Mercredi 21 Août 2019  
 

N°101 - Premier trimestre 2013

La lettre diplometque
  Éditorial
Kazakhstan
Lituanie
  Fiscalité, union douanière, lutte contre la fraude : trois enjeux majeurs pour la présidence lituanienne de l'UE
 
  La coopération parlementaire accompagne une belle page de l’Histoire lituanienne
 
  Des relations d’amitié fortes entre nos deux pays
 
  Un marché en devenir
 
  Les clés de la croissance économique en Lituanie : vers l’approfondissement de ses relations avec la France
 
  La Lituanie et la France : Des relations d’affaires exemplaires
 
  L'IFL : vecteur de liens forts et durables entre la France et la Lituanie
 
  Consul honoraire : une vocation, une mission
 
  Un profond attachement aux missions de l’UNESCO
 
Libye
Philippines
Gabon - Diploprofil©
opinion
Coopération internationale
Formation et Enseignement supérieur
 
La lettre diplometque
La lettre diplomatique Haut
     Lituanie
 
  S.E.Mme / H.E. Jolanta Balciuniene

At the core of the EU Presidency 


Lithuania will be taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time in its history in the second half of 2013. This Baltic State is poised to honour the heavy responsibility that will rest on it, its economy is among Europe’s most buoyant and it has acquired experience chairing the OSCE in 2011. H.E. Jolanta Balciuniene, Lithuanian Ambassador to France, talked to us about this responsibility, Lithuania’s thriving economy and its role at the crossroads of exchanges.

 

The Diplomatic Letter : Madam Ambassador, nine years after joining the European Union (EU), Lithuania will be taking over the European Council’s rotating presidency on 1 July 2013. What is your view on the challenges that this responsibility will entail? 

 

H.E. Jolanta Balciuniene : When it takes over the EU Presidency, Lithuania will be focusing principally on all the issues that are making headlines in Europe today – budgetary discipline, ec onomic growth and jobs – and on building an open and safe Europe while maintaining good neighbourly relations.

Lithuania will have a complex agenda. And the workload will be all the more substantial as we will be taking over the EU Presidency at the end of an institutional cycle, i.e. precisely when the European Commission and Parliament will be wrapping up their work before the elections – which, as you know, are coming around in the spring of 2014. The goal is to complete the legislative agenda during this period. This will entail adopting a large number of laws. At this point, it is clear that the EU will not be in a position to enact all the legal instruments (there are more than 70) to set up the multiannual financial framework. Adopting these momentous European laws, which will be in force for seven-year cycles after that, is an additional responsibility for the country presiding over the EU. And remember the countries that take over the EU’s helm for the second half of the year are also in charge of striking a deal on the EU budget for the following year (2014 in our case). 

We will probably be faced with another challenge during our term presiding over the EU: efficiently and effectively defusing unforeseen crises, which are breaking out increasingly often. We are aware that tackling those challenges (I am thinking about the Euro crisis, ‘Arab Spring’ and so forth) involves very substantial efforts and focus. We know that and are factoring it into our preparation work. 

This will be the first time Lithuania will ever serve as EU Council President. That mandate involves heavy responsibility. And we are preparing very thoroughly. We started getting organised at the beginning of 2011. Today, we can see that our efforts on this front are on track and on schedule. The change in government did not disrupt this drive because Lithuania’s political parties had signed an agreement back in in 2011 to ensure preparation for EU Presidency rolls out seamlessly. We have appointed the EU Presidency team and mapped out the calendar and programme. We are certain that we will effectively serve as a ‘diligent broker’ among the EU’s 28 Member States (Croatia will no doubt have joined by July 2013) and rally them around the key issues on the EU agenda. 

 

T.D.L.: How are Vilnius and Paris cooperating on the strategic partnership that France and Lithuania signed in 2011? 

