained the support of some 100 colleagues from different political groups in Parliament, including the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the centrist Renew Europe, and the Greens. Last December, he wrote to Sassoli, asking him to “to make a brave step in this process and to create a Sakharov Prize Community Office” in the EU assembly, which would act as a representation for the Belarus opposition in the EU institutions.

In a letter dated 27 January Sassoli replied, saying that “democracy support the EP can offer has its limits” and that “it is not in the institutional realm to support any political opposition of a country by creating for them a Representation office within the EP”.

Halicki said he and his colleagues received Sassoli’s letter only on Monday.

Speaking to EURACTIV, Halicki said the answer by Sassoli was “not the end of the story, but the beginning”, and vowed to overturn this decision. He was adamant that S&D leaders were to blame for the assembly’s cold feet over democracy support, both in Belarus and in Russia.

“We will not be successful and efficient in our support for those fighting for democracy and freedom on the Eastern side, not only Belarusians but Russians, with leftists at chairmen positions,” the Polish MEP said.

Halicki referred to Josep Borrell, the Spanish socialist who holds the position of EU foreign affairs chief, and Italy’s David Sassoli, a politician from the Democratic Party, currently President of the European Parliament, but also to his compatriot MEP Robert Biedron, chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Belarus.

Halicki blamed Biedron for the “limited activity” of the Parliament’s delegation and for the lack of follow-up after the adoption in September of a European Parliament Resolution on Belarus, which called among other things for the establishment of an EU high-level mission to mediate with the country’s authorities with the objective of holding new free and fair elections. Such a mission is modeled on the Kwasniewski-Cox mission created in 2013 for mediation in Ukraine.

“500 MEPs voted in favour of this resolution, but there is no high-level mission,” said Halicki, who regretted that the initiative was replaced by a European Parliament mission led by Biedron, with the goal to prepare a report on the situation in Belarus. The report was ready in the beginning of January, but has not yet been presented to Sassoli.

“What are they waiting for?”, Halicki exclaimed.

Asked by EURACTIV for his political analysis of the situation, he said:

“The unofficial information I got is that this happens at Borrell’s advice”.

“Because of S&D leaders, we as Europeans will not be successful in fighting for democracy in other countries,” added Halicki, who called the recent visit to Moscow by the EU’s top diplomat “a shame for Europe”.

Borrell bites the bullet after disastrous Moscow trip

After a defeating trip to Moscow, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell on Sunday (7 February) tried to explain and justify his controversial trip to Moscow but admitted that relations between the EU and Russia have hit rock bottom.

Borrell’s controversial visit …

Asked if Sassoli didn’t have a point in saying that it is not the Parliament’s role to organise offices for the countries’ oppositions, Halicki said this was not a permanent office, but an office for the winner of the Sakharov prize for one year.

Moreover, he said it was clear that Alexander Lukashenko was not the legitimate president of Belarus, and that the opposition represented by Tikhanovskaya and Latushka had the support of the majority of Belarusians.

“I will organise a debate, obtain signatures to revise the decision. Mr Sassoli may have other views, but for me, this is bad will,” Halicki said.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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