“Visa Facilitation between Belarus and the EU: How to Break the Vicious Circle?” discussion held on May 29 (PHOTOS)

On May 29, Minsk hosted a panel discussion about visa liberalization between Belarus and the European Union Member States. Experts from Belarus (Andrei Yeliseyeu, analyst, BISS), Ukraine (Iryna Sushko, chairperson, Europe without Barriers) and Poland (Marta Jaroszewicz, senior researcher, migration and visa policy, Centre for Eastern Studies) shared their views and findings of research focusing on visa problems.

The panelists discussed the outlook for visa facilitation between the EU and Belarus, Belarus’s visa regime and readmission expectations and familiarized themselves with Ukraine’s experience in negotiating visa facilitation.

Specifically, Iryna Sushko said: “In 2010, Ukraine received an action plan for visa facilitation with technical criteria—more than 50 of them—to be satisfied in all areas of state policy. If the European Union considers these reforms implemented effectively and successfully, it may go on to mull a visa-free regime for the Ukrainians.” Incidentally, Ukrainian experts shared their experience during a special discussion on the visa dialogue between Belarus and the EU, which took place in Minsk. The Council of the European Union invited Belarus to enter negotiations of visa facilitation two years ago; however, no progress has been made since then.

Andrei Yeliseyeu believes that Belarus obviously lags behind the other Eastern Partnership countries and Russia when it comes to visa relations and is running a risk of becoming a complete outsider in this matter during the next few years, when the countries of the region have already made significant progress towards visa-free relations with the EU. In his opinion, official Minsk tends to exaggerate the potential negative impact of the agreement on readmission with the EU. According to his estimates, Belarus would have to readmit up to 100-200 or, much likelier, a few dozen third-country nationals and stateless persons annually if it had a readmission agreement with the EU.

Marta Jaroszewicz presented the European vision of the visa problem. She pointed at the low level of political engagement between Belarus and the EU, which rules out unilateral simplification of the visa procedures by the EU. In her words, under the circumstances, in order to facilitate the visa procedures for the Belarusians, the EU Member States could make better use of the opportunities embedded in the EU Visa Code. She also pointed at the need to continue carrying out studies of visa problems in order to give both Brussels and the Belarusian authorities forcible arguments for facilitation and subsequent abolition of the visa regime.

The panelists also addressed the issue of border-crossing points (the increase in their number), lobbying of the Belarusian authorities with a view to simplifying visa procedures for EU nationals, as well as the correlation between visa problems and illegal migration.

The event was organized by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) in association with the civil campaign No Visa with the support of the outreach center The Office for European Expertise and Communication as part of the European Intercultural Festival 2013, which was for the first time organized in Belarus under the auspices of Belarusian and international organizations. The organizers of the festival enable the Belarusians to learn more about the history and culture of the European Union Member States, as well as other countries engaged in the Eastern Partnership initiative alongside Belarus.