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21.5.2001 Antanas Valionis, Liettuan ulkoasiainministeri: Europe of Tomorrow: a view from Lithuania

Speech by MR. Antanas Valionis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania
Helsinki, May 21, 2001
Europe of Tomorrow: a view from Lithuania

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy and honoured to be visiting Finland for the first time in the capacity of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania. therefore I avail myself of this opportunity to assure you about the continuity of Lithuania´s foreign policy: integration into the European and Trans-Atlantic institutions and co-operation with the countries around the Baltic Sea, as well as active fogeign economic policy remain the top priorities.

Over the past decade the freedom - inspired ties between our countries have grown into a regular and practical cooperation. We highly appreciate the intense Lithuanian-Finnish collaboration, particularly in the Euro-integration field.

Looking into a broader picture of a future united Europe, a further deepenig of Lithuanian-Finnish relations is a natural and inevitable matter. To Lithuania, this relationship helps to restore its European dimension, which had been, for several centuries, an integral part of our history. In 1940 this European dimension was broken. We did not follow the Finnish example of resisting to the aggressor initially. We tried to do that later, for almost 10 years from 1944 leading a nation-wide armed resistance. We failed, but again we got a chance in 1990. Today we sincerely hope that a common European future is not an abstract, that it is substancial reality that we are creating together with our neighbours.

Lithuania and Finland entered the new century following the path of making Europe stronger and larger actively participating in the international organizations, in regional and subregional initiatives, and promoting of good neighbourly relations. Lithuania, as you know, is parallelly working on another major issue, namely membership in NATO. Allow me to briefly define our efforts in each of these priority areas.

EU membership. It has become almost a commonplace to affirm that over the recent years globalisation has reached considerable proportions; that integration processes take place and that many of today´s issues and problems can no longer be solved by individual nations alone. Lithuania is fully aware of the integration trend and sees the EU membership as an outstanding opportunity to promote its interests through joint efforts with and belonging to the community of shared values and goals. EU membership is also a powerful vehicle for the nation´s internal revival and prosperity. The idea of staying behind the European integration process has no appeal to us.

In preparing for EU membership, the Government of Lithuania has a clear accession target date: 1 January 2004. To reach this target, we need to conclude the negotiations, sign the Accession treaty, and initiate the ratification process, both in Lithuania and in the EU, in 2002. My country is making a real breakthrough in the negotiation process and has clearly caught up with the group of candidate countries which started negotiations in 1998.

At the EU Nice Summit late last year, the member states sent a clear signal by reaching a consensus on EU institutional reforms and stating that the Union would be ready to accept the first new members in time to participate in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament. Lithuania welcomed the outcome of the Nice Summit as ensuring a just representation of Lithuania in the EU institutions and will clearly seek to join the Union with the first new members.

Importantly, the Nice Summit started a new phase in the reflections on the future of the European Union, ranging from the Constitution of the European Union, a clearer division of responsibilities among the European Union, the member states and the regions, to the role of the national parliaments. Lithuania has already launched internal discussions on these matters, having in mind preparation for the Laeken summit and the IGC in 2004 involving not only representatives of the government but also members of political parties, academic institutions, interest groups and societies. Active participation in the discussions gives to the Lithuanian society a feeling of being a part of the integration process, what is of outmost importance for increasing support and trust of citizens (vital precondition for successful enlargement).

In this respect, we appreciate very much the informal meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the EU member states and the candidate countries held by Swedish Presidency in Nykoping on 6 th May. The discussion revealed growing activity of all countries involved in European integration process as well as rapid transformation of minds not only of political leaders but also those of the peoples. Lithuania on its own part expressed its firm belief that discussion on the EU future has to be closely linked with the enlargement process. EU reforms have to be carried out with the goal of making the enlarged EU operable and functional, involving all member countries into decision-making process. Therefore our starting point in the debate on the EU future is preservation of the community method in order to safeguard interests of smaller countries and promote the coherence of the Union.

