Visiting Belarus visa-free

Statement by Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, at the Plenary Session of the Eastern Partnership Summit (May 22, 2015, Riga)

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me, first of all, thank our Latvian hosts for their unmatched hospitality and the tremendous efforts they have invested into the preparation of this Summit.

As the only direct neighbour to Latvia among six Eastern Partners we have always enjoyed exemplary relations with this country and we both – Belarus and Latvia – can be proud of it.

In my intervention I would like to make three observations with regard to the Eastern Partnership and our relations with the EU.

First. In 2009, when we launched this Initiative, we set together as the main goal of the Eastern Partnership – to enhance security, stability and prosperity in the region.

Today, a year and a half after our last meeting in Vilnius, we have all to admit that we are even more away from achieving this objective than before.

Unfortunately, the Eastern Partnership region has not become a link spanning the East and the West, an area of cooperation based on common values, mutual interests and shared responsibility. On the contrary, it has turned into a “bone of contention”, which has negatively affected all the Partner countries.

We may agree or disagree among ourselves on whether some external factors are indeed behind every possible ill of the Eastern Partnership. But no one can deny that there were also some internal deficiencies within the EaP. And they have not been taken seriously enough.

Instead, we pretend to manage divisions but without building bridges, tackle old conflicts without preventing new ones, aim at “deep” rather than wide, integration, focus on faster reforms, rather than stronger states.

Since Vilnius, we have witnessed a dramatic deterioration of the situation. We have seen more tensions, more divisions, more confrontation in the region and beyond. The events in Ukraine have clearly demonstrated what kind of risks could entail a dispute about “choices”. The striking reality: Belarus today remains the only EaP country without a conflict.

We must find ways and means to stop and to reverse this dangerous trend, to restore peace and stability, to prevent further confrontation. What we need is a dialogue, engagement and cooperation.

We need to build more trust and understanding in a wider context, inter alia by developing a security community within the OSCE and by launching a dialogue among different integration structures such as the EU and the evolving Eurasian Economic Union. Otherwise, the future of the Eastern Partnership would be compromised.

Belarus will spare no efforts in this regard and will provide its contribution as we have already demonstrated in the context of the Ukrainian crisis.

Second. Mounting challenges we are facing and increasingly divergent aspirations of Partner countries require further rethinking and re-calibrating philosophy, methods and instruments of the Eastern Partnership in order to keep its integrity and relevance for all stakeholders as a common regional project.

We need a more flexible, more focused, more pragmatic Eastern Partnership which would take into due account interests and priorities of the individual participating States.

The key is a greater positive differentiation with a full respect to the principles of inclusiveness and equal treatment. It should provide a range of opportunities of different levels that interested Partners could use and explore together with the EU in order to determine the best form of their relations and interaction.

To reconsolidate the increasingly fragmented Eastern Partnership we also need to put the economy at its heart. This would enhance our resilience and would ensure sustainability of any modernization efforts. We would welcome more focus on such areas of cooperation as trade, economic development, connectivity, including transport and energy.

In this context we are pleased with an overall support within the Eastern Partnership for Belarus’ initiative on harmonizing digital markets of the EU and the Eastern Partners. We believe it is an area, which is highly relevant for our future common development and where joint projects would be for the benefit of all.

We expect that our views and suggestions with regard to the further development of the Eastern Partnership would be duly reflected within the ongoing review of the European Neighborhood Policy.

Third. The Eastern Partnership has been instrumental in revitalizing, to some extent, the dialogue and interaction between Belarus and the EU.

Since Vilnius summit, we have achieved some progress in our relations and have engaged in a number of new tracks, including consultations on modernization issues and negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements. These very days we have concluded the Cooperation Arrangement on an Early Warning Mechanism in the field of energy. We are looking forward to the establishment of the Partnership for Mobility.

Still, the potential of our cooperation remains largely untapped.

We have – through an open dialogue – to overcome the existing difficulties in our relations. We have already lost too much time, and there are a growing number of challenges that we need to address together.

We hope that in the near future we would be able to register a new quality and level of our relations – without sanctions and restrictions, as they contradict the very notion of a true partnership.

I do firmly believe that this is in the interest of both Belarus and the EU, in the interest of our citizens and also in the interest of the regional security and Wider, united Europe.

I thank you.