VILNIUS - Bilateral cooperation between Lithuania and Poland received an injection of confidence last week as the two sides reached an agreement on where the planned Rail Baltica would cross the border and received a promising signal from Brussels on connecting the two countries' natural gas infrastructure.
Lithuanian Transport Minister Algirdas Butkevicius and Jerzy Polaczek, his Polish counterpart, on March 9 signed a memorandum on the exact border crossing juncture for the railway line, which will be Mockava-Trakiszki, Butkevicius said.
"With this significant document signed, we have agreed to notify the European Commission that the crossing point on the Lithuanian-Polish border has been identified," Butkevicius said.
"We could submit a request for additional funding both for the upgrade of the railway in Polish territory and the construction of the trans-European railway line in Lithuania," Butkevicius noted.
In Polaczek's words, Rail Baltica is a priority for Poland in the current six-year EU budget cycle, or 2007-2013.
"We will carry out benchmarking in order to choose the most proper route across Poland. This question will also be addressed by the Lithuanian-Polish railway commission, which will have to identify the major infrastructure works that should be done in Lithuania and Poland," he said.
Rail Baltica, which envisions a fast-train connection between Tallinn and Warsaw, via Riga and Kaunas, is one of the most ambitious EU-funded projects for the region. It will take up to 10 years to complete.
Polaczek said that a total of 5 billion euros would be earmarked by the EU for upgrade of railroad infrastructure in the current budget period. Some 100 million euros have been allocated for the Rail Baltica project.
"Together with Polish budget funds these amounts will grow 30 percent," he said.
For its part, Lithuania will allocate 500 million litas (145 million euros) for implementing the first stage of Rail Baltica.
Also, last week the European Commission said it could contribute to financing a feasibility study for connecting Lithuania and Poland's gas transportation systems, Lithuania's government said in a press release, citing a letter by commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to the two countries' prime ministers.
The letter was handed to Lithuania's delegation in Brussels on March 8, where the European Council met.
Previously Lithuanian and Polish leaders agreed to study possibilities for connecting their gas systems in order to integrate the Baltics more fully into the EU's energy structure and thereby diversify supplies. Currently Russia provides 100 percent of Lithuania's gas and some 60 percent of Poland's.
In addition, Lithuania and Poland have agreed to connect their electricity grids as part of the region's long-term strategy to integrate with Europe's energy market and reduce dependency on Russia.
In another moral boost, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, told President Valdas Adamkus in Vienna last week that the organization would support Lithuania's new nuclear power plant project.
El Baradei told Adamkus on March 8 that the four-sided agreement to build the plant should increase the region's energy security and independence.