Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Diplomatie & Défense
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  S.E.M. / H.E. Giedrius Cekuolis

On the Frontline of Europe’s New Geopolitical Challenges


Sixteen years after reclaiming their independence, Lithuanians have become full-fledged citizens of the European Union. Two years after joining the EU, on 1 May 2004, Lithuania is now gearing up to adopt the euro. H.E. Giedrius Cekuolis, the Ambassador of Lithuania to France, tells our readers about the deep-reaching reforms his country had to enact in order to make this historic shift, and shares the Baltic view on the new challenges posed by Europe’s neighbors to the East.


The Diplomatic Letter: Mr Ambassador, Lithuania’s integration into the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance, in the spring of 2004, capped an amazingly swift period of deep-reaching political and economic changes. Two years later, can you tell us how being a member of the Euro-Atlantic community, and the European Union in particular, has helped your country?


H.E. Giedrius Cekuolis: Joining the EU and NATO has changed our country’s role in both regional and international affairs. Lithuania joined these two organizations with the aim of becoming an active and creative member who could help forge political ideas and practical solutions for enhancing regional cooperation. We were determined to be a member who could promote the universal principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

I would like to mention a few concrete advantages to belonging to the European Union. The most important one, without a doubt, is the ability to make decisions, on an equal footing with other member countries, about a wide array of European issues. Indeed, I think that Lithuania’s proposals are warmly welcomed and appreciated, especially our ideas concerning the EU’s relations with our neighbors to the east: Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and the countries of the Caucasus.

In addition, EU financial support and subsidies have been instrumental in developing our economy and financing reforms inside our country. Lithuania received roughly one billion euros in structural funds and 750 million euros in agricultural assistance for the 2004-2006 period. This aid could well be expanded to 5.8 and 4.6 billion euros respectively, for 2007-2013.

The tremendous opportunities of the EU internal market have also been opened up to Lithuanian companies. Lithuanian exports to EU member countries now account for approximately two-thirds of our total exports. The volume of trade is steadily rising, confirming that Lithuania feels quite confident about the European open market.


T.D.L.: As the first country to have ratified the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, how do you account for the ultimate failure of this project? What are your thoughts on the European project for closer political unity?


H.E.G.C.: The results of the referendums in France and the Netherlands should not, in our view, stop us from pushing forward with the European integration process. The European Constitution should further consolidate this process. Issuing a common political declaration could, in this respect, be the first step toward changing the context – instead of the content – of the constitutional debate.

At this point in time, the EU needs a clear direction, strong institutions, and new initiatives. There are four preliminary conditions to building the Europe we envision. First, Europeans must be more open to new solutions. Second, solidarity and fairness must remain the heart and soul of the EU. Third, we must feel greater responsibility towards the people of our own countries, as well as the people in neighboring countries that fall under our influence. Our vision of the European construction process will effect all of the EU’s neighbors as well: Turkey, the Balkans, the South Caucasus, Ukraine, and, of course, Russia. Finally, Europe must advocate policies that promote democratic values more forcefully, and must reaffirm its intention to pursue common goals. European foreign policy must hence help to champion democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

We must also do our best to understand our citizens’ views and misgivings as to the future of Europe. We must make the EU more intelligible and more palatable to EU citizens. To that end, the Commission’s decision to launch the “D Plan for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate” in Europe is a step in the right direction. National governments should take the same track. An in-depth debate will require a common agenda and a readily understandable and acceptable action plan, which means it must take into account the diverse social, economic and tax models followed in the various member states. These models reflect the distinctive characteristics of each nation and make for fair competition all across Europe. If reducing the gap between its richest and poorest member states is truly a priority for the EU, then adopting services directives is the best way to go about it.

T.D.L.: Lithuania, dubbed the “Baltic Tiger,” has posted steady growth since the late 1990s, with some sectors of the economy even starting to overheat. Will Lithuania’s desire to adopt the single European currency and join the Schengen zone put your country under new constraints? How is it preparing for this shift? What advantages will Lithuanian companies have on the highly competitive European market?


