We are a normal European country.
On Friday, February 3, the 24th EU-Ukraine summit came to an end in Kyiv. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said that Ukraine would become an EU member state.
How will this affect our region? Why will Belarus become a member of the EU and NATO? How will joining the European Union change the life of ordinary Belarusians?
The website Charter97.org talked about this and not only with Dzmitry Bandarenka, the coordinator of the European Belarus Civil Campaign.
– Firstly, it should be noted that during the war almost the entire leadership of the European Union came to Kyiv. There were also several European Commissioners.
Thus, they show the importance of Ukraine to the EU and make a statement about the full support of the Ukrainian people in such a difficult period.
Ukraine has received assurances that it is perceived as part of the European Union. At the same time, they say that it will be after the war and in the case of economic reforms by the government of the country, in the first place - the fight against corruption.
It seems to me that Ukraine's entry into the EU can happen within 5-7 years. Before joining (this was discussed at the summit in Kyiv), Ukraine can receive the so-called industrial visa-free regime - when its goods are duty-free or with minimal duties admitted to the EU market. Now, this is happening during the war and may last until Ukraine joins the union, and, of course, this is extremely beneficial for the Ukrainian economy.
– You represent the European Belarus Civil Campaign, which stands for our country's joining the EU and NATO. Why do you think that Belarus should follow the path of European integration, and not to be, for example, a bridge between the West and the East?
– Despite such a beautiful metaphor, people probably do not want to live either on a bridge or under a bridge, but want to live in their own houses or in very good apartments, in which the majority of residents of the EU countries live. Today we have no other choice but to go to the EU and NATO.
We know that Russia, which does not love the Baltic countries, especially Estonia, did not attack them (although it would be easy enough to conquer them) because these countries are members of NATO. An attack on one country means the inclusion of the entire Alliance in the struggle. Joining the EU and NATO will ensure the progressive development of the Belarusian economy, guarantee its security, including nuclear security, and also bring prospects and well-being for the Belarusians, and their legal protection.
I also want to add that this does not need to be something special. In fact, we are such a Central European country and it is important to understand that today Belarus in terms of population makes up 2% of the total EU population and tenths of a percent of the EU GDP. We need to move in the right direction so that the Belarusians have good life prospects.
– Is it possible that Belarus will turn into a free export market for the EU, given the state of the economy and industry that we have?
– It would be good if we became such a market for European goods. The European Union is indeed a mutual benefit enterprise. EU countries receive billions of dollars of technical assistance. For example, our neighbour Poland receives more than 100 billion euros of direct technical assistance over the course of seven years.
When we are in Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and other countries, we see that one or another bridge was built with the EU money, a museum was reconstructed with the help of the EU, a road was built with the EU money, and so on.
In order not to be just the backward corner of Europe that we are today (because Belarusians have the lowest salaries in Europe, not taking into account the warring Ukraine today), we need to quickly catch up. If Belarus joins the EU, it will be able to get advanced German machine tools, which will allow us to quickly move towards the development of other European countries.
– You have already mentioned the Russian factor. Many will tell you that the Russian Federation will never allow Belarus to join the European Union. What would you say?
– Fortunately, Russia does not have veto power over countries joining the EU. Yes, her opinion can be taken into account, but I want to say that in 2004 there was a big expansion of NATO, then the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as our Baltic neighbours, joined NATO and the EU. However, Putin did not actively protest, although he was the president of Russia at that time.
We will be able to enter into alliances that are natural for us when Russia is weak. Russia started a war that could lead to its collapse. In the end, the decision will be made by the Belarusian people and those countries of the unions that give the green light to the expansion of NATO and the EU.
– Some Belarusian political figures from the patriotic camp have an opinion that “the EU is a new USSR, where we can lose our identity” and the Baltic-Black Sea Union is an alternative. Are they right?
– While political figures from Belarus and Ukraine used to play along with the Baltic-Black Sea Union, the elites of Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic countries took a firm line towards joining large European unions. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary became NATO members back in 1999. Aleksander Kwaśniewski was the leader of Poland at that time. He was also a member of the Central Committee of the PZPR (the Polish United Workers' Party) then.
Polish elites understood that it was profitable and they had to become a member of these civilized unions. After all, there is a question: who will pay for the Baltic-Black Sea Union? Where will it get money and weapons from? Who will be the economic engine of this union?
