Visiting Belarus visa-free

Statement by Mr. Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, at the Plenary Session of the Eastern Partnership Summit, Vilnius, November 29, 2013

 
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
 
Let me, first of all, thank the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Her Excellency Dalia Grybauskaitė for her warm hospitality here in Vilnius, which is a highly symbolic venue of our common, shared history.
 
I note with satisfaction that we have made a clear step ahead compared to the previous Summit. At least, today we are all here together. This is not just a minor detail, but an important common achievement. The summit is nothing if it is not a show of equality, unity and solidarity among us. The Eastern Partnership as a whole is nothing if it is not a truly inclusive project.
 
Despite the progress that we can witness today, the Eastern Partnership is still a mixed success and it faces a number of serious challenges. I do believe the problem lies basically with three “false choices” that are somehow imposed on us.
 
False choice No1: “Your Way or the EU Way”. The Eastern Partnership is mainly about the Eastern Partners getting closer to the EU and about the EU’s support for their reform agendas. However, the Partners should not get the idea that making things their own way a priori means making it wrong.
 
We, the Eastern Partners, all share the same values and the same European future (more or less ambitious). But we also have our very specific legacy, backgrounds and priorities. We are all committed to modernization and reforms. But not for the sake of the EU, rather for our own sake. With or without the EU by our side we will make it. Yes, we make sometimes mistakes. And the EU can help and assist us there. But help, not punish.
 
In this regard, we do expect that the EU policy of sanctions and restrictions against Belarus, which is completely contrary to the very spirit of the Eastern Partnership, will definitely end.
 
Belarus has only two decades as an independent and sovereign State. Coming from a historic shadow of bigger neighbors, Belarusian nation is still in the process of its identity building. It takes time and cannot be imposed or accelerated artificially.

So, the Eastern Partnership should be more about engagement, building trust, empathy and understanding of each Partner’s specific situation. Differentiation and conditionality may regulate the extent of approximation. But they cannot undermine the basic principles of joint ownership and non-discrimination.
 
False choice No2: “Take It or Leave It”. The Eastern Partnership is not a once-and-for-all-set inventory.
 
Developing relations and approximation with the EU could take many different forms. The key to success of the Eastern Partnership is to find a tailor-made response to each of the six combinations of the EU and individual Eastern Partner’s interests. If it fails – if we fail, that is – the Eastern Partnership will remain “a lame duck”: a toolbox for accession without a promise and a promise of cooperation without a toolbox.
 
We have made a number of proposals in the past to eliminate this false choice. And I hope you are well aware of them.
 
False choice No3: “East or West”. There should be no place for geopolitical rivalry in our region, which is and has always been a junction of different integration projects rather than somebody’s exclusive domain. 
 
Recent developments and sharp rhetoric in our region make us remember the Cold War times. We are against any pressure on sovereign States, irrespective of its sources and motives. But we are also against new dividing lines in Europe.

The Partners should not be under the wrong impression that the price they pay for being here, within the Eastern Partnership, is giving up their strategic interests elsewhere. And the EU should not perceive these interests as an impediment or even a threat to the EaP objectives.
 
As a gateway between the Customs Union/Single Economic Space and the European Union, Belarus sees these two integration processes as mutually complementary and convergent in the long run. We launched and continue to advocate the idea of “integrating integrations”, with a view to shaping a common economic space “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. We are convinced that this is the only way to avoid new divisions and tensions in Europe and in the region.
 
And last but not least. To make the Eastern Partnership a real adventure with meaningful outcomes, we need to make it more visible, more attractive, more unique in terms of opportunities and tools for moving forward on the way to prosperity of people. In the end, our citizens (all of them and not a selected small group) are the ones who should benefit most from the successful implementation of the Eastern Partnership project. So, let us join our efforts to make people in our countries feel assured and confident that this initiative is worth going along with.
 
By the way, it is noteworthy that according to some EU researches the Belarusians feel themselves more European than citizens in other EaP countries.
 
Finally, I would like to reconfirm a keen interest of Belarus to develop open dialogue, mutually beneficial cooperation and true partnership with the European Union. Belarus is ready to start negotiations with the EU on Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements, as it is important for our people. We do hope that the Eastern Partnership would be instrumental in making progress in this regard and this Summit will open a new positive page in our relations with the EU.
 
We are prepared to work together for a positive change. But, as once noted the US President Barack Obama in his book, it should be a “Change we can believe in”.
 
Thank you very much.