(Source: European Commission)
What is the purpose of the EU-Belarus Visa Facilitation Agreement?
The Agreement facilitates the issuance of short-stay visas to the citizens of the Union and of Belarus. Under the Agreement, the visa fee is generally reduced to €35 and waived for certain categories of travellers. The service fee is also limited and the deadline for consulates to take a decision on a visa application is shortened. The Agreement is intended to contribute to enhancing people-to-people contacts and a sharing of values. It entered into force on 1 July 2020.
Why is the Commission proposing the partial suspension of the Visa Facilitation Agreement?
The Visa Facilitation Agreement was concluded on the premise that respect for human rights and democracy are fundamental principles governing the cooperation between the Union and Belarus.
In light of the fact that the 9 August 2020 Belarusian presidential elections were neither free nor fair and that the Belarusian regime lacked any democratic legitimacy, the Council adopted conclusions in October 2020 calling for restrictive measures. A travel ban and asset freeze was imposed on 40 individuals responsible for the fraudulent nature of the presidential elections and the violent crackdown on peaceful protests.
The Belarus authorities retaliated by announcing the suspension of their participation in the Eastern Partnership and by announcing the suspension of the Readmission Agreement with the EU on 28 June 2021. A bill on the suspension of the Readmission Agreement with the EU was submitted to the Belarus Parliament on 8 September 2021.
At the same time, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia have experienced an unprecedented increase in irregular border crossings from Belarus. There is evidence that the Belarus regime is encouraging irregular border crossings of non-EU nationals into the EU for political purposes.
All these actions by Belarus breach the fundamental principles on which the Agreement was concluded and go against the interests of the EU and its Member States.
The Commission has therefore decided to propose suspending certain parts of the Visa Facilitation Agreement for specific categories of beneficiaries (i.e. officials of the Belarus regime).
What will the partial suspension of the Visa Facilitation Agreement mean in practice? Who will be affected?
The partial suspension of the Visa Facilitation Agreement will apply to the following specific parts of the Agreement: the requirement for documentary evidence regarding the purpose of the journey, issuing of multiple-entry visas and the fees for processing visa applications.
The measures will not affect all citizens of Belarus. They will only affect the following specific categories of citizens:
- Members of Belarus official delegations including permanent members of such delegations who – following an official invitation addressed to Belarus – should participate in official meetings, consultations, negotiations or exchange programmes, as well as in events held in the territory of one of the EU Member States by intergovernmental organisations;
- Members of Belarus national and regional Governments and Parliaments, Belarus Constitutional Court and Belarus Supreme Court, in the exercise of their duties.
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