The 1st of July was an eventful turning point for the European Union, as it ushered in both a new Member State in Croatia, and the Lithuanian EU Council Presidency. Croatia’s entrance to the EU is being heralded as the last addition for the foreseeable future, the other countries in the western Balkans may eventually follow their peer, but it will likely take at least another 10 years due to internal political circumstances, problems with neighbours, and other well known issues related to organised crime and corruption. And for the EU’s neighbors to the east, the path to accession is an even longer and more difficult one.
In the latter respect, Lithuania’s EU Presidency is being regarded by some as a crucial stage in deepening cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partnership, as the Baltic nation is considered to be in a unique position to reach out to its eastern neighbours. At the center of its Presidency goals Lithuania wants to put energy issues, the development of the Baltic region, and controls on the EU’s outer borders. In addition, the country also wants to bring the EU into closer cooperation with its eastern neighbors, like Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and in the longer term, next door neighbour, Belarus. Amid what others may consider more pressing considerations, Lithuania has defended its choice of priorities, highlighting the need for a more democratic neighbourhood, as Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė explained:
“Being in such a difficult situation, Europe is undoubtedly busy with its own problems. The fact that Lithuania has put its own specific Eastern Partnership issue on the agenda is more of a Northern European particularity which we are trying to highlight. Our duty is to remind that it’s for Europe’s own benefit to have more democratic neighbours and more developed ones, and that also means a safer environment.”
With Croatia’s inauguration today as the 28th member of the EU, it is perhaps a signal that such a process of democratisation is possible, even against great obstacles. As Croatian President, Ivo Josipovic told the nation today:
“This the day when we open a new chapter in the thick book of our history. The accession of Croatia to the European Union is confirmation that each one of us belongs to the European democratic and cultural set of values.”
Also speaking about the expansion of the EU sphere in the form of brand new member, Croatia, President Grybauskaitė reiterated Lithuania’s role in the coming term as EU Presidency holder:
“With Croatia joining the EU, we will have 28 member states in the Union. Lithuania’s presidency priorities reflect the interests of all European citizens – we will seek financial stability, economic growth and job creation. Another major goal of our presidency will be open and safe Europe and its neighborhood,” the President said.
And now our neighbour Lithuania @eu2013lt takes over the EU Presidency. Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius key challenge.
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) July 1, 2013
Lithuania will also host the Eastern Partnership Summit in its capital, Vilnius, in November. The summit is tipped to be a major crossroads for the Eu and EaP, particularly Ukraine, which stands to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. That is, if all reforms are successful completed, including the release of jailed ex-Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, an issue which on which Lithuania is adamant. Many analysts are arguing that the expectations placed upon Lithuania’s presidency are far too vast to be achieved. Especially considering this terms predecessor was Ireland, which just completed its 7th tenure as president—making it an “old hand” at EU negotiations. It is an argument well summarised by analyst Ramunas Vilpisauskas, director of the politics department at the University of Vilnius, who explains why Lithuania could struggle with the complex tasks ahead:
“Our success depends a lot on the situation in those countries and their leaders: will they introduce reforms or not? Lithuania’s chance of having an essential influence is very limited.”