 

H.E.J.B.: We are delighted to be able to count a strategic partner country such as France, which holds sway in Europe and around the world. Our two countries share strong historical, political, economic and cultural ties. We are maintaining bilateral political dialogue through a variety of top-level visits and meetings to discuss important EU-related issues: former French Prime Minister Mr François Fillon visited Lithuania in 2011, we have run several consultations between France and Lithuania on the multiannual financial framework, and our Foreign Affairs, Justice and Defence Ministers have travelled back and forth for several meetings.

Baltic State and French Foreign Affairs Ministries’ European Affairs Directors also meet every year, and we are permanently exchanging views through various EU bodies starting with Council working groups and special attaché talks on cooperation, and ending with direct exchanges in the European Council. Lastly, I would like to add that Lithuania particularly appreciates France’s plans to second a diplomat specialising in African countries and cooperation for development to Vilnius during Lithuania’s presidency. We are also delighted that France will be overseeing airspace security Baltic States during that period, for the fourth time in history. More generally, the partnership between France and Lithuania is rolling out smoothly and we are working side by side with our French partners to head in that direction.

 

T.D.L.: In July 2013, the European Parliament will be ruling on the budget framework that EU Heads of State and Government will have adopted for 2014-2020. What is your view on the criticism that this settlement has sparked? And, more generally, how is your country planning to go about deepening the EU’s economic and financial governance? 

 

H.E.J.B.: The European Parliament has consistently advocated minimal budgetary rigor in past and present talks. The main net contributors to the budget, however, have clearly stated that they cannot increase their contributions and that the EU budget must factor in national consolidation instruments. The European Council’s February 2013 agreement on the EU’s austerity budget reflects the tough macroeconomic situation and the EU’s pessimistic growth forecasts. 

The budget compromise is not perfect but, if the European Council had not reached that consensus at its latest meeting, there was a real risk that it would not strike a deal in the foreseeable future. That would have dealt the EU a severe blow. It would have sent out a negative signal to financial markets and external partners, and the programmes under the new financial framework would not have started on schedule. 

We are aware that negotiations with the European Parliament will be intense and tough. But I really hope the budget compromise that the European Council has adopted will be approved. 

As regards strengthening the EU’s economic and financial management, I would like to point out that Lithuania is for stepping up the EU’s economic integration. In June and December 2012, the European Council sent out a unanimous message stating that securing stability in the Eurozone, and indeed in the European financial system, public finances and economies, necessarily entailed tightening economic and monetary union. The European Council has made a number of decisions that will need to take effect over this coming period, such as creating the banking union and associated supervisory system, a restructuring mechanism and a shared deposit protection scheme.

It is important that all Member States rank the agreed measures – the agreement on financial discipline, legislation on economic governance and so forth – among their top priorities. 

T.D.L.: The Government coalition that was formed in the wake of the 28 October 2012 general election and is led by Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius today has reasserted that Lithuania is aiming to join the Eurozone looking at 2015. How, in your view, will the European single currency strengthen Lithuania’s economy? How much room does your Government have to meet the macroeconomic requirements that this objective entails and concurrently create the jobs and deliver the purchasing power that Lithuanians want? And, beyond that, what prompted your country to bid for OECD membership? 

H.E.J.B.: The new Lithuanian Government is aiming to join the Eurozone in 2015. Lithuania pledged to adopt the Euro in the EU Accession Treaty it has signed, vis-à-vis other Member States and the Lithuanian people, who embraced this objective in the referendum on the EU. Economic and Monetary Union membership is a top strategic priority for the Lithuanian people, Lithuanian businesses and the Lithuanian State. The Lithuanian litas has been pegged to the Euro for 10 years now, and the Lithuanian economy is de-facto operating as it if was in the Eurozone. 

We need to comply with financial discipline and watch our competitiveness to join the Eurozone. We have been doing that for several years now, as part of our long-term economic and financial policy. Specialists are optimistic about Maastricht requirements involving budget deficits, public debt, monetary stability and long-term interest rates. Our Government is pushing ahead with the programmes it has planned to roll out, in particular to attract foreign direct investment and create jobs. Unemployment spiked with the 2009 downturn, but has been shrinking consistently since then, in step with our growing competitiveness and economic growth. The new government has focused its efforts on reducing youth unemployment. That, combined with the fact that we increased minimum wages in early 2013 will gradually improve the population’s purchasing power. 

