Twenty members of the European Parliament have addressed European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, seeking to bring his attention to the importance of ‘deepening people to people contacts between citizens of Belarus and the EU member states’.
In their letter, the MEPS recall that they welcomed a visa facilitation agreement and a readmission agreement with Belarus ‘just a month before fraudulent 2020 presidential election’.
“Back then, we shared our concern that a 35 euros fee for processing visa application for the Belarusian people with a minimum salary of less than 200 euros is a challenge. The current circumstances, which include brutalities and persecution by the Lukashenka regime in many cases resulting in termination of working relations, removal of students from educational institutions and imposing heavy fines or even prison sentences for supporting the prodemocratic protests, has further strengthened our conviction,” the appeal reads.
According to the signers, the existing EU visa fee for Belarusians seeking to maintain their ties with the EU is ‘too high and should be reduced to a symbolic amount’.
Citing the Eastern Partnership Index LINKAGE 2018-2019, the politicians note that the Belarusian citizens, if to compare with citizens of other EaP countries, are receiving the highest number of Schengen visas per capita, but they also warn that the number of visas issued to Belarusians has been decreasing for the past 2-3 years.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and political measures taken by Lukashenka to close the Belarusian borders for passenger movement with the EU member states: Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the future prognosis are not optimistic,” the MEPs stress.
The reduction of the EU visa fee to a symbolic amount in the light of deteriorating living standards in Belarus would send a strong signal of EU support to the Belarusian people and their struggle for democracy, they believe.