Brussels talks about finances, Libya and nukes

  • 2011-03-30
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On March 24-25, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite attended the two-day European Council meeting in Brussels. Grybauskaite gets revived during those regular EU summits in Brussels, where she used to be an EU commissioner before being elected Lithuania’s president: European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, although being Flemish, gives her the traditional three French-style greeting kisses on both cheeks, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, her former boss still in the same job, welcomes her back home, while Italy’s bunga-bunga maestro Silvio Berlusconi answers with a smile to her loud “Buongiorno!” leaving her to chat girlishly with Angela Merkel. Grybauskaite also uses her trips to Brussels for shopping, and shopping can keep a woman’s spirits high. This time, the European Council discussed Libya, EU finances and nuclear plant safety. Grybauskaite says that she got what she wanted in Brussels regarding the two controversial Russian-constructed nuclear plants which are planned to be built, in several years, close to Lithuania in Russia’s Kaliningrad district and Belarus.

One of these Russian-made nuclear plants, which is planned to be built in Belarus, according to an analysis by magazine Veidas, is just 36 kilometers from the Vilnius central post office building on Gedimino Avenue. Other sources give a several kilometers longer distance between Vilnius and the future Russian-Belarusian plant, but they measure travel by road, while radiation usually does not travel by car. During the European Council meeting, Grybauskaite communicated with her nation via her video appeals on her presidential Web site. “I’m inviting other EU countries to respond to Lithuania’s call to refrain from buying electricity from power plants which fail to meet the highest safety standards,” she said on March 24. “The European Council agreed with a Lithuanian proposal that all existing and future nuclear power plants in the European Union, as well as those nuclear plants that are situated close to the European Union’s external borders, should be subject to stress testing,” Grybauskaite said on March 25. The European Council asked the European Commission to create regulations on how the EU’s nuclear safety requirements would be applied in the EU and in neighboring states situated close to the EU’s external borders, though the EU “respects the sovereignty of EU’s neighbors,” as Barroso put it.

The European Council adopted the Euro-Plus-Pact that will prompt countries to further coordinate their economic policies and give them access, in return, to the EU’s permanent bailout facility after 2013. The Berlin-promoted pact recommends raising retirement ages and linking salaries to increased productivity (these tasks did provoke mass protest demonstrations by trade unions in Brussels during the EU summit) leaving it up to individual nations to decide on how and when to achieve these goals. On March 23, the Lithuanian government decided to join the pact, although for non-members of the eurozone joining was optional. Another five non-eurozone EU states – Denmark, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland – also joined the pact while four non-eurozone EU states - Hungary, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and the United Kingdom – opted to stay away from the pact. Grybauskaite praised the pact, stating that “it ties the hands of those who may want to pass excessively populist decisions.”

The Libya issue was also discussed during this regular EU summit, which adopted new statements against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, urging the international community to ensure that Libya’s oil and gas revenues do not reach his regime. It seems that a slap by a racketeering Tunisian policewoman in the face of a street fruit vendor, which inspired him to set himself on fire a couple of months ago, consequently provoking the Arab spring, did provide a permanent theme for discussions in the European Council meetings. Lithuania could make only a symbolic gesture in backing the Libyan operation: Lithuania, together with nine other NATO member states as well as Finland and Sweden, owns a military transport airplane, a C-17 Boeing Globemaster III, which is stationed in Hungary and Lithuania has the right to use the airplane 45 hours per year – Lithuania did offer five hours of its time to the NATO allies if they would need that plane for some Libya-related humanitarian operation.