Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen met with Lithuanian leaders in Vilnius Feb. 25 and reassured them that Denmark will give $13.3 million for Lithuanian energy projects, mostly dealing with the future closure of the Ignalina power plant and fighting the social fallout of this closure.
Rasmussen shared Lithuania's concern about the future of Visaginas, the town where most people work at the Ignalina nuclear plant. Visaginas might be hit by social problems after the plant's closure. Rasmussen visited Visaginas and spoke about it with regional authorities. He also went to Ignalina nuclear plant and stood 10 meters above the nuclear reactor, while he chatted with the plant's managers.
Ignalina was just one of Rasmussen's topics of discussion. He reassured President Valdas Adamkus, Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis and Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius that Denmark remains a devoted advocate for Lithuania's membership in NATO and the European Union.
"The speed of the EU-entry talks depends on Lithuania," Rasmussen said. He said that Lithuania in its EU entry negotiations can overtake those candidate countries that started EU entry talks two years earlier. Lithuania started such negotiations on Feb. 15 of this year.
Speaking about Lithuania's preparations to join NATO, Rasmussen paid tribute to Lithuanian soldiers who are participating in peacekeeping operations in countries of the former Yugoslavia. They are training in Denmark before leaving for the Balkans.
"I have seen your soldiers guarding a bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina and I was not allowed to pass this bridge without permission of Lithuanian soldiers," Rasmussen said with a smile.
"Denmark remains one of the strongest of Lithuania's political partners. Exactly nine years ago Denmark was one of the first countries that recognized Lithuania's independence," Kubilius said.
Denmark also is one of the main economic partners of Lithuania. In 1999 Denmark was the fourth major Lithuanian partner after Germany, Latvia, and Russia. Lithuania's export to Denmark makes up 6.3 percent of total Lithuanian exports. Import from Denmark makes up roughly 5 percent of total imports.
In 1998 these figures were 4.0 percent and 3.8 percent respectively, which then made Denmark the sixth major Lithuanian trade partner.
Rasmussen expressed a desire to see more of Lithuania. It was the first official visit of this Danish Social Democrat prime minister and his wife Lone Dybkjaer, MP of the European Parliament.
They visited Aukstaitija National Park, took a stroll in the old towns of Kaunas and Klaipeda. "I would call Kaunas a beautiful swan - it is so much changed since Soviet times," Rasmussen said.
He also stopped to sip beer in Klaipeda Svyturys brewery which was bought by the Danish concern Carlsberg.