Preparation for Lithuania's leadership over the EU

  • 2010-01-20
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

THE FLAG OF A NEW SUPERPOWER: Lithuania will hold its presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half-year of 2013.

VILNIUS - On Jan. 14, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister met with Dimitris Droutsas, alternate minister of foreign affairs of Greece. They discussed, among other things, Lithuania’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2013. Lithuania will be the first Baltic country getting such an enormous challenge for its state bureaucracy.

The Lisbon Treaty, which is now in effect, foresees that the presidency of the EU is undertaken by the presidency trios according to the schedule, which is set in advance, and that they jointly prepare an 18 month program for the activities of the Council. Lithuania will coordinate its presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2013 with Ireland, which will hold the presidency before Lithuania, and with Greece, which will hold the EU presidency for the first half of 2014.

“It will be a coalition of ‘rain, snow and the sun.’ We agreed to cooperate closely and to draft a joint program of the three states, as is set out in the Lisbon Treaty,” Usackas said in the joint press conference of both ministers after the meeting.
“We have to start preparing for the EU presidency well in advance. Therefore, we have preliminarily discussed the areas that are currently most important for us: a common EU energy market, the continuity of the EU’s Baltic Sea Strategy and maintaining the dynamics of EU enlargement. We are also interested to maintain strict border protection as well as cooperation in the sphere of justice and home affairs,” Usackas emphasized.

His position in his post is weak now. Political analysts are guessing when he will resign because of public disagreements with President Dalia Grybauskaite. The former employees of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry say that the conflict between Usackas and Grybauskaite has its psychological roots. In the past, Usackas and Grybauskaite worked together in the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and there was some competition among them during their common work. Regardless, preparation for the presidency in the EU Council will be continued whoever will be in the office of the chief of the Foreign Ministry.

The EU presidency is not an inexpensive business. According to Usackas, countries which held such presidencies spent from 80 million euros to 300 million euros. Lithuania’s spending will be closer to the lower of the mentioned levels, he said. Lower spending also could be influenced by the fact that since introduction of the Lisbon Treaty, two new posts appeared in the EU structure – the post of president of the European Council and the post of the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. A country which holds the EU presidency should share its activity with those two new EU top officials. It is unclear what exactly this sharing will look like. It will be arranged by the practice of Spain, which holds the EU presidency from Jan. 1, 2010. Spain is the first country holding the EU presidency after the Lisbon Treaty came into force.

Several thousand national bureaucrats are involved in creation of the pan-EU agenda when a country presides over the Council of the EU. Kestutis Sadauskas, head of the European Commission’s representation in Lithuania, describes the EU member state’s presidency in the Council of the EU as “the second baptism” of the EU member state - the first one is the entry of that country into EU membership. This second baptism requires the good professional skills of a national bureaucracy. Political analysts are rather skeptical about those skills in the Lithuanian bureaucracy. Hearings on would-be members of the European Commission are now going on in the European Parliament. Algirdas Semeta, Lithuania’s former finance minister and currently Lithuania’s nominee for the taxation and anti-fraud portfolio in the European Commission, was evaluated by the Financial Times as the second worst nominee out of all 26 candidates – only the Bulgarian nominee was considered a professionally weaker candidate than Semeta.

“The overwhelming impression was one of disappointment, which leads us to question his suitability to be nominated for this important Commission portfolio,” Hannes Swoboda, Austrian member of the Socialist faction in the European Parliament, told  the Financial Times about Semeta’s performance during the hearings. Nonetheless, Semeta has a good chance to pass the exam in the European Parliament because it has a right to reject only the Commission as whole, not individual candidates. The usage of such a nuclear option would be too extraordinary an event for the European Parliament, though if MEPs were to raise particularly strong objections to a candidate, Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission’s president, may consider the withdrawal of such person from the candidates’ list. On Jan. 19, the Bulgarian nominee was forced to revoke her candidacy, and Bulgaria proposed its new nominee.