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Home » Focus, Lithuanian EU Presidency

The Expectations of the Lithuanian Presidency

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2013 – 17:09

By Dr Saulius Spurga, Associate Professor in Political Science, Mykolas Romeris University

The holding of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU is considered one of the most important events in Lithuania in 2013. The country will take over the Presidency in the second half of the year for the first time. In comparison, Ireland, which is holding the Presidency in the first half of the year, is fulfilling this duty for the seventh time.

The importance of the event became evident to the Lithuanian public during the appointment of new ministers after the 2012 general elections. The President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, who appoints the ministers upon the submission by the Prime Minister, has raised two additional requirements, the command of one of the three working languages of the EU, and the knowledge of the European agenda in the field of prospective responsibilities. Some candidates, proposed by the political parties of the ruling coalition, have not succeeded in passing of “the exam”. The likely result of this selection, higher requirements for ministers, has been beneficial not only to the EU, but to Lithuania as well. Generally it is expected that the main benefit from the challenge of the Presidency would be the increase of the experience of the Lithuanian public service and the politicians.

It is not a secret that Europe has experienced hard times, due to the Eurozone crisis and subsequently the crisis of political confidence. The Baltic states, first of all Latvia and Lithuania, have been especially severely hit by the crisis and responded to it by draconian cuts in public spending and drastically increased taxes. On the other hand, the Baltic states have been probably the first in the EU to recover after the crisis and now display the significant increase of the economy.

The most important goal of European politicians now is to restore the confidence in the EU economy, to promote growth and employment, and to reinforce Economic and Monetary Union. These goals are evident for Lithuanian politicians, preparing the agenda for the EU Presidency. President Dalia Grybauskaitė has promised that Lithuania “will aim to be an honest and reliable broker in addressing the issues of major importance for the whole of Europe”.

However, Lithuania has raised four priorities for its Presidency, which coincide with its own foreign policy agenda.

The first priority is to strengthen energy security. Recently the problems of closer integration of the internal energy market and the consolidation of energy infrastructure have gained more attention at the EU level. For Lithuania, energy security is the burning issue inasmuch as the country, with regard to energy, remains an isolated island dependent on raw materials from Russia. The dependency became even more evident after the decommissioning of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, which was a condition for Lithuania joining the EU.

The second priority is the support for the European Union Baltic Sea Region Strategy through regional co-operation. This Strategy, the first macro-regional strategy in Europe, was approved in 2009. Lithuania’s share of the Baltic Sea Region in total trade exceeds 50% and the country is interested in promoting regional projects in different fields.

The third priority is increasing of the involvement of the Eastern Partnership countries at the EU level. The input of Lithuania to the foreign policy of the EU with regard to the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) has been always noticeable, and sometimes Lithuania has been involved in resolving the problems of the countries in the name of the EU. Lithuania will seek, that during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013, the Association Agreements, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, will be signed with Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and probably with Ukraine.

The fourth priority is the effective protection of the EU borders and intensified efforts to fight smuggling and fraud. Lithuania is bordered by Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad region and smuggling is an everyday problem for the frontier towns of the country.

The Presidency of Lithuania coincides with an especially intensive period of the EU’s existence. It is planned that during the Presidency about 200 EU legal acts will be passed. It will be the greatest number of legal acts passed during the Presidency in EU history. Lithuania will deal with particularly complex European issues. Among them are the passing of the implementing legal acts of the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020 (if the general agreement on the Framework is achieved during the Irish Presidency), the discussions on the single banking supervisory mechanism, and the Common Agriculture Policy towards 2020.

The Prime Minister of Lithuania, social democrat Algirdas Butkevičius, has observed that Bundestag elections in Germany in the autumn of 2013 and the end of the European Parliament’s term may impede decision-making for the Lithuanian EU Presidency.

The Presidency will be the major challenge for the Lithuanian public service and for its politicians. The President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė is the exception, since she is well acquainted with European issues. She was elected as President in 2009 holding at that time the position of a member of the European Commission. She was responsible for the financial programming and the budget. In 2005, Grybauskaitė was named “Commissioner of the Year” in the “European Voice” Europeans of the Year poll, and recently was awarded the 2013 Charlemagne prize, one of the most prestigious European prizes by the German city of Aachen.

The recession has shaken confidence in the EU project in many countries, but the Baltic states remain protagonists of deeper European integration and the euro. Estonia introduced the euro in 2011. Latvia, in the peak of the Eurozone crisis, declared that it has plans to join the zone by the beginning of 2014. Lithuania hopes to join the Eurozone in 2015.

As a result of the crisis, the Baltic states became more oriented towards the Nordic countries. However, even after 9 years of membership in the EU, they are still labeled “the new EU members”. One can only hope that the Presidency of the Council of the EU can help to change this attitude.