There may be regional formations, for example, the Visegrád Group, when we will become part of the EU and NATO. Over time, there may be a Baltic-Black Sea association or a wider association in the framework of the Three Seas Initiative - the countries of the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas. They may have some regional differences only as part of a large union.
Just the same, it is necessary to be ordinary European countries at the same. We shouldn't complicate this, because we're not going anywhere. All our neighbours are members of the EU and NATO. Ukraine also will be. Where will Belarus be with its not-so-great economic potential? Our place is in Europe.
– Let's talk more about NATO. Explain why Belarus should join the Alliance. Someone talks about the "Swiss model" of a neutral and non-allied country. Is it possible or not?
– Not now. We see that countries with many centuries of experience, like Sweden or decades of neutrality, like Finland, are already members of the EU and have declared the need for rapid entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. There are difficulties there, Turkey is blocking, but, nevertheless, they have made their choice.
Switzerland is a quite special country, if only because it is the most proportionately mountainous state in Europe. The country of German, Italian and French cantons. These are very specific associations. Switzerland's neutrality is being preserved by traditions and geography.
We have 90% of Belarusians in our country. With all the diversity, we are almost a monoethnicity living in a flat area. We know that when the country renounced nuclear weapons as well as with Ukraine, the Budapest Memorandum promised us certain security guarantees. We see that this is not carried out in any way, therefore, as I said at the beginning, in order not to become a victim of an attack by the neighbour from the East or so that chaos does not come to our territory when Russia disintegrates or transforms, we need to have strong protection, including and nuclear.
Most European countries are small. The same for us, we will be the 15th country in terms of population and territory, if we join the EU. Our territory is larger than the territories of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland combined.
This territory must be protected and it would be better to act in the conditions of the Alliance. We see that Ukraine is moving to NATO standards. We have a defence potential and our own military-industrial complex. In order for us to produce goods, products and weapons according to advanced technologies and standards, we must be in NATO, which, in simple terms, will ensure a safe life for the citizens of Belarus.
– You have already mentioned that it will take 5-7 years for Ukraine. Looking at the experience of European integration of other countries, how long would it take us to go this way?
– Of course, from the moment of the fall of the Lukashenka regime and the withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops from our territory, from the moment of the restoration of democracy in Belarus - up to 10 years. So, just the presence of Ukraine nearby can speed up this path for us. Ukraine, of course, started moving towards Europe and NATO earlier, but its economy was significantly affected by the war. We have a smaller territory and better organized. We can go this way faster together with Ukraine than if we were moving on our own.
Aligning the borders in the East is logical from the point of view of geography, making it a common border. Also, the economic future of Belarus will depend, in my opinion, on the implementation of infrastructure transit projects, including those along the North-South line, from Scandinavia to the Black and Adriatic Seas. Infrastructure projects will be realized much easier if Belarus is a member of the EU, like the countries of Scandinavia, the Baltics and Ukraine.
The European leadership and leading European corporations will understand that it is important to have common rights, laws, economic rules and technological standards in this territory.
We must use these opportunities to be in an advanced economic alliance with all our neighbours.
– We've already mentioned what the EU can offer the Belarusians. What can Belarus as a country offer to a large European family?
– First of all, Belarus has an advantageous geographical position. We have crossroads of the routes from North to South and especially from West to East.
Belarus is not some kind of aggravating factor for the EU. Such an average normal European country in terms of its territory. We have highly educated people. A large number of Belarusians are in European countries for obvious reasons. These people will receive education and European and entrepreneurial experience. Therefore, the integration of Belarus into the EU will be beneficial for the European Union and will not cause any problems for it.
Belarus will protect the eastern flank of the border being a part of the EU. On the other hand, it can help the transformation processes in Russia as well. They will not have the desire to attack the East of the EU when Belarus and Ukraine are reliably protected. This will be beneficial for all countries, including the EU countries and Russia.
In fact, if Belarus becomes a member of the EU, this is an option that will be beneficial to everyone. For Belarus, for the EU and Russia, which will be dealing with its own issues, developing the Urals, Siberia, and so on, striving for democratic standards.
It will no longer have hopes to grab all it can lay its hands on. This will lead to the stabilization of the situation throughout Eurasia.