H.E.G.C.: Implementing vital political and economic reforms, which were carried out with great methodology but did prove nonetheless to be “painful” at times, enabled us to create a brand-new and sound civil service, as well as a dynamic and open economy. In recent years, Lithuania has had one of the fastest paces of economic growth in Europe. Introducing the euro and joining the Schengen zone are the focal points of our European agenda for 2006. This past May 16th, the European Commission issued a ruling saying that Lithuania was not ready to adopt the euro at the start of 2007. It came to this conclusion in spite of the sound health of our country’s public finances. In fact, our public deficit and level of debt are among the lowest in EU member countries, and are well below the limits set out in the Maastricht Treaty. The European Commission has deemed, nonetheless, that Lithuania does not meet one of the five criteria for joining the single currency: our inflation rate is slightly higher- by one tenth of a percent – than the target figure. We remain determined, all the same, to adopt the euro. This will be a major and highly beneficial step forward for us in both the political and economic arenas, enabling Lithuania to become a full-fledged actor in the common market.


T.D.L.: With an unemployment rate hovering around 10% and a relatively high poverty level, what are the main priorities of your country social policy ?


H.E.G.C.: Although the Lithuanian economy has been posting steady development figures, there is still a great deal more to be done in the social and employment arenas. Among the lingering problems in these areas, we are focusing on: increasing investments in our human capital to widen access to jobs; fine tuning the legal framework that regulates labor relations; and, on a broader level, modernizing our labor market. I would, nonetheless, like to underscore the fact that our economic growth has created new jobs and thus sparked a steady drop in the unemployment rate, which fell to 8.3% in 2005, the lowest level in the past five years.


T.D.L.: In the wake of the hotly debated elections in Belarus, your country reaffirmed its support for the democratic advances made in this country. What is Lithuania doing to bolster this process? How does the the current situation in Belarus differ from the situation in Ukraine in December 2004 ?


H.E.G.C.: Lithuania has voiced its concern about the fact that the presidential election in Belarus was held in a climate of fear, without any guarantee of free speech and without allowing all candidates to participate on an equal footing. An election of the sort cannot be considered free and democratic. In fact, the members of the observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) proved that this election was flawed. Lithuania has voiced its support for the Belarusian citizens who are defending democracy. It has asked the Belarusian government to release all people held prisoner, and to guarantee that human freedoms are not violated in the future and that every citizen has the right to express his or her beliefs.

We believe that we should continue to work with Belarusian civil society and should look for ways to make EU financial support to that country more effective and less bureaucratic. We should be able to do this, despite the difficulty of continuing to work in Belarus. The reestablishment of the European Humanities University in Lithuania is one concrete example, among others, of Europe’s support for the democratic future of Belarus. This successful rebirth is also another strong sign of the EU’s support for all civil societies in its close vicinity.

Furthermore, victims of the Belarusian regime must be able to count on our legal and financial support, and support in other arenas as well. By the same token, it is important for us to pay more attention to ongoing discussions regarding the creation of a unified Russian-Belarusian State, and to consider its eventual consequences.

To answer your second question, it is hard to compare the election held in Belarus to the situation in Ukraine in 2004, because there was no popular support for the democratic movement in Belarus. There is no free or independent press there, either. What’s more, the opposition candidates were not allowed to calmly gather the signatures required to put their names on the ballot, or to run their election campaigns freely. The repression in Ukraine wasn’t as heavy. There wasn’t widespread electoral fraud either. The real difference is that Ukrainian society had already come to realize its own strength, while Belarusian society is either taken in by the state propaganda machine, or absolutely terrified. All the same, it is remarkable that such a tiny opposition could join forces and show that there are people in Belarus who dare to think differently than the current regime and to speak out about it.


T.D.L.: Creating a “free and democratic region between the Baltic and the Black Seas” is one of Lithuania’s key foreign policy goals. Could you summarize the political objectives and means of action of the “Community of Democratic Choice” that Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Georgia are determined to build? What is Lithuania doing to help advance the democratization process in the latter two countries?


