VILNIUS - Iceland occupies a very special place in the hearts of the majority of Lithuanians. Iceland was the first country to recognize the independence of Lithuania, in February, 1991, while the rest of the world did it only after the fall of communism in Moscow in August, 1991. There is the Street of Iceland in central Vilnius to honor Iceland's support in 1991. Now, Lithuania enthusiastically greeted Iceland's European Union bid. Officially, Vilnius promises unconditional support to Reykjavik in joining the EU.
On July 23, Iceland applied to join the EU, a week after Iceland's parliament voted in favor of accession to the 27-nation bloc. Icelandic Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson submitted the request to his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, during a ceremony in Stockholm. Sweden currently holds the EU's rotating six-month presidency.
On July 23, the Lithuanian parliament passed the resolution, which "calls upon national parliaments and governments of all EU countries to support Iceland's objective of joining the European Union, asking the European Commission to state its opinion by the end of 2009 on Iceland's readiness to open membership negotiations."
The resolution recalls with appreciation that Iceland was the first state to recognize Lithuania's independence and expresses hope that formal negotiations could start as early as beginning of 2010.
There were very few MPs who did not support the resolution. "How does the EU membership help the Baltic countries?" rhetorically shouted Julius Veselka, MP of the Order and Justice Party.
"People of Iceland are under stress now. Their behavior is not adequate," another Euro-skeptic MP Valdemaras Valkiunas said at the parliament's sitting.
Valkiunas' emotional outburst was immediately commented on by Parliament Chairman Arunas Valinskas who was presiding over the parliament's session, noticing "The wrong phase of the moon continues."
The result was clear 's 106 MPs voted in support of the resolution, two were against while four abstained.
The resolution also declares a willingness to share Lithuania's experience of EU accession negotiations with Iceland. On July 24, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas met Skarphedinsson in Reykjavik to discuss all necessary practical help in future EU membership negotiations.
On July 27, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have asked the European Commission to begin assessing Iceland's readiness for membership.
Being part of the European Economic Area and the Schengen Area, Iceland already implemented more than two thirds of the EU laws into it's national legislation. It can significantly speed up the process of accession. Iceland can join in 2013, with a referendum on EU membership in Iceland in late 2011 or early 2012.
In case of successful negotiations over the EU membership, at the final phase of the EU entry process, the European Parliament's assent is required for allowing new countries to join the EU. Lithuanian Members of the European Parliament are ready to help.
"As a Lithuanian, I can only welcome Iceland's ambition to join the EU. It would give more prominence to the European alliance of small nations challenging a widespread cliche that the EU is a British, French, and German club. Needless to say, Lithuania will strongly support and advocate a benevolent Nordic nation that was the first to recognize the newly restored independence of Lithuania. Last but not least, Iceland's membership in the EU would deal a blow to the growing army of Euro-skeptics who will be left to face the fact that Europe, as Guy Verhofstadt [leader of the ALDE, the liberal group in the European Parliament] put it recently, is not a problem but, instead, the solution of problems," Leonidas Donskis, Lithuanian Liberal Member of the European Parliament, told The Baltic Times.
Iceland recognized Lithuania's independence in February, 1991. On Jan. 20, 1991, Iceland's Foreign Minister Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson visited Lithuania's parliament, which was surrounded by barricades awaiting the Soviet army attack. Just a few days earlier, on Jan. 13, 1991, the Soviet army occupied the Vilnius TV tower killing 13 civilians and injuring over 500 more civilians. "My Government is seriously considering the possibility of entering into diplomatic relations with Lithuania," Hannibalsson then said at the press conference in the Lithuanian parliament.
He kept his promise. The rest of the West feared the USSR and recognized Lithuania's independence only after the collapse of communism in Moscow in August, 1991. Now Lithuania is happy to return thanks.