Seminar “EU visa policies and Eastern Partnership Countries: Prospects and Barriers for Visa Liberalisation” in Stockholm 19 October, the Parliament of Sweden hosted a seminar "EU visa policies and Eastern Partnership countries: prospects and barriers for visa liberalisation", which was initiated and organised by the Polish and Hungarian embassies in Stockholm, the Ostgruppen Swedish civil society organisation and the Warsaw-based Batory Foundation. The event gathered members of the Riksdagen, representatives of the diplomatic community, journalists and civil society activists.

Speakers at the meeting from various non-profit organisations underlined the importance of visa liberalisation for EaP countries as a tool for further reforms and democratisation. Increased mobility for citizens of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine would help to send a powerful signal on behalf of the EU of seeing them as Europeans and as equals, experts said. Visa liberalisation would also bring economic benefits to the EU Member States, mentioned Joanna Fomina from the Batory Foundation. Many business deals between entrepreneurs from the EU and their EaP counterparts never happen due to limited travel opportunities for the latter.

The Representative of the European Commission in Sweden, May Ann Ramsay reiterated the EU's viewpoint that is reflected in a number of official documents, including the Declaration of the EaP Summit in Warsaw: the pace of progress in visa liberalisation, as well as progress in EU relations with its Eastern neighbours in general, will depend on pace of reforms in individual countries of the Eastern Partnership.

Speaking of the situation in Belarus and the current (lack of) progress with regard to visa liberalisation, the Director of the Office for a Democratic Belarus, Olga Stuzhinskaya presented arguments in favour of easier travel for Belarusian citizens as a powerful tool for democratisation and transformation of the country through a change of the people's mindset, increased flows of information and participation in all-European processes in various spheres. She also posed the question of how to deal with the situation when the EU has offered to begin negotiations with the government of Belarus on the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements, though the administration has yet to respond to this request. The people of Belarus are hostages to a lack of political will on the side of their own government, she said. The EU does not have any instruments at its disposal to address the problem unilaterally.

Belarus, like other countries of the EaP, will have to go through the Visa Facilitation and Readmission agreements before talks on visa liberalisation are possible.

The Office for Democratic Belarus expresses its gratitude to the organisers of the event and the attention paid to the issue of visa liberalisation. Easier travel conditions to the EU are what Belarusians see will be amongst the first tangible results of choosing the European path for development for their country in the future.