Exclusive interview of the Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Linas Linkevičius
1. Which shall be the first steps of Lithuania as the EU Chairman?
Brussels will host Lithuanian ministers this week. Together with the other Lithuanian ministers, I will have the honour of presenting the priorities of Lithuanian Presidency in different committees of the European Parliament. This will be the starting point for various meetings and will form an introduction for the work of different committees and working groups.
The first meeting in Lithuania is the EPSCO Council (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs). It is taking place on 8-9 July, and includes discussions on topics of preventing youth smoking, mental health and ageing, as well as long-term perspective of sustainable heath systems, including the topic on EU health policy after 2013.
2. How do you today estimate the role of Lithuania in Baltic dimension of European integration?
As we often say – Europe begins at home. To Lithuania, the Baltic dimension in the EU is core – we see ourselves as part of a very dynamic and growing Baltic Sea region, our home. Lithuania, as well as our Baltic sea region partner countries is eager to make all necessary changes so that the EU integration process of the Baltic Sea region – EU internal market, in particular internal energy market is completed smoothly and competitiveness of this European macroregion is increased.
We expect to join the Eurozone by 2015, Latvia joining already next year. We are committed to implement regional energy and transport projects, as it was confirmed during the recent informal meeting of the three Baltic Prime ministers in Jūrmala in May and that stays on the agenda of the trilateral Baltic Council of Ministers.
Naturally, deeper European integration in the Baltic Sea region will be an important part of our agenda during the following six months of Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council. The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region is promoting a new model of regional cooperation, addressing transnational challenges, from environmental issues to boundaries of internal market. As Presidency of the EU Council we will lead discussions on the added value of such macroregional strategies to the deeper integration, for more sustainable, more competitive EU, for the benefit of EU citizens. We expect that Latvia and Estonia will put the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region on their EU presidency agendas in 2015 and 2018, as it was done by Sweden in 2009, Poland 2011 and Denmark last year.
In addition, the 4th Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea region will be held in Vilnius 11-12 November. It will serve as a platform for all regional stakeholders of the Baltic Sea, including partners outside EU, to discuss common problems at hand and search for the most proper model of sustainable development for the Baltic Sea Region.
Next year Lithuania is to celebrate the 10th anniversary since joining the EU. In 10 years the Baltic region has grown immensely and I am certain that the three Baltic states, together with our Nordic partners, Poland and Germany will establish itself as an example of effective regional cooperation and EU integration, working together for the stronger Baltic Sea region and, obviously, stronger EU.
3. During the Vilnius Summit of the EU and the “Eastern Partnership” member-states it is planned to sign and initial the Treaty on the EU Association with a number of countries. To your mind, which of these states have real prospects to get such treaty in Vilnius?
EU proceeds individually with each Eastern partner on the Association Agreement (AA) including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), according to the starting date of negotiations and the efforts made so far. Anyhow, in Vilnius we expect finalization of four AAs/DCFTAs - to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including its DCFTA part, and to initial respective agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. Also it is expected to reach a progress in negotiations of Association Agreement with Azerbaijan. At the moment all the prospects remain real. The final results will depend first of all on partners themselves. We all know the criteria Ukraine should meet in order to be prepared for the signing of AA/DCFTA and we hope to see the substantial progress until Vilnius Summit. We can already welcome Moldova on the finalized DCFTA negotiations, which lead substantially to the conclusion of the whole process of association negotiations with EU. Georgia is doing its utmost for negotiations to be finished early in July, and Armenia has the possibility to do the same in July or early autumn. Of course, EU side should also move smoothly responding appropriately to the efforts of the partners. European Commission proposal on the signature of EU-Ukraine AA/DCFTA and its provisional application shows that EU will be ready for signing in Vilnius – if Ukraine delivers. It is important for EU to be technically ready for the initialing of three other AAs/DCFTAs as well.
4. Which are the successes of Lithuanian diplomacy in such regions of post-soviet area as Central Asia and South Caucasus?
For over twenty years Lithuania has been successfully developing diplomatic relations with the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus region. During this period our cooperation with these states grew into the mutually beneficial partnerships and continues to evolve in many different fields. Our biggest achievement is friendship we enjoy with all of these countries on the state level and among our peoples. A good example of this friendship is a growing number of students that come to study to Lithuania from Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Lithuania’s economic cooperation and trade with the countries of Central Asia and South Caucasus is increasing every year. Lithuania is especially interested in promotion of cooperation in the fields of energy, transport and transit.
Lithuania supports the deepening of economic integration and political association of the South Caucasus countries with European Union. We are glad that the conclusion of negotiations of the EU Association agreements with Georgia and Armenia is anticipated shortly and at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius this autumn we expect to mark good progress in the EU-Azerbaijan Association agreement negotiations. We support increased mobility between EU and South Caucasus countries. We are glad that Georgia is implementing Visa liberalization plan with EU, Armenia has singed the Visa Facilitation and Readmission agreements and Azerbaijan is expected to complete Visa Facilitation and Readmission agreements in time for Vilnius Summit. We hope for visa free travel in due course for those countries that will be ready to continue with the necessary reforms to achieve that.
Security and stability in both regions is also our concern. During our OSCE chairmanship, our goal was to facilitate conflict resolution efforts in the South Caucasus. Lithuania has also advocated for a strategic OSCE engagement with Afghanistan involving Central Asia enabling these neighbouring countries better address common challenges and threats, such as terrorism and drug trafficking. For example, every year Lithuania is organizing joint training exercises for Central Asian and Afghanistan border guards, who come to Lithuania to gain new knowledge as well as establish new contacts with the colleagues from the neighbouring countries.
In Lithuania we believe that every little increase in cooperation and mutual understanding with Central Asia and South Caucasus countries is already an achievement that can bring us closer together and grow into increasingly beneficial partnerships.
5. Which is the role of NATO in assurance of energy safety of Your country?
Today global security environment is different from what it was even 20 years ago – the probability of conventional attack against NATO allies is low, however new security challenges such as cyber, terrorism, climate change and energy security are more evident. It is needless to mention that energy is one of the national security priority areas for Lithuania as the country is heavily dependent on energy imports from outside EU and NATO and is currently implementing a number of strategic infrastructure projects aiming at decreasing this dependency.
Needless to say that NATO cannot solve all the problems related to energy security. NATO’s added value in energy security lies within its transatlantic nature, its intelligence sharing platforms, civil emergency planning structures as well as its wide partnership network.
First, consultations between Allies are a key part of the decision-making process at NATO, allowing nations to exchange views and information, and to discuss issues within the North Atlantic Council (NAC). This prerogative is outlined in Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty. NATO is an open platform for the members of the Alliance to discuss also unconventional threats including energy security, based on enhanced intelligence sharing.
Second, NATO as an Alliance has appropriate capabilities and experience in civil emergency planning. We believe that NATO can provide added value in this area, therefore it should include energy related scenarios into exercises and training events on a regular basis.
Third, NATO in cooperation with other international organisations and partner countries creates added value through the development and exchange of best practices and guidelines on critical energy infrastructure protection.
Fourth, NATO is getting increasingly engaged in military energy effectiveness. NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence, which was initiated by Lithuania and is based in Vilnius, is assisting Allies and Partners by providing expertise and supporting capability development processes in order to achieve energy efficiency in military forces and military missions.
Finally, we believe that in order to be relevant in today’s security environment and to be able to respond effectively to emerging security challenges such as energy security NATO future lays in a holistic security organization, being able to discuss, consult and act in these relevant issues.