2013 has the potential to be a big year for Lithuania, as in its second half the country will hold the EU Presidency, and is also set to host the the Eastern Partnership summit in its capital, Vilnius, in November. It will be accompanied by meetings of the Civil Society Forum, Business Forum, the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities, Youth Forum, and possibly by the Foreign Affairs Committee meeting of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. The possible itinerary for this summit has come into the spotlight — as the summit presents an opportunity to collectively analyze the varying degrees of success, or lack thereof, that the Eastern Partnership countries have had in the last year. Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius has already begun to weigh in on this issue in recent weeks…
In a visit to Stockholm last week, Linkevicius discussed the progress of the Eastern Partnership countries with Swedish officials, and expressed his view that the more active participation of the 6 EaP countries demonstrates their increasing commitment to European Union values. In spite of this, Linkevicius took care to mention that there were also issues within each country which gave cause for concern, and that discussions of agreements on free trade, visa liberalization and the implementation of Association Agreements would depend on the extent of the progress of the individual countries in the coming year.
The Minister explained during an interview from Sweden:
“The situation is different in every case. Let’s take Moldova which has moved forward a bit more. We also want to achieve certain results with Ukraine but we see that certain obstacles are there which don’t let us hope for automatic success. Georgia also needs to do a lot of homework, and we are intensively talking with it. Every country has its own individuality, and we cannot say with certainty that success will come. But time until November will not be waited. We have a plan and know what we want. We hope that those countries also know what they want. We should also understand there’s no guarantee of success.”
Lithuania aims to make closer integration with its EaP partners a priority during the country’s Council Presidency, but many argue it faces a challenging road ahead, as the EU has become less attractive and influential to its neighbors in the last year, due to the eurozone crisis and other upheavals within the Union. The disintegration of the EU’s appeal has served to highlight the importance of a coherent and consistent EU policy towards its Eastern partners. Lithuania announced at the July European Parliament plenary session that it intended to make enhanced relations within the EaP a high priority of its EU Council presidency, and its plan to give a stronger economic angle to the EU’s cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – with the theory that if economics is the issue, than likewise, it could also offer the solution.
Although the relationship with EaP might be a top priority for the Lithuanian government, such priorities are not necessarily filtered down to the Lithuanian people themselves. In a recent excursion to Vilnius, Eastbook.eu asked some local citizens about their views of Lithuanian relations with the EaP countries. Agnė Nutė, an expert in Comparative Social Policy and Welfare spoke and Vilnius native, spoke about perceptions of these relations saying:
“This issue is not so talked about on a daily basis. For example, during Georgia’s war with Russia in 2008, Lithunian relations with Georgia were quite close, and improved during this period. Now with the change of Presidency, it seems that relations are not as strong. Although, in previous governments, Lithuania was looking very much to the Western model, and the United States – the new government is focused much more on its Eastern neighbors, and cultivating these ties.”
It remains to be seen how Lithuania will address this issue in the lead up to the EaP Summit at the end of the year.