Minsk: Visa facilitation talks with EU dragging on

Talks on a visa facilitation deal between Belarus and the European Union have dragged on, Anatol Hlaz, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, said on Thursday.
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In a statement, Mr. Hlaz said that the talks had begun years ago but some differences had yet to be resolved.

"Our partners have put forward a number of requirements that have not been included in the EU's similar deals with, for instance, Armenia or Azerbaijan," he said. "In particular, [there is a requirement] that [visa] applications be submitted only through visa application centers, which, of course, would raise the cost of visa procedures."

"Such conditions politicize issues relating to mutual travel to a great extent and put our citizens at a disadvantage, therefore we find it hard to agree to them," said the foreign ministry's spokesman. "We intend to continue working with EU partners for the purpose of drawing up provisions that will not discriminate against our country and concluding the agreement on terms that will be comfortable for Belarusian citizens."
Mr. Hlaz said that a date had yet to be set for the next round of discussions on the draft agreement.

The official recalled the European Union's plans to make changes to its common visa policy and warned that the visa fee may be raised from €60 to €80.

"Of course, changes to visa rules are the European Union's internal affair," he said. "However, this EU initiative will directly affect our citizens who want to visit a Schengen Area country. Judging by certain approaches, our partners are not ruling out such a scenario, therefore one needs to be prepared for that."

Mr. Hlaz said that Minsk advocated the facilitation of mutual travel and referred to Belarus' "unilateral" move to allow EU visitors to enter Belarus without a visa if they arrive through Minsk National Airport for a stay of no more than five days.
Speaking this past May, Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey expressed hope for progress in Belarus' talks with the European Union on visa facilitation and readmission agreements.

"We plan to continue working to facilitate the visa regime for our partners," he said. "Hopefully, we will also make progress on matters connected with our signing of agreements on visa facilitation and readmission. We are working on that."
Mr. Makey added that some issues "require additional work."




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