At the 50th session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia, which recently took place in Minsk, deputies assessed the results of the last twenty years of legislative activity, and discussed crucial aspects of ongoing development for the Union State.
Opening the session, Sergey Naryshkin, Chairman of the State Duma, Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia, noted, “In the course of 20 years, much has been achieved to ensure legislative support of the Union. The contractual framework comprises about 200 agreements. Cooperation between military, technical and defensive areas is developing effectively, with equal rights for citizens of Belarus and Russia ensured in the labour sphere. The high level of the Union integration has opened the way for the creation and activity of the Eurasian Economic Union…”
It is true that much has already been achieved, with hundreds of vital integration initiatives entering legislation, across the most significant and sensitive socio-economic spheres. Russians and Belarusians no longer feel like foreigners in each other’s territory. The elimination of the interstate border, and the creation of a single customs space, which Kazakhstan and some other former USSR republics later joined, have contributed significantly to this positive intercultural shift between our two countries. Additionally, equal rights for citizens of Belarus and Russia have been established across significant areas: including choice of place of residence, work and study, pension provision, and medical aid entitlement.
These achievements were noted in President Lukashenko’s greeting to parliamentarians. As Chairman of the High Council for the Union State, Mr. Lukashenko expressed confidence that they will make a weighty contribution towards legislative support, continuing to build the Union State. The greeting was read by Vladimir Andreichenko, Chairman of the House of Representatives for the National Assembly of Belarus, who is also the First Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly.
Parliamentarians have a fundamental approach to discussing the results of joint activity, aimed at implementing priorities for the Union State development. A corresponding document on this topic was previously accepted by the Council of Ministers of the Union State and has become the basis for the work of all its bodies and structures. Major joint work by the Standing Committee of the Union State, Belarusian and Russian experts, governments and parliaments lies behind the many tasks solved so far, completely or partially.
Life continually raises new issues and defines aims, requiring clear understanding of long-term goals and strategies, necessitating pragmatism and a practical course of action. The State Secretary of the Union State, Grigory Rapota, led discussion in this vein. In his conceptual report, he set out the Union State programme for development for the foreseeable future, which contains ten points of action. Mr. Rapota stated, “We are shaping and implementing a single industrial policy. We need to develop trade and economic relations, creating new conditions as necessary, while developing small and medium-sized businesses. We’re extending scientific-technical cooperation, creating a single transport space and forming a single energy space, as well as a single information field. Creation of a single migratory and visa space continues. It’s vital to provide the Union State with property accounting, aimed primarily at Union scientific-technical programmes financed from Unions State funds. Finally, we’ll continue to improve cooperation in the military and political spheres.”
As to the feasibility of accomplishing these huge goals, Mr. Rapota asserts that the formation of a single industrial policy is essential, the need having emerged several years ago. Attempts to create a single platform for Union State industry have been made several times, including moves to create transnational industrial companies from leading enterprises, such as MAZ-KAMAZ. Even though practical implementation is yet to begin, the idea of consolidation of resource potential for our two countries is clearly wise, to support production development. The Ministries of Industry of Russia and Belarus have confirmed the creation of a joint engineering centre for machine tool building, which Mr. Rapota praises as being important ‘to trigger mechanisms for implementing innovations’.
Development of trade and economic relations relies on removing barriers to the free movement of goods and services and the creation of equal conditions for economic entities’ activity in a single Union space. Among other things, it is important to provide equal access to state procurements. We shouldn’t shy away from the fact that, sometimes, at regional level, local goods producers’ interests are lobbied, while the possibilities of ‘foreigners’ are limited.
The problem could be solved by granting ‘local goods producer status’ to enterprises from our two countries; the State Secretary notes this as not only a legal but an economic issue. Recognition of local goods producers from the other state requires rethinking of stereotypes. In particular, we need to learn to market joint production goods as belonging to the Union State.
In our modern society, a country’s social well-being and competitive ability relies on the application of innovations. The Union State has a powerful tool for implementing priority scientific and technical developments: the Union programmes.
At present, ten such Belarusian-Russian projects are being carried out under the patronage of the Standing Committee, and the same number are undergoing coordination and confirmation. About 3 billion Russian Roubles are being spent on the Union programmes annually, which is approximately half of the Union State budget. Importantly, emphasis is being placed on effective commercial benefits. Payoff periods and possible economic effects are the main arguments at the stage of development and adoption of new programmes.
The Union State development requires ongoing effort, including in the sphere of creating a single transport space. We are working towards removing barriers to movement of cargo from Belarus and Russia into third countries and movement in the opposite direction. Additionally, we are implementing a huge investment project, building the first nuclear power station in Belarus, using Russian technologies. This should considerably strengthen our single energy space. Though, as Mr. Rapota notes, there is still some way to go to formulate criteria for various spheres of activity, with parliamentarians needing to contribute to this advancement.
Various participants agreed with this stance, calling upon colleagues to focus on strengthening the Union State economy. The Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly, Vladimir Andreichenko, commented, “The Union State could have more weight were it to pay greater attention to implementing a coordinated industrial policy, creating equal conditions for economic entities, and making a single tariff for energy carriers. We need to make better use of our experience of interregional cooperation. The results of the recent Parliamentary Assembly session and the 3rd Forum of Regions and Russia are evidence of great potential.”
Parliamentarians stated their decisions in the resulting document of the session, which has been sent to the legislative bodies of Belarus and Russia, the Council of Ministers of the Union State and others.
By Vladimir Bibikov