Translated by ODB
On May 29 a panel discussion was held in Minsk on visa liberalization between the Eu member states and Belarus. During the event, experts from Belarus (Andrey Eliseev, an analyst at BISS), Ukraine (Iryna Sushko, head of the organization "Europe without barriers") and Poland (March Yaroshevich, senior researcher on migration and visa issues, the Center for Eastern Studies) presented their views and research results on the topic.
The participants discussed the prospects of simplification of the visa regime between the EU and Belarus, the expectations of Belarus for visa facilitation and readmission agreements, and were acquainted with the experiences of Ukraine on visa facilitation negotiations.
Iryna Sushko, in particular, noted: "In 2010, Ukraine received the action plan for visa liberalization, assuming compliance with the technical criteria which covered over 50 sectors of the state policy. If the European Union considers the implementation of these reforms to be successful, Ukraine may be granted a visa-free regime." The event also included a discussion by Ukrainian experts on the visa dialogue between Belarus and the EU. The Council of Europe has invited Belarus to the negotiations on visa regime two years ago but so far, the process has not taken further steps.
Andrey Eliseev argued that Belarus is clearly laging behind all the other countries of the "Eastern Partnership" and Russia on the visa issue and risks becoming an absolute outsider on the visa issue in few years when the other countries in the region move towards a visa-free regime with the EU. According to him, Minsk exaggerates the negative effects of a readmission agreement with the EU. The analyst believes that within the framework of the readmission agreement with the EU, the number of third country nationals and stateless persons received by Belarus would not exceed 100-200 people but would rather be a few dozen.
Marta Yaroshevich presented the European point of view on the visa issue. She noted that the low level of political relations between Belarus and the EU makes a one-sided simplification of visa regime to the EU not a realistic option. According to her, EU member states could make use of the tools already offered in the EU Visa Code to facilitate the visa regime for Belarusian citizens. She also argued that further research in this field is needed to present to both Brussels and Belarusian authorities solid arguments supporting the simplification and subsequent removal of the visa regime.
During the course of the discussion, participants raised a number of issues relating to the cross border issues (increasing their number), lobbying the Belarusian authorities to simplify the visa regime for EU citizens, as well as the connection between the visa issues and illegal migration.
The event was organized by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) in collaboration with the civil campaign "No Visa" with the support of the institution "Office of European Expertise and Communication" as a part of the European Intercultural Festival 2013 which was organized for the first time in Belarus with participation of Belarusian and international organizations . The organizers of the festival will offer Belarusians opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of EU member states, and other countries that are members, along with Belarus in the "Eastern Partnership" initiative.