Belarus lags behind the other Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, both in its links with the EU and in its approximation to EU standards. However, despite a lack of formal contractual relations with the EU and illiberal domestic policies, Belarus still exposes some potential for Europeanization, explains Andrei Yeliseyeu.
As argued in the book chapter, the country’s geographical proximity to the EU, mediatory role in regional conflicts as well as a greater opening to external trade and harmonization “through back-doors”, due to the Eurasian Economic Union obligations, are the main factors pushing Belarus in the European direction, at least to some extent.
These factors are analysed in the Andrei Yeliseyeu‘s chapter for the book Dilemmas of Europeanisation: Political Choices and Economic Transformations in the Eastern Partnership Countries, issued by the Latvian Institute of International Affairs and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
The book provides theoretical and practical insights of the Europeanization transformations taking place in the Eastern Partnership countries and discusses how the economic ties between the EU and the partners affect these transformations.
Despite Belarus remains the only EaP country without a functioning Visa Facilitation Agreement with the EU, the country leads by the total number of Schengen visas issued per capita. According to the 2014 statistics, 93 Schengen visas were issued per 1,000 citizens in Belarus. To compare, in Ukraine and Georgia this rate in 2014 stood at 30 and 18 Schengen visas per 1,000 citizens, respectively. Moreover, about 75,000 “Cards of the Pole” have been issued for Belarusians to date, which allow their holders to obtain Polish national long-term visas. As a result of the recession in Russia and devaluation of the Russian rouble, Poland has become a more popular destination country for both temporary labour migrants and permanent immigrants from Belarus. Enhanced travel and communication opportunities of Belarusians contribute to the transfer of modern European socio-cultural norms.
Increasing difficulties with exports to the main trade partners have forced Belarus to look for new markets. Despite a lack of formal and informal ties, in recent years Belarus has moved closer to EU norms and standards in a number of spheres, via two distinct paths. First is the international approximation of standards in some areas (e.g. tax system, standards in the construction industry) with an aim to expand the export of goods and services to the EU market. Second is the indirect approximation through participation of Belarus in the Eurasian integration. The legal system of the Eurasian integration is, to some extent, compatible with EU standards.
The process of adoption of European standards in a number of fields through its participation in the Eurasian integration project is labelled “indirect”, or “backdoor” approximation.
Geopolitical reasoning is believed to play a big role in the EU’s decision to reengage with Belarus. Following the release of all the remaining political prisoners in Belarus in August 2015, the EU lifted almost all the restrictive measures. Taking into account groundbreaking events occurring in Ukraine, and Belarus intermediary role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, establishing closer cooperation with Belarus was seen by many as a timely decision serving both sides’ interests. Mindful of Russian actions in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities seek to develop somewhat closer ties with the EU while being pegged to Russia both institutionally and economically.