An informal meeting of Europe’s ministers for foreign affairs - Gymnich - took place on Sept. 6-7 in Vilnius, where discussions centered on preparations for the December European Council on Defense Issues and items related to the Eastern Partnership and southern neighborhood policy, reports ELTA.
The Vilnius meeting was chaired by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.
Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius highlighted the importance of Eastern Partnership. “The member states express their solidarity with the countries of the Eastern Partnership program that have chosen the European path and strongly support them. Russia’s pressure on Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries will increase, so it is important to keep this item on the EU agenda. We must consider ways to help the countries withstand such pressure,” Linkevicius said.
Pressure from Russia is regarded as why Armenia, an Eastern Partnership country, this month agreed to join the Customs Union linking Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, turning its back on closer EU relations.
The Eastern Partnership Summit takes place on Nov. 28-29 in Vilnius.
The session on Sept. 7 was attended by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was paying a visit to Vilnius and presented his Middle East peace process plan, as well as highlighted the role of the EU in this process.
During the meeting, Linkevicius and Kerry stressed the significance of the transatlantic trade and partnership. The sides agreed that the signing of the free trade agreement (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - TTIP) between the EU and the U.S. would be a very important achievement, which would strengthen economies and create millions of new jobs.
At a discussion on EU Common Security and Defense Policy, Linkevicius emphasized the need to respond appropriately to new security challenges, especially to cyber and energy threats, and to coordinate EU actions with international partners.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite also met with Kerry to discuss bilateral relations, security in the Nordic and Baltic region, and international issues.
According to the president, the recent meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington started a new stage of strategic cooperation between the Baltic countries and the United States, which covers critical security and defense issues as well as cyber and economic collaboration. It means, the president said, that the United States places a special focus on the region and Lithuania, supporting stronger security guarantees for their people.
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Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmer Brok delivered a speech at the end of the Sept. 6 Inter-Parliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defense Policy in Vilnius.
Brok was in town to discuss the Syrian crisis. He remarked that these were dramatic times which call for decisive action by the EU. “I hope that the foreign ministers meeting today and tomorrow [at Gymnich] will stand up to the challenge they have before them. Russia’s aggressive behavior cannot be tolerated. The Soviet Union is gone and Russia has accepted to be part of a world order based on the rule of law. Russia is member of the WTO, has signed the Helsinki Declaration, and most of all is permanent member of the UN Security Council. Russia cannot ignore its obligations and go about threatening other countries,” he said.
The use by Russia of trade and energy for political purposes against its neighbors and their sovereign decisions cannot be tolerated, Brok continued.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General, participated in the Inter-Parliamentary Conference, where he encouraged the member countries to more closely cooperate with one another in the sphere of defense, as this was the way to strengthen the Alliance.
Rasmussen highlighted that he was for the strengthening of cooperation and that he wants to see an increase in investment in military capabilities. According to the NATO Secretary General, there was a need to invest not only into the NATO, but into the strong partnership of the NATO and the European Union (EU).
“As a believer in both Europe and NATO, I am convinced that Europeans should not be content with playing the role of a global spectator. We can be and must be global actors. At the European Council in December, we Europeans have to make a strategic choice. We should put our money where our mouth is and our resources where the need is. We should build capabilities, not bureaucracies. And we should build them together - as Europeans cooperating with each other and with our North American allies,” said Rasmussen.
Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Juozas Olekas met with the UK Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond, where successful cooperation in defense and security areas was discussed.
Olekas expressed his appreciation of the cooperation between the UK and Lithuania within the European framework: on July 1 a company of Lithuanian military service members entered a 6-month standby period in the UK-led EU Battlegroup (EU BG). The defense ministers also discussed details of the upcoming seminar on the EU BG efficiency, which their countries will jointly organize on Oct. 14-15 in London.