The diplomatic relations between Belarus and the EU were established in August 1992. In March 1995, a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed between Belarus and the EU in Brussels. Subsequently, the European Union suspended its ratification for political reasons and imposed restrictions on Belarus, including the ban on high and top level political contacts, freezing of practical cooperation and external assistance in various areas, as well as the travel ban for a number of Belarusian officials.
In 2008-2010, Belarus and the EU engaged in an active dialogue to find ways to normalize the relations. As a result, the EU restrictions were put on hold. The European Commission opened its diplomatic mission in Minsk (as of December 2009 – the Delegation of the European Union). In 2009, Belarus became a full-fledged participant of the EU Eastern Partnership Initiative.
In 2011, the European Union put back in place and subsequently toughened the visa ban against Belarus’ officials. In so doing, the EU referred to its own politically motivated assessments of the outcome of the 2010 presidential campaign and post-electoral developments in Belarus. Restrictions affected also financial transactions with several Belarusian companies. Supplies to Belarus of a number of categories of specific goods and services were embargoed.
At the end of 2012, high-level official contacts resumed between Belarus, the EU and its Member States. In 2013 – 2015 the EU partially reduced the list of the sanctioned Belarusian citizens and enterprises.
In 2016 Belarus – EU relations made a big stride ahead. The EU dropped all of its restrictions against the Belarusian companies and minimized the visa ban list. WTO accession talks resumed between Belarus and the EU. A joint Coordination Group was launched as a new framework for a structured comprehensive dialogue on the entire Belarus – EU political and sectoral agenda. It first met in Brussels on 6 – 7 April 2016, followed by meetings in Minsk on 16 – 17 November 2016 and 3 – 4 April 2017 and again in Brussels on 19 – 20 December 2017. It is attended by Belarus’ line ministries, the European Commission and the European External Action Service.
Belarus and the EU negotiate bilateral Partnership Priorities for 2017 – 2020 covering four thematic strands: strengthening institutions and good governance; economic development and market opportunities; connectivity, energy, environment and climate action; mobility and people-to-people contacts. In September 2016 the EU supported a new 2016 – 2019 EBRD country strategy for Belarus empowering the Bank to fully extend its activities to the public sector (before they had been restricted to private projects).
The EU authorized the start of the European Investment Bank’s work in Belarus. On 9 August 2017 a Belarus – EIB Framework Agreement came into effect. A number of large-scale infrastructural projects are currently being considered for funding by the EIB and the EBRD.
As of 2016 annual country allocations for Belarus under the European Neighbourhood Instrument doubled and reached 27 million euro. The funds are used to modernize border and customs infrastructure, exchange experience and implement pilot projects in energy, transport, agricultural, environmental, educational, cultural and other areas (for more information on EU technical assistance please consult the website of the EU ITA Centre in Belarus).
In 2016 Belarus and the EU staged together for the first time a Belarusian Investment Forum in Vienna, Austria. On 27 October 2017 a Belarus – European Economic Forum took place in Luxembourg in the same format.
Negotiations on a Belarus – EU visa facilitation and readmission agreements are at a final stage.
Bilateral sectoral dialogues are ongoing between Belarus’ line ministries and the European Commission in areas such areas as economy and finance, environment, trade and customs. A human rights dialogue is under way.
The cooperation on border management and energy matters is governed by the 2009 Memorandum on launching practical cooperation between the State Border Committee of Belarus and the FRONTEX agency for cooperation at external EU borders and the 2009 Declaration on cooperation between the Government of Belarus and the European Commission in the energy field. In May 2015 Belarus and the Commission singed an arrangement on an early-warning mechanism in the energy sector. Belarus joined the European Higher Education Area (the Bologna Process) and became an observer in the Northern Dimension.
In October 2016 Belarus, the EU and seven of its Member States (Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Finland) signed a Mobility Partnership Declaration. A list of joint projects is currently being compiled for implementation under the Mobility Partnership.
Belarus is an active stakeholder in the EU Eastern Partnership multilateral cooperation framework. Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei participated in the EaP summits in Vilnius (28-29 November 2013), Riga (21 – 22 May 2015) and Brussels (24 November 2017).
Belarusian representatives contribute to the activities of all four multilateral EaP platforms (“Democracy, Good Governance and Stability”, “Economic Integration and Approximation with EU Sectoral Policies”, “Energy Security” and “Contacts between People”), its panels and flagship initiatives.
Belarus advocates more pragmatic cooperation under the EaP in line with the interests of all EU Partner States. In cooperation with other countries Belarus promotes development of concrete projects that would improve energy and transport interconnections, strengthen regional energy security, counter environmental risks, reinforce border security, and raise the efficiency of customs measures to facilitate trade between the EU and its Partner States.
Following Belarus’ proposal, an EaP Business Forum was launched in 2011 and an EaP Panel on Digital Markets Harmonization in 2015 as platforms for dialogue and cooperation among business communities and economic institutions of the Eastern Partners and the EU.
Driven by the necessity to avoid new dividing lines in the region, Belarus is a firm advocate of the ‘integrating integrations’ idea in the EaP framework. In the long run it could provide a basis for convergence of the integration processes in the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, and creation of a common economic and humanitarian space between Vladivostok and Lisbon.
Belarus-EU technical assistance cooperation is in good progress. The EU funds are used for modernization of the Belarusian border and customs infrastructure, promotion of exchange of best practices, and implementation of pilot projects in energy, transport, agriculture and food, nature protection, education, culture and other priority spheres.
Belarus participates in EU-funded Poland – Belarus – Ukraine and Latvia – Lithuania – Belarus Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) Programmes. In 2007 – 2013 several dozens of projects worth 50 million euro were implemented in Belarus under these two instruments. The aggregate budget of the Programmes for 2014 – 2020 is 280 million euro which are available to Belarus through calls of proposals.
Belarus also actively participates in the EU thematic programmes and instruments TEMPUS, Erasmus+, TAIEX etc.