I recall with great pleasure the final remark of Swedish Foreign Minister Mrs. Anna Lindh in Nykoping that it was absolutely possible to chair the meeting of 28 members. That leads me to the idea, that the EU members and candidates have started to get into the habit of discussing and seeking solutions together, and that gives me assurances that the enlargement process is irreversible.

Lithuania welcomes the strengthening of European crisis management capabilities and has pledged its contribution to the Rapid Reaction Forces at the November 2000 Capabilities Conference. We also intend to contribute to the EU Civil Crisis Management Capacity. At the same time, we hope that the strengthening of European defence will not proceed at the expense of the transatlantic links. We believe that NATO is and should remain the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security.

Ladies and gentlemen, this brings me to the next strategic priority of Lithuanian foreign policy: our country's membership in the Alliance. The 1999 Washington Summit recognised Lithuania's efforts in seeking Alliance membership, by naming Lithuania as a candidate country. We'll seek to be invited to join the Alliance during the 2002 NATO summit to be held in Prague. We hope that Lithuania's belonging to Western defence and political structures will be given a formal expression.

We also hope that Finland will support Lithuania's aspirations for the membership in the Alliance as Finland is supporting our efforts to increase security and stability in the region, offering both, political backing and practical assistance.

We in Lithuania consider the further NATO enlargement a historic opportunity, a necessary step towards eliminating the anachronistic dividing lines in Europe. Further NATO enlargement will extend the zone of peace, democracy and stability on the Continent, will make the Alliance stronger and more cohesive, and Europe more secure.

At this stage, somebody must be inevitably thinking, "And what about Russia's concerns?" We are convinced that Baltic membership in the Alliance will riot pose any threats to other countries in the region, including Russia. The goals that the enlargement pursues - democracy, extended zone of stability, and reconciliation in Europe - are as much in Russia's interests as they are in Europe's and America's. It is not clarity but its lack, in the form of derelict zones of influence, gray zones, or no-man's lands, that instigates instability and nervousness. This is very clearly presented in the "Facts about the Finnish Defence Forces" by Defence Staff Information Division. A secure and confident Lithuania means a secure and stable neighbour and partner for Russia. NATO membership is a means for Lithuania to gain that confidence. And let me assure you, that far from being a threat to Russia, as an Alliance member Lithuania will be an active advocate of further development of the NATO-Russia dialogue.

In seeking membership, Lithuania faces two key issues: first, the "homework", second, gaining political support of the NATO member states. If we manage to implement these two tasks, we stand a good chance to be invited in 2002.

As far as homework is concerned, in keeping with its commitments, Lithuania has allocated 1.95% of its GDP for defence spending this year and will seek to increase it up to 2% in 2002. On the other hand, the preparedness and professionalism of Lithuanian officers has been demonstrated time and again in the joint missions with NATO in Bosnia and Kosovo, offering valid examples of our country's readiness and willingness to contribute in real terms to European stability.

On the political level, last year Lithuania initiated the so-called "Vilnius Nine" process, which has been continued this year in Bratislava and has implied regular political and practical cooperation of the now ten NATO candidates as they prepare for membership. We act as partners, even if we all agree that each candidate country should be judged on its own merits and on its readiness to assume membership obligations.

Lithuania is currently preparing to welcome the next NATO Parliamentary Assembly session, to be held in Vilnius later this month. We hope that this event will favourably mark Lithuania's path towards NATO membership.

Ladies and gentlemen, in our view, Euroatlantic integration would be incomplete without good neighbourly relations. Deepening relations with other Central European nations, with which we share common goals and objectives, go hand in hand with further development of Baltic and Nordic cooperation. The Baltic States and the Baltic Sea region will undoubtedly remain a Lithuanian foreign policy priority.