The timeframe for adopting the Euro is also essential: next spring, we will be in a position to meet Maastricht inflation requirements. Bank pressure on currency supply will probably be low. Then, of course, there are external factors, such as Eurozone inflation, which do not depend on Lithuania. But the European Commission’s forecasts on that front are optimistic. 

There is no doubt in my mind that Lithuania joining the Eurozone will contribute to developing commercial and financial cooperation with other Eurozone countries. It will also increase Lithuanians’ incomes and fuel jobs. 

The Euro should also make daily life easier for our people. As they will not have to pay fees to exchange currency, it will be even easier to travel abroad. Reducing interbank transaction costs and curbing financial risks should lower the cost of loans in Euros (most homebuyer loans in Lithuania are in Euros, for example). Lower interest rates should help to reduce the cost of debt the State’s debt repayments. Our sovereign debt is not very big (less than 40%), but we will have no trouble finding opportunities to invest the funds we will save. 

This economic tandem – economic stability and Eurozone membership – will increase the market’s confidence in our country. That will in turn help us to attract more foreign investment and borrow at lower interest rates to build large-scale infrastructure. And, equally importantly, we will be a partner country that our ‘Club’ – the EU – can count on. 

We are also certain that OECD membership will have a similar effect. It is no secret that the OECD enables member countries to share their experiences rolling out sound economic governance practices and top-level management. That way, member country experts can contribute to this organisation’s analytical research and use the world’s best social and economic statistics database today. These instruments tie in with what Lithuanian people want, but they also have a positive impact on Government borrowing rates and top-tier investors see them as a guarantee of stability. This will in turn help the Government to achieve other domestic-policy and economic objectives. Forecasts suggest that Eurozone and full OECD membership indeed complement each other. We hope that the OECD finds our financial consolidation experience, which we have built throughout our region by cooperating closely with Northern European countries, useful as well. 

T.D.L.: Lithuania’s 3% GDP growth forecast ranks its economy among the EU’s most buoyant. Besides the higher-education reform, what measures can contribute to sharpening its competitive edge? What are you planning to do to improve the business environment? In light of your country’s geographic position and technical expertise, where are the most promising prospects for business exchanges between your country and France? 

H.E.J.B.: Modernising strategic sectors such as energy, transport and telecommunications will significantly contribute to improving Lithuania’s competitiveness. Diversifying sources of energy, interconnecting energy systems and transport networks with other Baltic States and other countries, blazing new trails, and building a secure business environment, will necessarily sharpen our competitive edge and appeal among investors.

The Government’s overriding goal for 2012-2016 is economic growth. Its active fiscal policy should attract investment and contribute significantly to creating jobs. Our Government is especially keen on direct foreign investment bundled with best practices and cutting-edge technology. Our Government is also investing heavily to continue to fuel Small and Medium Business (SMB) development. Fiscal and budgetary discipline also ranks high on the Government’s list of priorities. We make sure the funds we borrow are used to harness up-to-the-minute technology and innovation, not squandered pointlessly. 

Our Government also makes a point of sharpening Lithuanian companies’ competitiveness on domestic and foreign markets, by focusing on developing business in the information-technology sector. We are developing online public services for businesses, cutting administrative and regulatory red tape, and helping companies to secure financing. We are also streamlining working methods in the organisations in charge of monitoring business. And, lastly, we are trying to cut business incorporation costs and simplify the associated procedures. 

In 2012, France was Lithuania’s 11th export market (accounting for 3.1% of our exports). The bulk of this bilateral trade came from traditional industry sectors – wood, textiles and minerals. The most promising prospects for Lithuanian product and service exports to France include dairy products, wood and furniture, optical and medical equipment, measuring instruments, transport services, and chemical products.