H.E.G.C.: I think the idea to build a “Community of Democratic Choice” was very much needed initiative. This forum is fostering closer cooperation as it shores up the democratic process in countries in the Caspian, Black and Baltic Sea regions. In fact, this is of utmost importance for a region looking to build democracy, economic well being, and political stability. Shared values, free trade, and a successful European common market can only be ensured if the budding and the more seasoned democracies work together. It is absolutely vital for Europe to reassess its principles of coexistence. This is why the presidents of Lithuania and Poland jointly hosted a high-level meeting in Vilnius on May 4-5 of this year. The general theme of the 2006 Vilnius Conference was: “Common Vision for a Common Neighborhood.” It was attended by the presidents of nine European States (Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine), the Vice-President of the United States Mr. Richard Cheney, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Mr. Javier Solana, and representatives of other States and international organizations. In their joint communiqué, conference participants underscored the irreversible democratic advances that have been made in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the importance of regional cooperation and the development of the European Neighborhood Policy. They also confirmed their support for non-governmental agencies working to promote democratic values in Europe and for the idea of creating a European Democracy Fund.

Lithuania’s relations with the countries of the former Soviet Union have improved, and are growing steadily stronger. Like the other two Baltic countries, Lithuania takes great interest in the former Soviet countries, bolstered by its own experience in implementing political and economic reforms with the aim of integrating European and Transatlantic structures. We feel it would be easier and more logical for us to share our own experience with the countries of Eastern Europe, whose current objectives are similar to those we once had. Our experience has made us a key Eastern Europe expert within the EU. it is in our own interest to develop a more active European policy in this region.

I would also like to underscore that Lithuania and Ukraine are working to expand and strengthen their bilateral ties. In December 2005, the Lithuanian and Ukrainian foreign affairs ministers issued a joint declaration on regional cooperation and European and Euro-Atlantic integration. This document spells out plans and measures designed to promote cooperation, enable the two countries to share their respective experiences, and facilitate Ukraine’s gradual integration into the EU.

Our country has traditionally maintained strong ties with the South Caucasus, a region, where we are greatly appreciated. They remember us fondly there. We are putting this capital to good use, both in our bilateral relations and in this region’s relations with the EU. Lithuania is one of the key initiators of the drive to include the South Caucasus in the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy, and is involved in talks to lay out European policy priorities for this region and the tools to ensure their successful achievement. The EU’s “rule of law” mission to Georgia, an idea put forward by Lithuania, among others, is an example of European instruments being successfully implemented in the South Caucasus. The Lithuanian representative was named deputy chief of mission, under the French mission head.

In the joint declaration by the Lithuanian and Ukrainian presidents on regional cooperation and fostering European and Euro-Atlantic integration, the two leaders reconfirmed their commitments in this arena, which include carrying out concrete projects and consulting experts. Last February, we launched long-term technical support for Georgia’s bid to join Europe. Our various experts visit Tbilissi on a regular basis, to consult with Georgian officials on the best way to prepare and coordinate its Action Plan for implementing the European Neighborhood Policy, with the aim of joining the EU. We are thus sharing our expertise in laying out of borders and military transit with Georgia.

Several other cooperation projects have been set up in other countries in the South Caucasus, as well as in Armenia and Azerbaijan. We are trying to treat the South Caucasus region as a whole, despite its internal conflicts and revolts. We are fostering stronger cooperation in the region – the only way to ensure that this region’s great potential is fully tapped. What’s more, the ongoing democratization processes are stabilizing this region and helping to bring greater security and stability to Russia as well.


T.D.L.: Croatia’s bid to join the European Union has been put on hold, while the debate over Turkey’s candidacy continues to rage, especially in France. Do you think Ukraine could conceivably be approved as a candidate for full EU membership? Under what conditions?


