On 20 October, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Azubalis will visit Belarus together with the delegation led by President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite. On the same day in Minsk, the Minister will sign an Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and the Government of the Republic of Belarus on the procedure for the mutual travels of border area residents of the Republic of Lithuania and the Republic of Belarus. The agreement will simplify the rules on local border traffic and is expected to promote closer ties between Belarus and the European Union.
Officials expected to sign the agreement that offers advantages to border area residents of a neighboring country when crossing the external border of the EU in September last year. However, Belarus requested to postpone the signing because of an incomplete inter-institutional coordination procedure in Belarus. Seven months later, Minsk submitted new remarks regarding the text of the agreement.
The agreement will allow certain groups of border area residents to cross the border without visas and with special local border traffic permits. Holders of the permits will be able to stay on the territory of the other country (in the border area of 50 km) for 90 days half-yearly.
The local border traffic permits will be valid for 5 years and will be issued to permanent residents of border areas, who plan to cross the external land border because of family relations, well-grounded economic, commercial, cultural or other important reasons. Holders of these permits will not have the right to work.
It is expected that the signing of this agreement will facilitate cross-border contacts of border residents, will promote commercial, cultural and tourist exchanges and the cooperation between Lithuanian and Belarusian regions.
The entry into force of this agreement will not abolish the border and customs control, the border security level will not change. Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has suggested that the Government assigns competent Lithuanian institutions to get prepared for the implementation of the agreement.
Foreign Minister A.Azubalis will pay a visit to Belarus as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Troika and future Chair-in-Office of this organization. The Minister travels to Belarus to invite this country to open up to Europe more and to support the reforms that serve this purpose.
Officials will draw attention to the fact that further rapprochement of Belarus and Europe will depend also on the efforts of Belarus to ensure that the upcoming presidential elections comply with international standards.
Officials will also discuss the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative and energy issues. As usual, the Minister will meet with representatives of the Belarusian civil society.
The agreement between Lithuania and Belarus on local border traffic is based on the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council (dated 20 December 2006) laying down the rules on local border traffic at the external land borders of the member states. This regulation was drawn up with an aim to establish a regime specifically applicable to local border traffic, because following the EU's enlargement in 2004 there was a need to ensure that the rules on local border traffic at the external land borders of the member states would not hinder trade, social and cultural exchanges, and regional cooperation.
When Lithuania became part of the Schengen area in 2007, the fee for single entry Schengen visa to the citizens of Belarus travelling to Lithuania jumped from 5 to 60 EUR. In order to minimize impacts on usual people-to-people contacts, Lithuania revised the temporary agreement between the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and the Government of the Republic of Belarus on travels of nationals of both states, and has repeatedly raised the issue of visa facilitation for the citizens of Belarus at the EU's institutions, aimed to include Belarus and the issues of visa regime in the agenda of the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative.