Commissioner for External Relations & European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said: “We are extremely worried about the lack of freedom of expression in Belarus. Over the past years independent media coverage in Belarus has met increasingly tight restrictions. This initiative will bring independent international radio to the Belarusian population. It will increase their awareness of the deteriorating situation of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in their country.”

The activities to be carried out by the Deutsche Welle are:

15 minute daily broadcasts Monday to Friday, specifically dedicated to Belarus, with news and reports from inside Belarus (network of own correspondents), information about political, social, economic matters, daily life etc.

Internet presentation, with the text of the broadcast and related audio files.

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said “We wish to have in Belarus a neighbour that respects democratic values, the rule of law and human rights. It must fulfil its OSCE human rights obligations. I am working together with the EU Member States to closely monitor the human rights situation, and we are using all the means at our disposal to support those striving for the development of a democratic and pluralist society in Belarus. We are ready to take additional steps should the situation deteriorate further.”

The EU maintains restrictions on ministerial-level contacts with the Belarusian authorities, but at the same time supports civil society and democratisation in Belarus. An EU visa ban is in place against high-ranking officials who have been implicated in election fraud, severe human rights violations and repression of demonstrators.

The Commission has also undertaken concrete measures to increase EU financial support to Belarusian civil society. New funding for issues related to democratisation and civil society totalling €8.7 million is available, including via the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights and the Decentralised Cooperation Programme.

Project identification is underway for the TACIS National Indicative Programme 2005-2006 (€8 million) in the fields of sustainable development, higher education & training and alleviation of the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

The Commission will speed up the process to establish a Commission representation in Belarus. As a first step, a Chargé d’Affaires will be placed in Minsk under the EC Delegation in Kiev.

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner added “I sincerely hope that we can increase our co-operation with Belarus in the future by offering it all the benefits of our Neighbourhood Policy. But the government of Belarus must first clearly demonstrate its commitment to European values of democracy, human rights and rule of law.”

Reference: IP/05/1063