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 ban on high and top level political contacts, freezing of practical cooperation and external assistance in various areas, as well as travel ban for a number of Belarusian officials.
The restrictions were put on hold partially in 2008 as a result of Belarus’ steady efforts to normalize relations with the EU. The European Commission opened its diplomatic mission in Minsk (as of December 2009 – the Delegation of the European Union). High and top level dialogues were reactivated, which contributed to more constructive spirit of the relations and growing commonality in the both sides’ views of a number of items on the bilateral agenda.
In 2011, the European Union put back in place and subsequently toughened the visa ban against Belarus’ officials. In doing so, the EU referred to its own politically motivated assessments of the outcome of the 2010 presidential campaign and post-electoral developments in the country. Restrictions affected also financial transactions with several Belarusian companies. Supplies to Belarus of a number of categories of special-purpose goods of services were embargoed.
Belarus keeps stressing to the EU that its coercive policy is counterproductive, and invites it to resolve all controversies through dialogue on an equitable and mutually respectable basis. Acting in the spirit of good neighbourhood Belarus seeks to promote pragmatic and mutually beneficial cooperation with the EU and its Member States.
In recent years, Belarus and the EU expanded their cooperation into new bilateral and multilateral frameworks.
Belarusian ministries pursue sectoral dialogues with the European Commission that were launched in 2008 – 2011, including in energy, transport, environmental, economy and finance areas. The ongoing cooperation on border management and energy is governed i.a. by the bilateral documents signed in 2009: the Memorandum on launching practical cooperation between the State Border Committee of Belarus and the FRONTEX agency for cooperation at external EU borders, and the Declaration on cooperation between the Government of Belarus and the European Commission in the energy field.
Belarus participates in the Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics on a par with EU Member States, Russia and Norway. The country also actively contributes to the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership.
As a stakeholder in the EU Eastern Partnership initiative, Belarus works to intensify the practical project-oriented activity of the EaP and provide it with a meaningful substance in line with all Partner States’ interests for social and economic development, modernization and cooperation with the EU in priority areas. Belarus’ delegates 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”. In cooperation with other countries, Belarus promotes the development of concrete EaP 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 accompanying the trade between the EU and its Partner States. Following Belarus’ proposal, an EaP Business Forum was launched in 2011, as a platform for dialogue and cooperation among business communities, economic agencies and institutions of the Eastern Partners and the EU.
Under the EU’s European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument for 2007 – 2013, 59 projects are currently being implemented in Belarus, in areas like modernization of border and customs infrastructure, energy, transport, environment, education, culture etc, with an overall ENPI share around €60 m.
Belarus also participates in the “Poland – Ukraine – Belarus”, “Latvia – Lithuania – Belarus” and “Baltic Sea Region” cross-border cooperation programmes, TEMPUS, Erasmus Mundus, TAIEX and other instruments. Detailed information on this matter can be found on the Belarus TACIS Coordinating Unit website.
An additional incentive for enhanced cooperation is the ongoing integration of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan in the framework of the Single Economic Space (SES), which is a direct neighbor and natural economic partner of the European Union. Belarus manages efficiently the 1200 km-long segment of the customs boundary between the two vast areas of free circulation of goods, services, people and capitals that stretch from the Atlantic coast to Brest and from Brest to the Pacific. It is in the strategic interests of both Belarus and the EU to make this border instrumental in building reciprocally advantageous partnership and advancing mutual approximation between the SES and the EU. The Declaration on Eurasian economic integration adopted by the heads of state of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan in November 2011, stressed the three countries’ ambition to advance cooperation of the Customs Union (CU) with third countries and integration groupings including the European Union with a view to setting the stage for a common economic area. The Declaration emphasizes the need for coordinated work of the CU/SES member states toward harmonization and mutual approximation of the integration processes in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions.
As a step toward this objective, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan negotiate a free trade area agreement with the EFTA members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland integrated with the EU in the framework of the European Economic Area.