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Interview: EU's Enlargement Chief Finds Many Ways To Say ‘More Work Needed’

Interview: EU Commissioner Fuele On Azerbaijan, Armenia
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WATCH: EU Commissioner Fuele On Azerbaijan, Armenia

PRAGUE -- European Union enlargement chief Stefan Fuele has lashed out at a defiant Belarus and bemoaned a political crisis that threatens to upend the EU aspirations of Moldova, a one-time star pupil in Western integration.

Speaking at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on May 9, Fuele addressed a variety of issues related to the enlargement aspirations of the six Eastern Partnership countries and the nations of the Western Balkans.

But he reserved his strongest rhetoric for the two countries that have traditionally been at opposite ends of the enlargement spectrum.

Fuele said Belarus, which remains under EU sanctions following a flawed presidential vote in 2010 and a massive crackdown on opponents, has seen civil liberties strangled by autocratic leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

"In Belarus, it is not only political prisoners; it is the level of the democracy, the level of the rule of law in Belarus, it is the the absence of free and fair elections for years in Belarus," Fuele said. "There is actually no space for democratic forces to operate without harassment by Belarusian authorities. This is the very substance of the Lukashenka regime that makes the member states pursue this policy of critical engagement."

WATCH: EU Commissioner Fuele on Belarus
EU Commissioner Stefan Fuele On Normalizing Relations With Belarus
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Fuele’s comments came as Lukashenka, speaking at a Victory Day commemoration in Minsk, said the West resented Belarus for refusing to serve as a “banana republic dancing to the tune of overseas democracies.”

Lukashenka often criticizes the West as a way of currying favor with Moscow, on which it is dependent for energy and subsidies. Fuele said that EU ties with Minsk need not preclude a strong Russian-Belarusian relationship.

Turning to Moldova, Fuele said that small country was facing a “huge test” as political infighting threatened to derail it from the relatively stable pro-Western course of the past several years.

Fuele said Chisinau has “days not weeks” to re-form a government after pro-European Prime Minister Vlad Filat was forced to dismiss his government and barred by opposition lawmakers from running again.

"I think we're saying basically three things," Fuele said. "No. 1, please put the genie back into the bottle and cease the hostilities, which have a very personal dimension. Second, please avoid adopting anything which would be a clear contradiction to the European aspirations and the European agenda. And no. 3, we're saying that we stand ready to assist you whenever there is a good time in helping the parties to make those final steps in building up on this European agenda."

Fuele adopted a decidedly softer tone on Azerbaijan, which has escaped EU sanctions despite mounting international condemnation of that energy-rich country’s heavy-handed tactics with journalists and protesters.

WATCH: EU Commissioner Fuele on the "huge test" facing Moldova
 Interview: EU Commissioner Fuele On Moldova
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On a more positive note, Fuele suggested both Armenia and Georgia could expect to take steps forward in their EU integration bids this fall, when the bloc hosts an Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.

Fuele said Georgia’s shift in political leadership had not set back the country’s Western-integration aims, although he called on Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili to do more to set their political differences aside and cooperate on policy goals.

WATCH: EU Commissioner Fuele on Georgia
Interview: EU Commissioner Fuele On Georgia
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The enlargement chief offered muted encouragement to Ukraine, whose own integration aims have faltered over the jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her political allies.

The EU has repeatedly condemned the Ukrainian leadership for indulging in what it calls "selective justice," and has warned Kyiv will see no progress on signing a much-desired EU Association Agreement without a series of judicial and electoral reforms.

WATCH: EU Commissioner Fuele on Ukraine
 Interview: EU Commissioner Fuele On Ukraine
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Fuele on May 9 welcomed Kyiv’s recent move to to release former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko and former Environment Minister Heorhiy Filipchuk from prison but said that “more needs to be done.”

Turning to the Balkans, Fuele urged Kosovo and Serbia to spare no effort in upholding last month’s landmark normalization agreement. His remarks come one day after talks between the two sides in Brussels broke down on how to implement the deal.

WATCH: EU Commissioner Fuele on mediation efforts on the Serbia-Kosovo dispute
Interview: EU Commissioner Fuele On Balkans (Part 1)
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Fuele also called on leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina to put aside “narrow political interests” and carry out constitutional reforms that would lift a ban on ethnic minorities like Roma and Jews running for political office.

The EU enlargement commissioner also expressed concern at Macedonia’s continued failure to implement a deal meant to end a parliamentary stalemate between the country’s political factions. Fuele said the lack of action raised questions about the “strength of democratic institutions in that country.”

Fuele’s remarks come at a time of increasing uncertainty about the 27-member European bloc, which has been beset by a series of massive financial bailouts and political divisiveness.

WATCH: EU Commissioner Fuele talks about Macedonia
Interview: EU Commissioner Fuele On Balkans (Part 2)
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But pointing to Croatia, which is set to join the EU this summer after a decade-long run-up, Fuele said the bloc still had much to offer its potential future members.

"We have our problems; we're addressing them," Fuele said. "And we are far from dissolving this union. Actually we're going exactly in the other direction. And I think what we can offer is exactly what we've been offering through all these years: one of the most important, most successful, peaceful projects in European history."

RFE/RL’s Belarus Service contributed to this report

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