H.E.G.C.: Lithuania remains an active advocate of Ukraine’s integration into the EU. We believe the EU should open its doors to Ukraine. Bolstered by the success of the political and economic reforms carried out in our own country, as required by the EU, we favor the implementation of similar reforms in Ukraine. We are ready to offer Ukraine our wholehearted support, to carry this process to a successful end.

Stronger European support for President Viktor Yushchenko’s reforms is absolutely essential. Lithuania would still like to see talks opened up between Ukraine and the EU, with the aim of signing a bilateral agreement. The Cooperation and Partnership Agreement that currently governs EU-Ukraine relations will expire in 2008. Our country would also like to see the EU support Ukraine’s bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). We are trying to get the EU to draw up a more flexible agreement that would simplify the visa regime for Ukrainians. This is a very important issue in the eyes of Ukraine, both as concerns the contents of this agreement and the timetable for implementing it. Lithuania would also like to see Ukraine maintain its visa-free travel regime for EU citizens.

We must not forget that Ukraine is a state of great strategic importance. The long-term political objective of bringing this country into the European Union is in the best interest not only of Ukraine, but of the EU as well.


T.D.L.: While relations between Russia and Lithuania are very strong in the economic arena, they are also rather complex, as witnessed by your country’s refusal to participate in the commemorations held in Moscow in May 2005 to celebrate the victory over Nazi Germany. Does history weigh heavily on current relations between the two countries? What is being done to put the past behind? What special expertise can your country offer the European Union as it tries to build a lasting partnership with Russia?


H.E.G.C.: World War Two left particularly deep scars in Lithuania. The occupations, deportations and imprisonments, the horrible tragedy of the Holocaust, the concentration camps, the forced emigration – this is the painful heritage these totalitarian regimes left to the Lithuanian people. More than 350,000 people – a full tenth of the Lithuanian population – were thrown in prison, or sent to gulags in Siberia, or murdered inside Lithuania. These crimes were committed in our country after the war was officially over. The name “Lithuania” was wiped off European maps for fifty years. This is why President Valdas Adamkus decided to stay in Lithuania on 9 May 2005, alongside the Lithuanian people, and not go to Moscow.

We are currently witnessing very positive changes. A joint commission comprised of historians is starting to discuss these painful episodes in our history. The sooner Russia takes a hard look at its Soviet past, and puts it behind, the better it will be, especially for building democracy and mutual understanding.

Lithuania and Russia are now on neighborly terms. We have good relations that are being steadily bolstered. We have signed a border and reentry agreement to regulate immigration, which has resolved the problem of travelers from Kaliningrad transiting through Lithuania. Bilateral trade and investments are steadily growing as well.

The mutual understanding between our two countries has been forged by both geographic and historical circumstances. We have a unique cooperation experience, which is very useful for Lithuania as it helps to develop an EU-Russia dialogue. I believe that a true strategic partnership between the EU and Russia must be founded not only on shared interests, but also on shared values and a shared commitment to defending human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Otherwise, we will not be able to realize the full potential of our relations nor to continue enhancing them. We can expand our cooperation, without limiting ourselves to trade or energy resources. In short, our goal for relations between the EU and Russia is an open and constructive dialogue between two partners united by sound cultural, political and economic ties.


T.D.L.: Lithuania occupies a strategic location as a transit center for Russian oil bound for Northern Europe. During a trip to Berlin, President Valdas Adamkus said that your country opposed the construction of the German-Russian gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Why, in your opinion, was the overland project put forward by Lithuania, Latvia and Poland rejected? How will this project effect your country’s economy?


H.E.G.C.: Lithuania, like most EU countries, is highly dependent on Russia’s energy resources. Energy security issues are of keen importance in Europe. European energy policy lays great stress on guaranteeing that a stable supply of Russian gas reaches the West. This concern became all the more pressing after the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, which showed that delivering gas to Central and Western Europe through one single country is not a dependable system. We are hence in favor of the construction of the largest number of gas pipelines possible between Russia and the EU, which would ensure Europe a more stable gas supply. Germany, Europe’s biggest gas consumer, also favors this approach. The German-Russian project to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea is a perfect illustration of this country’s desire to ensure a stable supply of gas. Lithuania understands Germany’s position. It nonetheless opposes this project, which sidesteps the Baltic countries and Poland, and, in truth, serves national interests more than the interests of a common European energy policy.


