The EU’s response to an ‘invisible’ border of Belarus

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The EU border control task force has spent the last two days preparing for any possible expansion of the Russian border in Belarus Rising tensions between the border…

The EU's response to an 'invisible' border of Belarus

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The EU border control task force has spent the last two days preparing for any possible expansion of the Russian border in Belarus

Rising tensions between the border guards of the two neighbours, Belarus and Poland, are a potential challenge to the EU.

BORDER CONTROLS IN BERMUDA

The EU has designated the tiny island nation of Bermuda as the EU’s first Schengen Borderfree Area (SBA) state.

This means only citizens of those 16 countries (all members of the EU) can travel freely within the bloc’s 30-strong membership of the free-travel bloc.

It also means that EU citizens should not need a passport, though they must pay for a passport or other external entry card – the Passport Europe Card.

The border between the Netherlands and Belgium, for example, is also an EU member state. The UK has not been considered a Schengen zone member since Brexit.

In February 2013, Ukraine withdrew its threat to withdraw from the Schengen zone on the grounds that the new Customs Union was not a member of the EU.

The two sides have an agreement which will allow Ukraine and Belarus to rejoin the EU’s borders, meaning members will be able to travel freely between both countries. The agreement is currently in its final stage, and is expected to be ratified by the Ukrainian Parliament this week.

WHY MAJOR FEARS?

Poland has reacted with concern to the prospect of Belarus joining the EU.

British newspapers have quoted Polish sources and EU officials as saying that a deal could allow Belarus to join the passport-free Schengen zone in the future, even without ratification from the Ukrainian Parliament.

If Belarus joins the Schengen area, its citizens would be able to travel visa-free between the European Union and the rest of the world.

But as Belarus has no borders with Europe, the Schengen area would look and feel very different to the current iteration.

Lithuania and Lithuania’s neighbour Latvia have been critical of this possibility and they are likely to follow their colleagues’ lead.

BBC correspondent Alessandra Rizzo says: “With Poland in the German-led EU, in the midst of a major existential crisis and British voters voting out, any thoughts of Eastern Europe eventually joining the EU is therefore out of the question.”

Even if Belarus were to join, there are likely to be major concerns among EU member states and further afield about its plans for energy, like the construction of a new natural gas pipeline connecting the EU to Siberia.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said in June that the new pipeline was unlikely to go ahead

Tensions in the region, if they do escalate, will be of particular concern to Britain and the rest of the EU.

The UK will leave the EU in March 2019, with the most likely outcome being Britain remaining part of the EU single market and customs union.

However, EU countries have said they would like some measure of “re-engineering” of Britain’s customs arrangements after Brexit, to avoid potential logjams or delays at ports on both sides of the Channel.

The UK’s whole customs territory will therefore be subject to checks and controls, rather than being a single border as it currently is, as has been the case since 2007.

What has happened?

Exhaustive negotiations have taken place over a number of years, though in September 2014, EU leaders decided the framework of a deal to maintain customs union and free movement of goods as a close outcome for the UK.

The plan includes four elements:

– a comprehensive free trade agreement

– a transition period until the end of 2020

– Britain establishing its own customs regime

– Britain allowing for the free movement of goods and people

However, the Belarus plans have done little to dampen EU-Polish tensions since they were announced in July, prompting the EU border control task force to deploy its resources on the Belarus-Poland border.

BBC chief economic correspondent John Simpson says: “This is almost the most significant dispute for many years. The belief is that the agreement is such that the deal won’t be interpreted in an extremely negative way.”

Image copyright AP Image caption Russia welcomed the plans, but Ukraine disagreed

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