Some consulates of the EU Embassies in Belarus do not interpret EU Visa Code correctly. They set too many demands that shouldn’t be present.
The other day Europe celebrated a 30th anniversary of Schengen visa agreement. Let s recall that the initiators of the agreement are the Benelux states – Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxemburg that are joined by France and Germany. The agreement was signed on June 14, 1985 at boat “Princess Mary-Astrid” at the rive Mosel not far from Schengen borough.
Now, after 30 years, visa-free area comprises 417 million citizens from 26 European countries, including 22 out of 28 EU states, as well four countries that didn’t join the EU – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Great Britain and Ireland decided not to join the agreement, while Cyprus, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria are waiting their turn to enter the Schengen zone.
Belarus is officially at the 1st place in the world by number of Schengen visas per person – as many as 880 thousand; but that doesn’t mean that it is very easy to get them. Moreover, visas are not getting cheaper for us, although it has been the subject of discussion since 2014.
And while the head of the European Parliament Martin Schultz together with the President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker have been merrily celebrating Schengen jubilee on a visit to the Luxemburg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Belarusans were sadly reading news about it on the Internet, feeling strangers at the common-European celebration of life.
When should we expect simplification of visa regime and the promised costs of 35 euro? Isn’t the hope for Belarus’ joining the Schengen zone too crazy? We talked about it with Aliaksandr Bystryk, a coordinator of the civil coalition “Visa Free Travel Campaign: Go Europe! Go Belarus!”
- What prospects for entering the Schengen zone does Belarus have today, and when will visas finally become cheaper for us?
- Belarus has no prospects of entering the Schengen zone in the near future since it would mean the formation of a new border with Russia, and in general it is a very brave step towards European integration even for the countries that are now moving in this direction.
The nearest perspective for us is to simplify visa regime. All eastern Partnership countries have already undergone this procedure. It means that visas get cheaper by €25, categories of citizens who don’t have to pay for visas will be expanded, and some more simplifications related to the documents and time of issue of visas will take place.
- What inhibits the process of simplification of visa regime for Belarus? And what stage are negotiations about visas at?
- These negotiations have been going on for a long time, since 2013. Recently it has been 500 days since Uladzimir Makei announced that these negotiations got reactivated. At the given stage, they are at the final stage. We have been waiting for the Visa Agreement to be signed at the Summit in Riga, but behind-the-scenes talks claimed that there appeared some technical problems. However, this information is unofficial; unfortunately, neither Europe nor Belarus share official information.
We have been writing to the EU Delegation in Belarus, to the European Commission, and appealed to the Belarusan authorities. But they say that until agreements are initialed they cannot give an answer.
There were talks that the main arguments concerned the question as to whether Belarusan diplomats will be able to travel without visas. Apparently, that was agreed on, but afterwards Europe demanded biometrical passports for such trips.
Both the Belarusan side and the European side represented by the Latvian Foreign Minister forecast that this month the agreement might be signed if this issue with the diplomatic passports is resolved. Our coalition is optimistic about it. We hope that late June will bring good news.
- What events does civil coalition “Visa Free Travel Campaign: Go Europe! Go Belarus!” organize in order to have a positive influence on the decision?
- We have two major directions: informing of broader public and appeal to the officials. We inform the public absolutely differently. Since there are numerous myths about simplification of visa regime, we are trying to cancel them and demonstrate people that it is real and not that scary; that open borders bring good, not bad; that Europe has numerous positive examples – for example, the Balkans and Albania.
Look at Moldova that has been having visa free regime with Europe for a year already, and where fears about mass migration never came true. We inform people about that.
We should say that a superficial analysis of comments in Belarus Internet demonstrates that the attitude towards abolishment of visas has changed for the better.
Among other ways of changing the attitude we organize press tours for journalists: this year we organized a press tour to Ukraine with a scheduled meeting with Ukrainian experts and representatives of authorities, who are responsible for Minsk negotiations. Last year we also organized a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius, while next year we also plan a number of special events where Belarusan journalists will directly meet foreign politicians on the one hand, and somehow let these politicians know about the position of Belarusans on the other.
At a simpler level, we regularly organize cultural events, such as a festival of mobility “Samahod” in Brest, Mahilieu, Hrodna, and Minsk. These festivals were held in the form of a series of lectures about budget travelling, voluntarism, visas, and, of course, about our campaign and came to be popular. We helped people to find out about additional though unfamiliar possibilities of travelling. We also have informative online campaign at our pages in social media.
As to the officials, we regularly appeal to the European Commission and to the Belarusan officials. Our side is, of course, less talkative and it’s hard to hear something new from them. We are trying to invite them to expert round tables.
Whereas European officials sometimes give very useful information. Literally now we publish a corresponding article about the wrong interpretation of EU Visa Code by some consulates of EU Embassies in Belarus. We were informed about it in the EU Commission.
We will publish it and will try to appeal to consulates and embassies in order to change the situation and simplify visa regime for Belarusans.