VILNIUS - When EU leaders finally agreed on Dec. 17 to compromise on the 2007-2013 EU financial perspective, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas emitted an enormous sigh of relief, knowing that the country's interests had been defended.
After all, Lithuania finished the negotiations with the best result among EU newcomers in terms of support per capital.
"When compared to the Luxemburg proposal, we recuperated more that half of the lost amount. To put it simply, we'll pay one litas to the EU and will get five from it in return," Brazauskas said upon his triumphant return to Vilnius.
On the eve of his departure to the summit, the U.K.-proposed financial perspective had the prime minister, and all Baltic politicians, in a state of dismay and despair. Structural support earmarked for Lithuania was 580 million euros below the previously scheduled amount.
However, in the 30-hour negotiation marathon, Brazauskas stood up twice to defend Lithuania's interests when the discussion touched on decommissioning the Ignalina Nuclear Plant.
"The Iganlina nuclear plant caused the biggest talks and misunderstandings. In the last session, I had to stand up twice and argue that the plant's decommissioning wasn't a matter only for Lithuania but for Europe as a whole," Brazauskas said.
Lithuania, the prime minister explained, didn't accept the 50 million euro proposal for Ignalina. The British emphasized that this was a large sum of money, and Lithuania shouldn't ask for supplementary aid from structural funds.
Shortly before the negotiations finished, after everybody had already applauded the budget agreement, Lithuanian and Poland still threatened to veto. But in the end, both states were offered additional aid.
"When we said 'no' the second time, the British started talking about the possibility of another 120 million euros. They discussed it with the European Commission, but I'm not sure yet when they'll be clear about the money," Brazauskas said.
During the summit Lithuania secured an additional 220 million euros of structural aid and 50 million euros for the Ignalina decommissioning. On top of that, the commission pledged to find another 120 million in structural aid later.
European commissioner for budget and finance, Dalia Grybauskaite, who is a Lithuanian, said the European Commission may also redistribute some of the money assigned for Ignalina into structural funds. Although the new European budget isn't yet good enough, Grybauskaite said Lithuania would receive more funds than any other newcomer.
The commissioner complemented Lithuanian negotiators.
"This isn't an optimum European budget. This isn't a budget that the EU needs. It is too small 's [it] harms new member states, doesn't compensate enough and is out-of-date. The EU commitment to finding ways to modernize the EU budget in 2008 gives hope that it will get better. Every year, each Lithuanian resident will get 315 euros, which is the best result among all newcomers," Grybauskaite told the LRT.
While politicians rejoice over the stake Lithuania managed to secure, complimenting Brazauskas on his negotiation skills, experts warn that the time has come to prioritize the money's allocation.
"It is not that important how much money we receive, it's more important where we're going to redirect it," said Edgaras Leichteris, head of the Knowledge Economy Forum, an association uniting the most successful Lithuanian companies, scientists and politicians.
"It's worrying that the government is still undecided where it's going to spend the money. Will it be resolved to invest in human resources, innovation in science and education, or is it going to be again building roads and buildings as before?" said Leichteris.
The Knowledge Economy Forum argued that the modern world was fighting for brains. This, it said, is why Lithuania must invest in science and education, and not follow the example of Portugal, which invested the majority of its stake in road construction, resulting in only 2.6 percent annual economic growth. Experts criticized the government for spending aid on tangible objects such as construction, and ignoring investment in more intangible fields, the results of which would be only realized in 10-15 years.
"The bargained money should be dedicated to more purposeful political actions. If we don't solve the essential problems, or admit that they exist 's which many forget about while feasting on the present fast economic growth 's in several years we might end up with an empty pot," Leichteris said.