T.D.L.: During a meeting in Trakai, Lithuania, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and his Latvian and Estonian counterparts agreed to lay out a common energy strategy. What steps could be taken, in your view, to prompt the European Union to develop a stronger energy policy? Are these three Baltic states cooperating in any other arenas? What can be done to strengthen the European Union’s “Northern Dimension,” a concept put forward by Finland and supported by your country?


H.E.G.C.: Ever since they reclaimed their independence, the Baltic countries have repeatedly raised the question of their integration into the Western European energy network. It must be admitted, nonetheless, that after fifteen years of independence, these countries’ energy systems are still part of the Russian energy zone.

The Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian prime ministers issued a declaration that laid out a common policy for ensuring nuclear energy supply by building a new nuclear power plant, marking the first serious step forward for “trilateral Baltic cooperation.” The Baltic States are already working together to set up electricity links between Estonia and Finland. The planned construction of a Lithuania-Sweden electrical link will complete the Baltic electricity network, and will tie it into electricity networks in Scandinavian countries.

We believe that the electricity link with Western Europe, crossing through Poland, is also of key importance. Once complete, it will tie Baltic electricity networks into the European energy system, and thus give Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia greater energy security. The EU should support these projects, which meet the European energy security objectives laid out in the European Commission’s Green Paper. We must also: find ways to develop interstate energy links throughout Europe; create a European energy network; draw up a common policy towards third-party countries, especially Russia; and create a crisis management mechanism.


T.D.L.: In September 2005, Vilnius hosted an international conference on the growing drug problem in the Baltic region. Could you sum up its findings for our readers? What can be done to heighten regional cooperation in the battle against drugs?


H.E.G.C.: On 27-28 September 2005, an international forum was held in Vilnius focusing on the “Drug Problem in the Baltic Region: New Challenges.” More than 200 anti-drug experts came together for two days, from countries like Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine, as well as various Scandinavian countries, and from an array of international organizations, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Health Organization, and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The objective of the conference was to foster closer cooperation between States in the Baltic region on drug-related problems, and to tighten control over EU borders. It also focused on making it easier for drug users to get better quality social and health care services, and stepping up prevention and control of transmittable diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Forum participants also encouraged Lithuania to heighten regional cooperation in the fight against organized crime, especially as concerns the trafficking of human beings, drug trafficking, and economic crime.

The Lithuanian initiative to expand cooperation with the United Nations and other international organizations is seen as an illustration of our country’s responsibility to help ensure the security of the Baltic region, and of the new EU member states’ determination to actively influence regional cooperation and to heighten their profile within the United Nations. Indeed, various projects to expand regional cooperation will be carried out in coming years.


T.D.L.: Your country has been a member of the Atlantic Alliance since 2004, and is active in the international stabilization force in Afghanistan. Can you describe the main areas where Lithuania is providing military support to NATO operations? After serving as the Chief Coordinator of Lithuania’s Integration to NATO, could you tell us how joining this alliance has altered your country’s security policy? Do you think NATO is strong enough to overcome the new challenges posed by terrorism and transnational crime on its own? What are your thoughts on the possible construction of a European defense structure?


H.E.G.C.: Joining NATO and the EU has enabled Lithuania to become not only a “recipient” of security and stability, but also a “supplier” of security and stability, by actively participating in operations led by the EU, the allied countries, and NATO.

Our armed forces are successfully participating in the international missions in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Georgia. Since 2005, Lithuania has commanded the provisional reconstruction team (PRT) comprised of allied forces of various nationalities – most notably American, Danish, Icelandic and Croat – working in Gor Province in Afghanistan.

