Minsk offers Brussels to ensure that the land border between Belarus and the EU can be crossed in less than an hour. The EU representatives say that they are ready to help with the border infrastructure, but this will not solve the problem.
Belarus’s initiative was voiced at the “10 Years of Eastern Partnership: Achievements & Future Action” conference in Vienna.
According to Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Kravchenko, the relations between Belarus and the EU are “almost completely normalized”.
However, he noted that the projects in the Eastern Partnership should be visible, useful and understandable to people.
He also proposed to launch a “30 ideas for the Eastern Partnership” project focusing on youth. The project is similar to the one in Belarus that gathers ideas from the spheres of science, education, research, and start-ups.
One hour to cross the border
Kravchenko called for speeding up the procedure for crossing the land border of Belarus with the EU countries.
“It took me ten minutes to check out at the Vienna airport today. While traveling to the EU by car, Belarusians spend six, eight, sometimes 10 hours at the border.
Tens of years ago, when I was a child, my parents and I often traveled to Vilnius by car in two hours. And this is in Soviet times, with Soviet roads and Soviet cars.”
Kravchenko proposed to start the second decade of the Eastern Partnership with resolving the situation so that it would take less than an hour to cross the border.
“It will win the hearts and minds of people in Belarus and make the Eastern Partnership much more visible than many other long-term projects.”
According to Katarina Mathernova, Deputy Director-General of the Directorate General for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, the EU can invest in border infrastructure.
“However, this move won’t solve the problem of delays [at the border ]. Delays occur due to procedures established on a bilateral basis between countries. The EU won’t solve it.”
In her speech, Mathernova expressed hope that “the EU will enter into treaty relations with Belarus.” That implies a basic agreement on partnership and cooperation between Minsk and Brussels.
The common document on the partnership and cooperation the EU already has with Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Russia. Minsk believes that imposing conditions to start negotiations on a basic agreement is not necessary.
“I understand when the demands are put forward to countries that want to join the European Union. Our ambition is to be a good neighbor.
We have no ambitions to ever become a member of the EU. Let’s start the negotiations. Even if we start them tomorrow, they will most likely last, not months, but years,” said Oleg Kravchenko.
Belarus has been calling on the EU to start negotiations on a basic agreement, for several years now, but with no success. Some EU countries expect Belarus to make more progress on human rights, including a moratorium on the death penalty.
Instead, the parties started negotiations on another general document – the Priorities of the Partnership. However, its coordination was also stalled due to the disagreements between Belarus and Lithuania over the BelNPP.