We are also seeing some untapped potential in the food-processing industry. Even though it is fairly difficult to break into the French market, certain Lithuanian companies in this sector have found demand in France. I can also think of examples of successful cooperation between French and Lithuanian companies on the high-technology front (our companies in the laser business, for instance, have partnerships with French businesses). 

We can also see very handsome potential in the biotechnology field, especially to cooperate on research. Our country’s geographic advantage – we are right next to Eastern-European markets – also puts us in a position to serve as a hinge between the West and East. 

As regards economic cooperation with France, over and above bilateral trade, we can see that our companies need to learn about the best practices that French companies are applying in a variety of business sectors. In 2012, a delegation of Lithuanian transport companies visited France to find out specifically about public transport logistic hubs. SMB federation delegates were also interested in France’s experience building sustainable housing. These meetings were opportunities for French and Lithuanian entrepreneurs to get in touch, share their experiences and discuss many opportunities to partner on future projects – which will, no doubt, help to intensify trade exchanges and bilateral investment flows. 

 

T.D.L.: The referendum that shelved plans to build a nuclear power plant in Visaginas is challenging Lithuania’s strategy to secure energy supplies. Do you think this project is still an option? Where do you see potential to develop alternative sources of energy in Lithuania? Besides building a gas terminal in Klaipéda and connecting up to power networks in Sweden and Poland, what other projects is Lithuania working on to diversity its energy supplies and regional economic integration? 

 

H.E.J.B.: As you said, we held a referendum on plans to build a nuclear power plant in Visaginas, on 14 October 2012. In light of the results, the Lithuanian Parliament has asked the Government to map out a strategy to secure energy supplies, and to make it as cost-efficient and beneficial for consumers as possible. A group of experts is now looking at all the possible scenarios to secure energy supplies for Lithuania, including plans to build the nuclear power plant in Visaginas. This project could become regional, i.e. only involving partners in the region. 

The EU domestic market is one of the keys to security of supply in Lithuania. European leaders have agreed to eliminate isolated energy islands in the EU by 2015, and to create a viable domestic market in the EU by 2014. Now, these projects need to roll out on schedule. 

Plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal and power connections with Sweden and Poland are on track. We hope these projects will contribute to building solid foundations for the electricity and gas markets in the region. 

Our goal is to fully integrate the European domestic energy market. We are not only working on new energy projects (a gas pipeline connecting Lithuania and Poland) : we are also building a suitable legal environment (implementing the EU’s Third Energy Package). Plans to synchronously connect the Baltic States and the European energy system are especially important in this light. 

Lithuania will push ahead with its drive to use more renewable sources of energy to generate electricity and heat. By 2020, we are planning to generate 23% of our final energy consumption using renewable sources (no less than 20% of the electricity and no less than 60% of the power feeding district heating systems).

L.L.D: Relations between Lithuania and Poland recently took a turn for the worse in spite of your historical ties and intense economic exchanges. To what extent can the Polish Minority party’s involvement in the Government coalition contribute to rekindling dialogue? 

H.E.J.B.: Bilateral political dialogue has never stopped, even though we disagree on certain issues. Relations between Lithuania and Poland need to be assessed in light of the facts. In 2012, for example, trade between Lithuania and Poland increased well beyond the level it was at even before the economic and financial crisis. Poland is Lithuania’s second-largest direct foreign investor. Top-level bilateral exchanges between Prime Ministers and Foreign Affairs Ministers have recently shown that relations between Lithuania and Poland are picking up speed. And that is the only way to go: our two countries share a number of important strategic objectives, in particular involving energy and transport. As a result, our requirements and answers to most of the questions are similar. All that leads to better mutual understanding, and predisposes both countries to cooperate, i.e. to renew political dialogue. The fact that the Polish Minority party is involved in the coalition shows that it is focusing on the same issues, and that also helps to strengthen bilateral cooperation. 