The Baltic airspace surveillance mission – which began on 29 March 2004, right after Lithuania became a NATO member – is a concrete symbol of our successful integration into this organization. It also shows that Lithuania, like Latvia and Estonia, is an integral part of NATO’s integrated air defense system.

In view of the shifts on the international stage, and of the security guarantees offered by NATO, the number of regular soldiers will be steadily increased while the number of conscripts drafted into the army through mandatory military service is gradually cut down.

Lithuania has made tremendous strides in the area of national and collective defense in recent years. Our NATO allies have welcomed our plans to restructure Lithuania’s armed forces. Lithuanian military units are continually taking part in international operations. Lithuania is also involved in the planning process for NATO’s armed forces, and is preparing to increase the number of armed troops as necessary. It will not train additional units, since other NATO member countries already have a good number of them. In 2005, the Lithuanian Army had 17,664 troops, including 7,400 regular soldiers, 2,300 conscripts, and 5,380 active reservists.

Lithuania also participates in the European Security and Defense Policy, as part of our country’s security policy. Lithuania considers the European Union to be a key guarantor of its own security as well as the stability of the European continent as a whole.

The EU mission to strengthen the rule of law in Georgia is a perfect example of the many opportunities we have to actively participate in the elaboration of the European Security and Defense Policy, and to put the instruments at our disposal to good use. Lithuania supports the EU’s determination to be actively and fully involved in managing crises, not only in neighboring regions but in distant lands as well. We are confirming this position by serving as an observer in the EU missions in Indonesia and Gaza, and by helping to train judicial officials in Iraq. We lay great stress, however, on the need to heighten security and stability in the vicinity of the EU. Not only would we like to see the EU continue the missions it has undertaken in the Balkans and in Africa, we would also like it to put its own crisis management instruments into action more often, to resolve conflicts in countries on its eastern flank, which have a great impact on our own security. This is why we are paying such careful attention to the “rule of law mission” in Georgia, and to the EU’s Moldova-Ukraine border assistance mission. We believe that Europe can play a major role in internationalizing peacekeeping forces in conflict zones such as Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Creating and setting up combat forces has recently been one of the most important issues in the development of EU military capacities. Lithuania has supplied 200 troops to help create a combat force comprised of Polish, German, Slovak, Lithuanian and Latvian forces, which should ready for action in 2010. The creation of a European Defense Agency is considered a key step toward training European military forces to carry out crisis management operations. Lithuania has every intention of being fully involved in these missions.


T.D.L.: Lithuania is participating in the US-led mission in Iraq. What is your take on the problems encountered in stabilizing this country? Apart from this military alliance, have the United States and Lithuania stepped up their ties in any other arenas?


H.E.G.C.: We understand the difficulties of stabilizing Iraq, since this country is a border separating different ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East. What’s more, Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime ingrained deep-seated feelings of suspicion and mistrust in Iraqi society. We must, nonetheless, admit that many Iraqis are working very hard to give their country a future. Recent turnarounds in the creation of an Iraqi government – such as the decision to name Shi’ite Djavad al Maliki as prime minister, with the support of the representatives of the Kurdish and Sunni communities – give us good reason to hope that the instability in this country will end, and that the political crisis will be rapidly resolved and the sources fomenting civil war inside Iraq will be brought in check.

Strong transatlantic ties have remained an essential part of defense and security cooperation in Europe in recent years. The successful democratization of Central Europe and the Baltic countries is a spectacular example of what can be accomplished when the United States and the EU work together. Their joint efforts are also bearing fruit in the Balkans, a region that was in ruins after the war, nearly a decade ago.

It is important that we continue this bilateral dialogue and consult each other on a regular basis to share information on key global security issues. One of the top priorities in the strategic dialogue between the United States and the EU should be increasing the number of transparent governments that are truly representative of the rule of law and respect for human rights. Only by working hand-in-hand will they be able to successfully put these values into practice.

Furthermore, NATO remains our chief asset for strengthening and expanding the transatlantic tie. In Lithuania’s view, NATO reform and the member countries’ desire to enhance this strategic dialogue on all essential Alliance-related issues will also play a key role in this process.

