Belarus: MOST Builds a Bridge to the Future

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EU-Belarus relations
Fact box

The EU is the second largest trade partner of Belarus with 26.2% share in the country’s overall trade.

EU-funded assistance and cooperation with Belarus involves approximately €30 million on projects annually.

The bilateral allocations funded under the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument (ENPI) aim to support cooperation in sectors of mutual interest and those benefitting most directly the citizens, such as border management, regional development, environment, energy efficiency, green economy and food safety, putting emphasis on civil society participation and at the same time maintaining technical level contacts with the local administration.

Since 2009, Belarus can participate in international partnership projects of intraEU programmes such as Comenius, Erasmus, Grundtvig, Leonardo, Jean Monnet and Transversal Programme. To further enhance people-to-people contacts between the EU and Belarusian society programmes such as the “EU Language Courses for Young Belarusians” and “Mobility Scheme for Targeted People-to-People Contacts” were introduced by the EC.

Negotiations on Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements between the two partners were launched in January 2014. In the meantime, EU member states unilaterally continue to make optimal use of the existing flexibilities offered by the Visa Code, in particular the possibilities to waive and reduce visa fees for certain categories of Belarusian citizens or in individual cases. As a result, Belarus is currently one of the world leaders in the per capita number of Schengen visas issued to its citizens.

source: EU Commission

Andrea Wiktorin

About Andrea Wiktorin

Andrea Wiktorin is Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Belarus. She is a German diplomat with the rank of ambassador. She assumed her current post in September, 2015. Her earlier overseas postings were as Germany's Ambassador to Latvia (2012-2015) and Germany's Ambassador to Armenia (2007-2009). She also held posts at the German Federal Foreign Office. Ms Wiktorin served as the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Belarus between 2000 and 2003. She joined the German Federal Foreign Office in 1989. Twitter: @awiktorin

In February 2016, the Council of the European Union decided not to extend most of the restrictive measures in regard to Belarus, as they recognised that there was an opportunity for EU-Belarus relations to develop on a more positive agenda and that progress in a variety of fields could be achieved through enhanced channels of communication. The Council also reiterated its firm commitment to strengthening the EU’s engagement with the Belarusian people and civil society and it emphasised that it attaches great importance to enhanced person-to-person contact with Belarus. 

For centuries Europe has been rich in exchange and travel. Already as long ago as the Middle Ages, students travelled from one to the other university across the continent, cathedral builders and apprentices also worked on various sites and disseminated their knowledge and shared experiences.

Exchanging ideas, understanding neighbours and gathering and disseminating knowledge and know-how is also a reality in today’s Europe. In 2014, the EU student mobility programme, Erasmus+, enabled around 500,000 young people to study, train and volunteer or participate in youth-exchanges abroad. It also gave the same opportunity to around 150,000 staff members from educational institutions and youth organisations, in order to assist them to improve their competencies by teaching and training in another country than their own.

I am fortunate enough to have worked with Belarus on several occasions. On each occasion I have always witnessed a genuine eagerness to learn among Belarusian professionals and to share their activities and experiences.

Therefore I was pleased to launch, what I consider to be, a unique mobility programme called MOST. It is unprecedented for Belarus and the Eastern Partnership countries in terms of budget, €5 million, but above all it is its objectives that are remarkable: MOST will enable 1,500 Belarusian professionals to travel to the EU and to mix with their EU counterparts to improve their professional skills jointly.

Since January 2016, when the programme effectively started to work, almost 250 people were sent to 16 EU member states to study and work. Science and technology are major sectors, but culture, youth and education as well as health are also covered.

The interesting part of the programme, in my view, is that it gives a good idea of the sectors where the need for exchange and the prospects for cooperation are highest. I often mention MOST’s first mobility action, especially when recounting my point of view: Four Belarusian internet technologies’ experts took part in a major European conference in Lisbon on the issue of the harmonisation of digital markets. The participants managed to establish contacts with more than 40 individuals and organisations from EU countries and agreed on a couple of common research and development projects.

The time of cathedral building is behind us, but the first results of MOST seem to demonstrate that it will bring concrete benefits to Belarus, for instance in research and business partnerships or in the creativity sector. In health, education or social issues it will also be an opportunity for Belarusian professionals to discuss with their colleagues in the EU and, if suitable, adopt new work practices.

MOST has the full support of the Belarusian authorities, which I see as one more sign of the readiness of the country to increase its ties with the EU.

MOST is one additional bridge, even modest, to link the EU and Belarus and it is my wish for the future that Belarusian professionals will keep crossing that bridge to share know-how and experience and bring the best the EU can offer back with them.

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The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.

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