 

T.D.L.: Vilnius will be hosting the 3rd EU Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013. What is your opinion on this initiative, in light of the Association Agreement signed with Ukraine in March 2012? 

 

H.E.J.B.: The Eastern Partnership is important for Lithuania – and for the EU as a whole. It is the most effective – and almost the only – instrument that the EU has to ensure neighbouring countries to the East build healthy economies and embrace European values. The 3rd EU Eastern Partnership Summit will be exceptional. We are hoping to assess the Eastern Partnership’s actual implementation. Signing an Association Agreement with Ukraine – including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) in Vilnius and will be one of the most important breakthroughs: first of all, it will be the most ambitious and deepest-reaching agreement ever signed between the EU and an outside country; and secondly it will be a statement about the pro-European agenda that Ukraine has embraced. A pro-European Ukraine is a sine-qua-non for democracy and to cement economic stability throughout Eastern Europe. Of course, signing the agreement depends principally on Ukraine (and will hinge on the progress it has made in its political, economic and legal reform based on EU-specified criteria). 

In that sense, we are happy to see progress in negotiations on associating Moldavia, Georgia and Armenia with the EU, which suggests that there is reason to hope talks will be complete in 2013 and may even be signed at the Vilnius Summit. That Summit would kick off preparation to sign the agreements. 

T.D.L.: How has cooperation with Belarus evolved? 

 

H.E.J.B.: We consider that including Belarus in the Eastern Partnership is a positive development and we hope that it mirrors the country’s intention to not turn its back on Europe. It will be very important to keep Belarus involved in this initiative in the future, and to take measures to develop cooperation with the EU. Today, alas, this cooperation is tarnished by Human Rights violations and the presence of political prisoners. Until they are released, normal political dialogue between the EU and Belarus will be impossible. 

Current Belarus Foreign Affairs Ministry officials seem to be fairly favourable to the EU. This provides some grounds to hope that Belarus’ foreign policy will become pro-European. We need to take constructive measures to improve relations with the Belarus Government but cannot forget that country’s people. We need to help them to grow towards Europe, continue to support civil society, actively use available instruments (youth exchanges, for instance, and other opportunities for human exchanges), and liberalise visas under the Schengen visa code.

It is nevertheless disappointing that Belarus has not yet replied to the invitation that the European Commission extended in June 2011 to start talks about liberalising visas with the EU, which would cut the cost of Schengen visas for Belarusians from €60 to €35.

 

T.D.L.: More generally, how do you think you can boost Europe’s foreign policy? 

 

H.E.J.B.: We are certain that the Vilnius Summit will necessarily discuss and develop the guidelines that will shape the future Eastern Partnership initiative. This will entail effectively implementing Association Agreements – including DCFTAs – and meeting European partners’ requirements. Remember that implementing Association Agreements necessarily entails costly long-term reform in our partner countries in the East. So we need to provide adequate political and financial support. 

At the same time, we need to make sure the support and advantages they will find in the EU are more substantial than the temptation to opt for alternative regional integration projects (which tend to rely on values that the EU deems unacceptable). We are also aware that Association Agreements are not the ultimate goals in relations between the EU and Eastern European countries: they are transitions leading to closer integrations opening more doors into the EU for partner countries who want them. We see that as an essential step towards enhancing European foreign policy effectiveness and stability. 

 

T.D.L.: Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius ranks reviving relations with Russia at the top of Lithuanian diplomacy’s list of priorities. How would you define relations between your two countries? Do you see the Russian Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in 2013 as an opportunity to nurture a deeper understanding of their mutual interests? 

 

H.E.J.B.: Continuity is a vital aspect of foreign policy, but forming a new government can lead to fresh momentum in certain areas. Relations between Lithuania and Russia, and the bilateral agenda, need to be strengthened and intensified. That does not mean we can forget the issues that our country deems important and sensitive, and Lithuania and Russia have different views on. But we nevertheless need to focus on our future relations, try to find a common denominator, find positive examples in our agendas, and build on them to tackle the issues that we have not yet reached agreements on.

