The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Spain’s Josep Borrell, said on Wednesday on Twitter that he would convene an extraordinary EU Foreign Affairs Council for Friday afternoon, following European concerns about the presidential election in Belarus and Turkish activities in the eastern Mediterranean.
“We will discuss urgent issues and consider the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, the presidential election in Belarus, as well as developments in Lebanon”, after last week’s devastating explosions, Borrell added.
I will call an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council meeting this Friday afternoon.
We will discuss urgent issues and address the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Belarus Presidential elections, as well as developments in Lebanon.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) August 12, 2020
On Tuesday, Greece had called for an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the EU member states. Athens believes that Ankara is violating its sovereign rights by sending a new ship to the eastern Mediterranean, in Greek waters according to Athens, to search for oil deposits.
Turkish drilling in the Mediterranean, particularly off the coast of Cyprus, has for months now been increasing tensions. The EU considers them illegal and has already created a framework of sanctions to directly target persons and entities involved in oil drilling in Cypriot territorial waters.
The election in Belarus, which took place on Sunday, is also a matter of great concern.
According to the official results, incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko won a landslide victory with 80 % of the votes. Lukashenko, also called Europe’s last dictator, has been in power since 1994 and has won every presidential election since then. He was now re-elected for another five years period.
Belarus is part of the Eastern Partnership with the EU but relations with EU are described as a “critical engagement”. In February 2020, the Council decided to prolong certain restrictive measures against the country.
In three statements before and after the elections, the EU gradually sharpened its language against the regime in Belarus.
Yesterday (12 August), High Representative Borrell issued a new statement on behalf of the EU where he denounced the official election results. “Credible reports of domestic observers show that the electoral process did not meet the international standards expected of an OSCE participating state.”
In the days following the elections, demonstrations were repressed with “disproportionate and unacceptable” violence by the authorities. Borrell called on the Belarusian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally all detained.
“The people of Belarus deserve better,” he said.
Since the 2015 release of political prisoners, the relationship between the EU and Belarus had improved. “But without progress on human rights and the rule of law, the EU-Belarus relationship can only get worse.”
Friday’s meeting will take place via videoconference, according to its spokesman. This does not allow decisions to be taken, but ministers can give the green light to working groups to begin preparing “conclusions” adopted by written procedure, a European source told Belgian news agency Belga.
“This can speed up the process for the adoption of concrete actions,” the source added.
Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, confirmed at a press conference on Tuesday that Borrell is working on a joint declaration with the member states that will address all issues related to the elections and the events following them.
In a previous joint statement (10 August), Borrell and neighborhood Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi wrote that, “The Belarusian people now expect their votes to be counted accurately. It is essential that the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) publishes the results reflecting the choice of the Belarusian people.”
The Brussels Times asked him if the election results could be counted accurately in the absence of international observers.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for elections observers to come to Belarus,” he replied, “but there were domestic independent observers and based on their information there is reasonable doubt about the accuracy of the election results that were announced by CEC.”
“That’s why we have been calling in our statements that the real choice of the Belarus people should be reflected in the results. The authorities have to hear the voice of the people and respect their fundamental rights, including their right to free and fair elections.”
“It’s unacceptable what we have seen during the electoral process and the incredible harassment and repression of the candidates, their teams, journalists and peaceful protestors, also in the aftermath of the elections. The level of brutal violence is unacceptable. We are condemning the violence and call on the Belarus authorities to release all those who have been detained unlawfully on only political grounds.”
The Brussels Times