15.min.lt on July 1, 2013 reported that during its presidency over the European Union (EU), Lithuania will aim to reinforce the community’s closer relations with post-Soviet neighbors in the East and will have to head crucial negotiations on the EU’s new budget and banking union. Excerpts below:
Lithuania is took over the helm of the EU on July 1 and will be in charge of operations of the EU Council, which brings together officials of all member-states. The Baltic nation will also represent the institution in negotiations with the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as present the EU position in relations with third countries and international organizations.
“It is the start of a historic six months for our country. We have a unique opportunity to tell Europe what Lithuania can be proud of – capacities of our people, beauty and achievements of our country,” President Dalia Grybauskaitė said.
Lithuania will host more than 200 meetings including over a dozen on the ministerial level. About 30,000 guests are expected in Lithuania.
“The countries that have the presidency responsibility for the first time see it as some type of a transition from the status of an EU newcomer to an old member,” Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, director of Vilnius University’s International Relations and Political Science Institute,said.
The EU Eastern Partnership program, which seeks closer economic and political relations with six post-Soviet countries, will be one of the Lithuanian presidency priorities. In November, their leaders along with EU top officials will be invited to a Vilnius summit for expected signing of an association and free trade agreement with Ukraine and announced completion of negotiations on the agreements with Armenia, Moldova, and Georgia.
“Lithuania’s focus during the presidency will be placed on Ukraine, and the biggest hopes in the region are pinned to the country. However, knowing the political situation in Ukraine, it is obvious that nobody can give any guarantees – a lot depends on the official Kiev and its position on the Association Agreement,” political scientist Vytis Jurkonis said.
Eastern Partnership has caused Russia’s concern, as the country has been long urging Ukraine to join the Customs Union it has been building. Moscow wants the Customs Union to evolve into a well-integrated Eurasian Union.
Lithuanian and EU officials, in their turn, warn that Ukraine cannot be member of both blocs at the same time, saying it could not expect a free trade agreement with the EU after joining the Customs Union.
Laurynas Kasčiūnas, an expert at the Eastern Europe Study Center in Vilnius, says that the post-Soviet region is locked in a geopolitical struggle.
“Seeing now Russia aims to lure Ukraine into the Eurasian Union, we can definitely say that there is a geopolitical struggle. Of course, nobody will say it openly, but it is indeed a geopolitical struggle, especially for Lithuania and Poland – it is the matter of two integration areas, which will be more attractive to the countries between them. It is of crucial importance,” Kasčiūnas said.
Some EU countries demand that, prior to signing of the agreement, Ukraine release its ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. The Western world deems her imprisonment a politically-motivated prosecution, also defined as “selective justice.”
Chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s European Affairs Committee Gediminas Kirkilas says that the September general elections in Germany will shed light on the situation in connection to the Ukrainian agreement.
During its EU Council presidency, Lithuania will focus on the negotiations on the 2014-2020 EU budget of nearly one trillion euros. Although EU institutions reached a political agreement on the budget last week, the EP vote will take place during the Lithuanian presidency. Lithuania will have to coordinate talks on more than 70 legal acts regulating individual budget programs.
“Lithuania needs to prepare for very serious, lengthy and difficult negotiations, as the 70 regulations on the 2014-2020 financial perspective will be a challenge for us,” Liberal MP Petras Auštrevičius to said.
Creation of the EU banking union will be yet another important issue. During the Lithuanian presidency in July-December, EU institutions and member-states will continue harmonizing rules of restructuring troubled banks without spending tax-payer money but using the bank money, as well as ways of ensuring shared bank supervision.
Lithuania’s government expects to adopt the euro in 2015.