To understand our mutual interests in more depth, it is important to work through all the organisations where Lithuanian and Russian delegates meet. The Council of the Baltic States is one example. Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius has received an invitation from his Russian counterpart Mr Dmitri Medvedev to take part in the Conference of Heads of Government of the Baltic Sea States in Saint Petersburg, which will address the various issues associated with protecting the environment in and around the Baltic Sea. 

We are also interested in maintaining mutual beneficial relations with the region of Kaliningrad, in the Russian Federation, to promote cultural heritage and to develop economic and trade relations, with a view to contributing to regional development. As I see it, that is precisely one of the areas where Lithuania and Russia can find common ground, as we said, to build deeper mutual understanding. 

The Council of the Baltic Sea States Foreign Affairs Ministers’ meeting in Kaliningrad in June 2013 (to bring the Russian Presidency over this organisation to a close) will also be an opportunity to assess this cooperation drive’s results and to explore the options to deepen it and make it more effective. 

 

T.D.L.: More generally, how would your country like to see the partnership between the EU Russia evolve?

 

H.E.J.B.: Russia’s European agenda is particularly vast and varied. It spans economic relations, coordinated crisis management and initiatives to secure world peace. Cooperation in a number of areas is unrolling smoothly and efficiently. I could mention projects under the Partnership for Modernisation, cultural cooperation, and educational programmes. However, we have to admit that it is not always easy to reach an agreement on certain issues. The EU is interested and ready to step up its partnership with Russia, building on solid ties based on mutual trust, openness and equality. We hope Russia applies the same principles, as keenly as the EU.

The best way to secure stable and transparent bilateral relations could involve a new legally binding agreement between the EU and Russia covering all the major cooperation fronts. We would like to see more progress in those negotiations and that is why we are doing everything we can to reach a satisfactory outcome for both parties. In that light, we were happy to hear that H.E. Mr Vygaudas Ušackas was appointed EU Ambassador to Moscow. 

 

T.D.L.: The fact that the Vilnius Energy Security Centre became a NATO Centre of Excellence in October 2012 is one example of Lithuania’s role in the Atlantic Alliance. In the wake of that achievement and in light of the Baltic State defence plans that the Chicago Summit agreed on, what is your view on your country’s involvement in NATO? And, looking at the bigger picture, how do you feel about President Barak Obama’s recent plans to start a global transatlantic trade and investment partnership between the US and the EU?

H.E.J.B.: We have been proud to be a member of the transatlantic community for almost 10 years now. This historical decision has substantially reinforced security in our country and in Europe. We want to see a powerful and dynamic Alliance, and are doing everything we can to help. 

We can see that NATO is very interested in Lithuania and its presence in the region. A NATO Air Policing Mission is now operating in the Baltic States. And the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence has been up and running in Vilnius since early 2013.

As regards the Air Policing Mission I just mentioned, Lithuania is completely satisfied with the way the mandate has been honoured and its current structure. The economic situation means that we need to use available resources smartly, i.e. pool and share them. 

The fact that NATO is protecting Baltic airspace means that Lithuania can concentrate its resources on other areas, such as contributing to NATO’s international operations. At the 2012 Chicago Summit, this mission was defined as a perfect example of “smart defence”.

In 2013, NATO “Steadfast Jazz” collective defence operations (under NATO Treaty Article 5) will be tested to ensure NATO’s defence plan for the Baltic States is effective. The Alliance’s visibility is of utmost importance in our region. 

During its term presiding over the EU Council, Lithuania will also try to step up transatlantic dialogue. We will be working with the EU, NATO and other European countries that share common values and who have established longstanding security and defence partnerships with it. 

