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New hurdles threaten Rail Baltica

Dec 18, 2013
From wire report

New hurdles threaten Rail Baltica
SNAG: Vilnius’ demand to be on the railway map means back to the drawing board.

TALLINN - Representatives of the Baltic States reached a common understanding at a meeting on Dec. 10, agreeing that there is not enough time for the creation of the proposed Rail Baltica joint venture by Jan. 1, reports Public Broadcasting.
Rail Baltica’s Estonian project manager, Indrek Sirp, said that all Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian parties to the project wish to have formed the company by the start of the New Year, or as soon as possible.
He said that several issues in the shareholder agreement still need discussing, although on many topics consensus has been achieved.

“Harmonizing positions among negotiators has turned out to be more complicated than thought; hence we will not be able to stay within the initially proposed schedule,” said Sirp.
An even bigger obstacle to building the pan-Baltic railway, connecting Helsinki with Berlin, was revealed by European Parliament members, who said they are afraid that building Rail Baltica may fail due to extra conditions now presented by the Lithuanian government, reported Estonian Public Broadcasting.

The Baltic-European parliament members’ group that convened in Brussels in early December stressed that in a situation where all European Union institutions support Rail Baltica, it is necessary to move faster with the project in order to avoid being deprived of EU funds.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said that all European Union institutions have given the green light to Rail Baltica. “We support it with big money. Twenty-six billion [euros] is meant for Rail Baltica, which is a tenth of the money earmarked to pan-European projects in the the new budgetary period,” said Schulz.
If building Rail Baltica hasn’t started by 2016, Baltic States might be deprived of the funds altogether. To stay on schedule, the joint venture needs to be created in January.

Estonia’s European Parliament member Ivari Padar said that it is clear that if one of the three Baltic States continues to set extra conditions, then starting the project is clearly in danger.
The concerns of the Lithuanian government have changed over time. Today, the main problem is that the railway is planned to be built so that it passes through Kaunas, and not through the capital, Vilnius.
“The joint declaration states that Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, will be linked to Rail Baltica on equal conditions to the other Baltic States’ capitals Riga and Tallinn,” noted Lithuanian Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications Arijandas Sliupas.

European Commission Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas agrees with the position of the Lithuanian government, that linking Vilnius with the railway line would be quite reasonable, but the Lithuanian government came up with that idea too late. “Who drew that map which doesn’t have Vilnius on it? In principle it is a proposal by the governments,” said Kallas, adding that it is disturbing when plans are changed afterwards.

“Delegations come and say that we have extra ideas here. We don’t really want what the previous government agreed upon. I have said that we here have a notion that the government did the agreeing. We won’t change the project based on elections and changes of coalitions,” said Kallas.
European Parliament transport committee member Roberts Zile fears that the project is stalled by the Lithuanian railways, whose income rolls in by rail from Russia. “There are interest groups who are trying to harm that project,” said Zile.

The Lithuanian deputy transport minister said that his government won’t create obstacles for organizing the three states’ joint venture from Jan. 1.

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