Lithuania's relations with its Baltic partners - Latvia and Estonia - over the recent decade have become much closer and deeper than those with most other nations. The three countries enjoy the unprecedently liberal free trade regime; common interests in the development of joint infrastructure found a vivid expression in the extensive modernisation of the Via Baltica highway; we coordinate the operation of our electricity grids (via Dispatcher Centre "Baltija" in Riga); we make significant savings by implementing the trilateral agreement on protection of crime witnesses and victims, the only trilateral agreement of this sort in Europe; we put significant effort to increase the transit efficiency through implementation of the Common Transit Procedure; already for a while we have been working on the creation of the common education space - this should become a reality next year. To summarise the Baltic cooperation, I should note that, in spite of the efforts of individual politicians to change their country's regional identity, a lot has been achieved and many projects are in the pipeline for the benefit of the three of us.

The Nordic-Baltic cooperation has gained a new quality recently, which testifies to increased confidence and understanding among our nations: the traditional "Five plus Three" cooperation formula has been transformed into a "Nordic-Baltic Eight". On the other hand, Nordic investments by the end of the year 2000 made up 41.7 per cent of total direct investments into Lithuania, and this figure alone speaks better than words.

An important instrument of wider regional cooperation is the Council of the Baltic Sea States, unique in that it involves EU member states, EU applicant countries, Norway, Iceland and Russia. CBSS has been successful in addressing the issues of common concern and consolidation of regional policies, in response to the true needs of the respective societies. Active involvement of the CBSS into implementation of the EU Northern Dimension reflects its flexibility and operability. Lithuania attaches great importance to this initiative, introduced by Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen in 1998, which goes in line with its own priorities. Lithuania's input - already well - known Nida Initiative includes a number of common projects with Kaliningrad region and Poland and well fits the overall EU-Russia cooperation framework.

On a bilateral level as well, Lithuania is working to further broaden the political dialogue and practical cooperation with Russia and its Kaliningrad Region, especially in the context of EU enlargement. We welcome the latest European Commission Report on the Kaliningrad Region, submitted in Moscow on 17 January this year. The joint statement by Russian and EU leaders issued last Thursday provides grounds for further optimism. Our efforts to have Kaliningrad issue included into EU-Russia dialogue have brought success. It is with satisfaction that we note the agreement of both sides on the terms of addressing such issues as movement of people, transit of goods, energy and fisheries. The statement makes it clear: those issues should be addressed within the PCA framework and with due respect to the Community acquis.

Bilateral Lithuania-Russian relations are based on the principles outlined in the Treaty on the Foundation of Inter-State Relations, signed on 29 July 1991, as well as on other bilateral and multilateral treaties and conventions in which both countries participate. Importantly, the 1991 Treaty, among other things, recognises the right of the two countries to join the security alliances of their choice. This was reiterated during the last visit to Russia of the President of Lithuania Valdas Adarnkus on 28-31 of March 2001. The aims of Lithuania's relations with Russia are to ensure an equal and mutually beneficial cooperation in the spirit of good neighbourhood, to foster confidence and mutual understanding and to increase the positive background for Lithuania's accession to the European and transatlantic structures.

Our active bilateral efforts can boast certain successes: just recently, Lithuania and Russia have agreed on bilateral confidence and security-building measures: first, to exchange on a basis of reciprocity a passive quota of one additional evaluation visit beyond the quota established by the Vienna Document of 1999, and, second, to exchange information on military forces in Lithuania and in the Kaliningrad Region, in accordance to the formats of the CFE Treaty.

We are aware that our foreign policy objectives are ambitious. We would like to see our Continent, which in the past century was so sorely afflicted by two terrible wars, to become a zone of peace, stability, and economic dynamism. We can contribute to that, by promoting regional initiatives, building-up cooperation, expanding trade and bringing peoples and cultures together. We believe that real security and prosperity in Europe can be attained only by resolving problems comprehensively, that is, by integrating nations. We have a historic opportunity to change the face of Europe once and for all. I am confident that this time we shall not miss this opportunity.

Thank you.