Lithuania will also be spending a lot of its time as EU chair cementing trade and economic relations between strategic partners. So we were especially delighted to hear that US President Barack Obama is intent on starting negotiations on transatlantic trade and on the investment partnership with the EU, based on the high-level working group’s recommendations. The guidelines shaping these negotiations show that both parties stand to gain a lot from a bold global trade agreement that will open the market for goods, as well as services and public-sector buying, and remove non-tariff barriers from exchanges and cooperation on other trade-related fronts. One of the main challenges for these talks will be to converge EU and US regulatory frameworks. Bilateral trade is already substantial but there is huge potential waiting to be tapped there. That is why we are sure that this partnership based on opening up markets on both sides of the Atlantic could stimulate European and American trade, and make the world’s largest economies more competitive. 

 

T.D.L.: By allowing its armed forces to take part in the Atalante operation to eradicate piracy off the Somali coast, your country has consolidated its role within the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). How do you feel about the prospect of “Europe of Defence” consolidation, which will inter alia entail joint Staff? Security and defence will be on the EU Summit agenda at the end of 2013: where do you need to build consensus on this front? 

 

H.E.J.B.: The Treaty of Lisbon has opened up new opportunities for European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), with a view to gradually setting up a joint European defence system. 

Soft power, curbing terrorism and restraining nuclear proliferation have gained prominence. We are facing an entirely new type of threat today. Sometimes it is outside our borders. And it takes a 360° civilian and military response, which encompasses crisis management, post-conflict reconstruction and State restoration. 

The ESPD is the EU’s main crisis-management instrument. Lithuania, as a responsible member of the international community, is contributing as much as it can to the EU’s global international crisis management capabilities. Civil servants are involved in missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine. We will soon be taking part in the EU training mission in Mali. And, in the second half of 2013, Lithuanian troops will be taking part in the EUNAVFOR Atalanta operation to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The EU’s advantage over other organisations is that it is in a unique position to take political, economic, development and humanitarian measures to tackle civilian and military crises, and to conduct missions and operations. This global approach makes it uniquely flexible and effective – and valuable. Member States, however, need to show more political determination to focus their capabilities on military as much as civilian missions, and stretch ESPD instruments to other community policies in order to consolidate planning capacity, deepen relations with NATO and expand cooperation with other partners. 

At the European Council meeting in December 2013, Heads of State will be discussing Security and Defence issues. The main issues on the agenda will involve the EU’s military capabilities, and stepping up the defence policy’s effectiveness and visibility. The groundwork for these discussions has started and will continue all year long. We are hoping EU leaders: 

- Encourage dialogue and concrete cooperation with Eastern European partners under the ESPD, by developing mutually beneficial security and defence partnerships, and including Eastern European partners in missions and operations;

- Insist on the need to step up the EU’s capacity to respond to new security challenges, focusing on the energy security aspect of the ESPD;

- State their intention to build genuine cooperation between the EU and NATO and to strengthen transatlantic relations;

- Support efforts to bolster tactical group operation effectiveness, and EU mission and operation effectiveness, focusing on civilian and military cooperation, and on factoring border management issues into EU operations more comprehensively. 

T.D.L.: Lithuania is bidding for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As Lithuania chaired the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2011, what is your view on the challenges hovering around multilateralism? How can the international community step up its options to tackle issues such as the crisis in Mali, growing unrest in the Middle-East and the prospect of nuclear proliferation?

H.E.J.B.: We are living in a globalised world. Whether we like it or not, we are all linked by invisible bonds. In that network spanning the globe, no country can cover all its bases alone and effectively tackle all the external threats – which are becoming so diverse that it is difficult to imaging their nature. That means we need to shoulder our responsibility for guaranteeing peace and security worldwide. A responsible State simply cannot stay on the sidelines. I would like to insist that guaranteeing peace and security worldwide is not only a duty or prerogative that powerful and influential countries need to honour: there is no doubt in our minds that small countries also have a share in this responsibility and the right to have their say. 

