POWER STRUGGLE: Latvia and Lithuania have spent months bickering over which side should host a much-anticipated power link with Sweden. The two sides have now said that they are on the verge of an agreement on the issue, and that a resolution may come any day.
RIGA - A decision on the stalled energy link project that would connect Sweden with the Baltics appears imminent, as both Latvia and Lithuania pledge to reach a compromise deal on where the electricity cable would be constructed.
Latvia and Lithuania have competing claims for an underwater cable across the Baltic Sea to Sweden, with both countries keen to control the link that would help unlock the Baltic "energy island."
The project has been repeatedly delayed as the two countries squabble over where the so-called "power bridge" should be built.
Lithuania, which has EU backing for a separate land link to Poland, has long maintained the country is in a better position financially to develop the project than Latvia.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas told the Baltic News Service on Feb. 9 that an agreement between Vilnius and Riga on the power link project was at hand, and the two sides could settle their dispute within the week.
However, his Latvian counterpart Maris Riekstins was more cautious, saying agreement on construction of the joint energy link was unlikely before July.
Riekstins said it is important to distinguish between political competition and the best technical solution.
"We really hope experts will come up with the best technical proposal. What is needed is a joint integrated power market," said Riekstins. He said the upcoming meeting the three Baltic prime ministers in March could yield good results.
High level energy experts are currently assessing the technical, economic and social benefits of the rival project proposals submitted by Latvia and Lithuania.
Degraded electricity systems bequeathed to the Baltics by 50 years of Soviet occupation have so far hindered attempts at full energy integration.
The 2006 Estlink project, which linked Estonia to Finland, is currently the only major connection joining the Baltic region to the Nordic grid, with a further link now in the final planning stages.
On Jan. 28, the European Commission earmarked 175 million euros for the planned Swedlink project, and 100 million euros for a second Estlink cable project.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius had previously expressed frustration at the project's slow pace, saying its timely implementation was vital to securing energy supplies in the region.
"We have big challenges to reform our energy sector and integrate with our Nordic and European neighbors," said Kubilius.
The prime minister said the link with Poland would not be enough to ensure energy security.
"This link is not bringing us alternative energy supplies because Poland has a deficit," he said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the establishment of a joint Baltic market 'snot the location of the cable link 's should be the priority of both Latvia and Lithuania.
Bildt made the comments while on an official visit to Riga earlier this month for high level talks on economic and energy issues.
His sentiments were echoed by Swedish Ambassador to Latvia Mats Staffansson, who said Sweden was baffled by ongoing delays in getting the project off the ground. "In Sweden we do not understand why Latvia and Lithuania are not able to reach an agreement on the formation of such market. When there is the market, it will make no difference to Lithuania, Latvia or Sweden where the power link is," Saffansson said in a Feb. 9 interview on Latvian public radio.
Under the single market system Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia would be subject to laws and regulations governing the single energy market in the Nordic countries, with a view to integrating the Baltic states into the Nordic market by 2013.