Lithuania is also in favor of expanding EU-NATO ties, and of stepping up cooperation in international operations and missions and within the spheres of civilian forces, reconstruction, and reform. For the 19 countries that belong to both the EU and NATO, NATO enlargement is not just something they would like to see, it is a necessity, so that they can work together to make NATO more effective and to make changes to the common European Security and Defense Policy.

Our cooperation with the United States also takes another shape, with the “8+1” Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe, also called the e-PINE program. This is an American initiative for northern Europe, aimed at establishing a zone of stability and security in this region and using the experiences of Nordic and Baltic countries to help develop neighboring regions. We believe that this program is an important instrument in regional politics, because it creates a favorable climate for conducting joint cooperation projects between Baltic and Nordic countries and the United States. Both think-tanks and non-governmental organizations are taking part in this initiative.

Lithuania and the United States have established wide bilateral ties on many different levels, in the political, economic and cultural arenas. Let’s not forget that more than one million people of Lithuanian origin are now living in the United States.


T.D.L.: A long-standing use of French in your country has helped bolster French-Lithuanian relations, with frequent high-level state visits. After President Valdas Adamkus’ latest trip to France, in October 2005, in what specific arenas are France and Lithuania looking to further strengthen bilateral ties?


H.E.G.C.: This visit was of utmost importance to the expansion of bilateral ties between France and Lithuania. Our countries’ presidents agreed to carry on a permanent personal dialogue, so that they can jointly coordinate key issues on the European agenda. They also voiced their support for giving European society a bigger role in the discussions on the future of Europe. At the bilateral level, they underscored the excellent relations between our two countries.

The Lithuanian and French presidents also talked about our ties with countries to the east of the EU, namely Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The French president praised President Valdas Adamkus’ contributions to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and showed a keen interest in the political crisis this country has been undergoing recently.

As regards the prospect of expanding ties with Belarus, President Jacques Chirac stated that “Lithuania must take the lead in these relations, since Belarus is your neighbor and you are in the best position to assess the situation inside this country. We will support your initiatives.”


T.D.L.: President Valdas Adamkus laid special focus on strengthening bilateral trade ties during his trip to France, where he was accompanied by a delegation of business leaders. How do you account for the sharp rise in French exports to Lithuania? France remains a low-key investor in the Lithuanian market. What can be done to boost France’s foothold in your country?


H.E.G.C.: Special focus was laid on enhancing trade ties between France and Lithuania during President Valdas Adamkus’ trip to Paris. While we are delighted with the quality of bilateral ties in the political and cultural arenas, numerous opportunities for trade cooperation have yet to be tapped. Indeed, France holds the humble rank of the 16th foreign investor in Lithuania. This is why economic cooperation was stressed during our head of state’s trip to Paris. The president’s meeting with French business leaders from MEDEF was the perfect opportunity to remind everyone that modern-day Lithuania, as a member of the European common market, is a reliable partner for investors.

With regard to bilateral trade, let me underscore that bilateral trade figures are steadily improving. The new investment requirements of a fast-growing economy are a key factor in the increase in Lithuanian imports. It is thus hardly surprising to see France exporting more and more goods to Lithuania. I am happy to say that Lithuania has had a positive trade balance with France for several years now, and that current growth rates give us good reason to be optimistic. Lithuanian exports to France jumped 70% in 2005, over the 2004 figures. In January 2006, France was even our leading export partner.

The Lithuanian President warmly welcomed the offer from France’s government and nuclear energy companies to help us reflect on the best option for building a new nuclear power plant in Lithuania. He also voiced his desire to see Lithuania become a nuclear energy consumer.
  Cooperation between France and Lithuania is an ongoing process that has yet to reach its full stride. This is why it is imperative that our two countries maintain a steady dialogue and push ahead with their efforts and actions, focusing on shared objectives: creating a united and free Europe, guaranteeing security and stability in our region and throughout the world, and building friendly ties with both neighboring and third party countries.
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