Belarus and EU Continue Visa Facilitation Talks

Belarus and the European Union continue their work on a visa facilitation agreement, Dzmitry Mironchyk, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, told BelaPAN.

Latvia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency in the first half of 2015, earlier expressed hope that the agreement would be initialed by July.

“The talks are close to completion, but there’re still a number of technical details that need discussion,” Mr. Mironchyk said. “The work continues. I would not set any deadlines. We’ve always said that preparations for signing the agreement should not be scheduled to finish by some dates. It is important for us to resolve all matters in a mutually acceptable way.”

Following the Fourth Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey told reporters that failure to initial visa facilitation and readmission agreements with the EU at the summit was not Belarus’ fault.

“We and the European Union worked on the conclusion of the agreement,” Mr. Makey said. “This was the initiative of our president, which I announced at the Vilnius [Eastern Partnership] summit [in November 2013]. Several rounds of consultations were held. We made quite a lot of progress toward the conclusion of these agreements. And I can say that we’re actually close to the final stage.”

At the request of the EU, Belarus even started domestic procedures to assess the draft agreements for compliance with the country’s national interests, Mr. Makey said. However, at some point, Europe found some “technical hitch” that prevented their preliminary approval at the Riga summit, he said. “That is why we’re continuing work on them and have agreed that experts will meet,” he said. “Believe me, we’re not to blame at all.”

The Council of the European Union invited Belarus to start visa facilitation talks as far back as June 2011. However, the government ignored the invitation until the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. Mr. Makey announced at the summit that Belarus was ready to start talks with the EU on visa facilitation and readmission.

During the talks, which began in June 2014, Belarusian government officials demanded that the agreements should provide for the possibility of visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic passports and members of government delegations. The EU was reluctant to place this issue on the agenda of the talks until the political situation in Belarus improved, above all, until the political prisoners were released.

At the end of April 2015, Rodolphe Richard, head of the Political, Press and Information Section at the EU Delegation to Belarus, told reporters that the draft visa facilitation agreement would exempt holders of diplomatic passports from the visa requirement.

The EU has already signed visa facilitation agreements with Russia and all Eastern Partnership countries except Belarus. The visa fee for the citizens of those countries has been lowered from €60 to €35.


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