The importance of this week's meeting between the Baltic states' prime ministers cannot be overstated. For the first time in recent memory the heads of government showed some collective ambition: They agreed to cooperate on financing and building a new nuclear power plant in Lithuania.
Recent trends in the world energy industry have given the Baltic leaders pause, and all have come to the conclusion 's not unlike the U.S. administration 's that the only viable energy future is one that reduces dependency on unreliable suppliers. After the Belarus and Ukraine incidents, Russia has clearly shown it cannot be relied upon.
"The safe provision of energy resources, electricity in the first place, and natural gas, crude and petroleum products in the second place, is vital for the Baltic countries," Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said after signing a joint protocol of intention in Lithuania. "It will ensure greater independence and economic soundness of our countries."
Considering the size of the deal 's at least 2 billion euros, or a large chunk of the three countries' aggregate GDP 's Baltic solidarity will be crucial for success. The challenges are tremendous, but accomplishable. Lithuania will need all the technological and financial help it can muster. Assistance from Brussels will be imperative; no such project of a grand scale will ever get off the ground without European Commission approval. Also, serious lobbying efforts will have to be undertaken in Paris, Berlin, London and other capitals to win support from nuclear energy-producing nations, who in turn will offer financial assistance by contracting their own nuclear engineering specialists.
Baltic leaders must also be prepared to counter the skeptics. Nuclear energy, after all, has had its share of bad press, particularly in this part of the world 's i.e., in the near vicinity of Chernobyl. But Lithuanians have one argument in their favor: if they have demonstrated that they can manage questionable Soviet nuclear technology, then might not their scientists and experts be trusted to run a modern facility built in accordance to the latest standards?
Another extraordinarily important challenge will be for Lithuanians to show that they can manage the shutdown of the second reactor of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. The European Union earmarked 320 million euros for decommission both the plant's units in 2004 's 2006 (including 90 million this year), while another 865 million euros have been approved for the next seven-year spending period. Under no circumstances can the Lithuanian government allow these funds to be misused; if it does, Brussels will only be more reluctant to lend assistance for a new plant. The same holds true for the management and control of all EU funds.
Finally, Lithuania's leadership must get back to the basics and learn how to lead. The government of Algirdas Brazauskas has been woefully inadequate in this regard, and seems to exist on scandal. The prime minister and the member of his Cabinet need to look themselves in the mirror and ask whether they are capable of spearheading the gargantuan effort of building a new atomic power plant. Judging from past performance, they are most certainly not.