The UN Security Council is precisely a forum and a lever for real politics. If it uses it properly, even a small country can share its views and proposals, even to resolve the toughest problems. Lithuania is absolutely certain that allowing small countries to sit on the Security Council is the only way to genuinely establish this particularly important UN body’s legitimacy. That is why we also believe that elections to appoint non-permanent members onto the Security need to factor in the candidate’s experience, which it has most often built by struggling with the most complex developments, and its actual achievements – not only its economic power or political influence. We are certain that Lithuania’s experience and political perspective will enrich Security Council discussions in a very real way, and significantly contribute to shared efforts to reinforce regional and international security while protecting Human Rights. 

Chairing the OSCE, which is probably the most important regional security organisation, has afforded Lithuanian diplomacy significant experience in multilateral diplomacy. We took on very substantial responsibility for coordinating 56 Member States’ interests – which were sometimes poles apart – while protecting and defending the principles and values underpinning that organisation. 

I am certain that this experience has taught us an important lesson: pooling our efforts, even in the toughest situations, can lead to pragmatic solutions and smart compromise despite tension and hostility. These decisions, however, will not last if they are not rooted in powerful shared values, commitments and principles. 

If Lithuania is elected onto the Security Council, we will strive to ensure that this important institution’s efforts and decisions abide by the system of values and virtues embedded in the principles underlying the UN. 

Politics in general and international politics in particular is the art of managing compromise and pragmatic decisions – the art of the possible. But all that sooner or later falls apart if we lose sight of the original aims that gave it meaning. The unspeakable tragedy we are seeing unfurl in Syria today shows that the Security Council does not have a unanimous ‘system of coordinates’ to rank its priorities based on the values underpinning them, to tackle this blood-shedding conflict that has killed and is still killing thousands of innocent people.

If Lithuania becomes a Security Council member, we will make a point of dealing with all the situations that arise fairly: we will uphold the values that the UN stands for, and work earnestly to apply all Security Council decisions with a view to nurturing peace and security for all. 

 

T.D.L.: As an observing member of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), your country signed a partnership agreement on teaching Lithuanian diplomats and civil servants French, in Paris on 22 October 2012. How, in your view, is Lithuania involved in French-speaking culture and the OIF’s role on the international scene? How is this cultural heritage a channel for French-Lithuanian cooperation, especially in academic circles? 

 

H.E.J.B.: Francophone heritage has deep roots in Lithuania today. It touches on the Napoleonic soldiers’ graves, the parks created by E. F. André and the works by Lithuanian artists that were studied in Paris between the wars. We care a lot about safeguarding this legacy and about cultural exchanges with France and other French-speaking countries today. 

We are also very keen on political cooperation to home in on the values we share, namely developing a stable democracy, respecting Human Rights, and enabling our societies and economies to thrive sustainably. That interest in Francophonie is what encouraged Lithuania to become an observing member of the OIF.

Our country is actively involved in coordination meetings among French-speaking countries in various international organisations. We are fully involved in efforts involving women’s rights, and were very excited to take part in the first-ever Forum des Femmes Francophones in March 2013.

We also encourage cultural dialogue with the French-speaking world. The Journée Internationale de la Francophonie – including the shows, films and exhibitions and parties that lasted all March and beyond – was one of the highlights on this front. The guest of honour in 2013 was Morocco. 

Learning the French language is needless to say a particularly important aspect of nurturing dialogue with the French-speaking world. We have been successfully training civil servants through cooperation between the OIF and the Institut Français in Vilnius since 2006. The new cooperation agreement we signed in 2012 is extending and enhancing this partnership – which is particularly important now that Lithuania is preparing to preside over the EU Council in the second half of 2013. The French language courses under this agreement are reaching 500 Lithuanian civil servants, and many of them are on the team that will be working during the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council. 

The strongest ties with the French-speaking world in academic circles are probably the ones at Mykolas Riomeris University in Vilnius, which is a member of the Agence Universitaire Francophone. Lithuania and France want to step up their cooperation in higher education and research under the European higher education development system (Sorbonne and Bologna process). They also want to promote university exchanges, and develop joint Master’s-level curricula leading to a double degree (on existing French-speaking training programmes). We were delighted to see that admissions to the four joint Master-degree courses opened up in academic year 2012-2013.  

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