DOWN TO BUSINESS: Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite met with the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg on June 25 where the two discussed the possibilities for importing Norwegian gas and electricity to Lithuania, as well as for EU-Norway cooperation during Lithuania’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
VILNIUS - The eyes and ears of Europe, and the world, will be turned to Lithuania for the next six months as the country takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In a historic first for a Baltic country, starting July 1 many of the EU’s most important decisions will go through Vilnius, the state capital.
This represents a major achievement for the country and its citizens.
Speaking about the benefits of the upcoming Presidency, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said that it will open up invaluable opportunities for the country. “After nine years of EU membership we can test our capacities and demonstrate that we are not only good members of the European family, but also excellent neighbors. The Presidency also means enhancing the country’s visibility and awareness, and should give a boost to the economy. More than 200 various meetings will take place in Lithuania with around 30,000 participants to attend,” she said, reports ELTA.
Permanent Representative of Lithuania Ambassador Raimundas Karoblis, speaking at an event organized by Belgian, German and Lithuanian think-tanks on June 18 in Brussels, said “The Presidency is an opportunity for Lithuania to contribute to the future of Europe as well as a chance to increase its visibility and demonstrate that it can lead the legislative process as efficiently as other member states.”
Setting out the priorities
Lithuania will focus on pursing a credible, growing and open Europe, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius said at the launch event of the Official Guide to the Lithuanian EU Council Presidency, hosted by the Permanent Representation of Lithuania to the EU together with Hill+Knowlton Strategies on June 13.
The Council of the European Union is one of the most important European institutions that, together with the Parliament and the European Commission, contributes to the legislative process in Europe. The holder of the Presidency changes every six months.
The Council works on ratifying EU legislation, coordinates the general economics policies of member countries, approves the annual EU budget, develops foreign and defense policies and submits pacts between Europe and other countries, among other duties. Every member country’s government has a representative in the EU Council.
The leading issues on Lithuania’s agenda for the next six months will include: a focus on employment and social policy, energy security and financial stability. Numerous other items crowd the agenda as well, including Eastern Partners relations, home affairs implementation of various programs, effective management of the EU external border, the fight against terrorism and organized crime, and health issues of the European Union.
Getting back to work
On June 20, at the EPSCO Council in Luxembourg, Lithuanian Minister of Social Security and Labor Algimanta Pabedinskiene introduced the main priorities in the field of employment and social policy.
The minister said that the main emphasis will be on the reduction of youth unemployment, which continues to be a major challenge for most EU member states. “Lithuania will try to ensure that attention to youth employment is given at the highest political level. We will focus on effective implementation of the Youth Guarantee Initiative, organize discussions between ministers and social partners and propose the Council declaration regarding the European Alliance for Apprenticeships,” said the minister.
Pabedinskiene stated that it is essential to ensure the efficient coordination between education, training as well as social and employment policies, and to enforce effective and quality functioning of employment agencies, which would contribute to implementing the Youth Guarantee. “Even in times of austerity adequate funding should be allocated for the instruments of an active labor market” added the minister.
Chief presidential advisor on economic and social policy issues Nerijus Udrenas says that although youth unemployment has been reduced in Lithuania, more attention must be paid to this issue. According to Udrenas, one of the main reasons why there is such high youth unemployment is the lack of skills. Various surveys revealed that 30-50 percent of young people do not have any work experience.
“Lithuania is one of those countries that successfully took advantage of the opportunity of redistributed funds from the European Social Fund and reduced youth unemployment by almost 6 percent. However, it is not enough. Further action, focused work and a broader approach to this question are necessary,” said Udrenas in an interview on radio Ziniu Radijas on June 18.
“These figures show that, on one hand, the education system is not working properly, particularly the coordination of studies and practice. On the other hand, labor market policy measures are not always transparent and effective,” said Udrenas.
Better protection of workers, including migrant workers, is another priority area for Lithuania.
The Lithuanian Presidency will also seek to move forward on the Enforcement Directive, on measures facilitating the exercise of rights for workers in the context of freedom of movement. Those legal acts would ameliorate the possibilities of EU citizens to exercise their right of free movement.
In the area of equal rights between men and women and anti-discrimination, Lithuania will seek an agreement in the Council on the Directive on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges and related measures. The Equal treatment Directive and the Council recommendation on enhancing the effectiveness of measures for Roma integration are also among the dossiers that Lithuania intends to focus on in the next half of the year.
No country is an island
On energy security in the EU, one goal is to eliminate “energy islands.” Efforts will as well be made to create a functioning internal energy market in order to guarantee energy self-sufficiency within the union, and that no member state remains isolated from European energy networks after 2015. Energy resources also should be available at reasonable prices in this market.
To stress the importance of this goal, the European Council has agreed to create the ‘Connecting Europe’ facility, which will be an important new instrument in expanding Europe’s energy infrastructure inside and across national borders.
The facility will support pan-European projects where a coordinated and optimized approach will reduce the collective costs or address the issue of uneven investment returns. It will exploit synergies in hard infrastructure (for example in large transport and energy cross-border links) and by deploying smart information technologies in transport and energy infrastructure, writes the Web site policy.eu.org.
Moreover, Grybauskaite has declared many times that “The Presidency will promote free trade with strategic partners such as the USA, Japan, Canada and others.”
Restoring trust in the markets
One of the most important duties Lithuania has will be in gaining approval of the next EU budget, which is planned for seven years, with the present budget expiring at the end of 2013.
Ambassador Karoblis confirms that the EU multi-annual budget for 2014-2020 (Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020) is one of the main Presidency priorities. He expressed hope that the current Irish Presidency of the Council will reach political agreement with the European Parliament, opening the doors for Lithuania to focus on adopting the more than 70 pieces of legislation essential for the money to flow to the EU-financed initiatives from the start of the next year.
Regarding a credible Europe, Lithuania “will strive to make progress towards sounder public finances in the EU and to strengthen the ground for financial stability, which is required to fully restore the EU’s economic credibility,” said Karoblis. He added that the Presidency’s efforts will be directed at further developing the Banking Union framework, and making progress on other legislative proposals in the field of financial market reforms. “Its key task will be the implementation and enhancement of agreed reforms including economic governance, and the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union,” he said.
Concerning a growing Europe, Lithuania plans to focus on further deepening and integrating the Single Market as the main driving force for economic growth and better employment opportunities, including completion of the initiatives of the Single Market Act I and advancing the new initiatives under Single Market Act II.
Getting things done
Lithuania takes over the Presidency from Ireland. President Grybauskaite says that “We will build on the Irish achievements in tackling the problems that preoccupy all Europeans the most.” But consensus between political forces will be the key to success for Lithuania’s Presidency, she stressed during a meeting with members of committees on foreign and European affairs of the Seimas on June 20.
What does this all mean for the Lithuanian people? Laima Andrikiene, member of EU Parliament, said this: “Lithuania will be the first of the three Baltic ‘sisters’ – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – to hold the EU Presidency since joining the European Union in May of 2004. For my homeland, which regained its independence in 1990, i.e. 23 years ago after being occupied by the Soviet Union for 50 years, the Presidency of the EU Council is also a learning exercise. Lithuanians will explore an opportunity to understand Europe better and to present our objectives under the EU rules of the game, to initiate change and for six months to ensure the smooth running of the EU. I wish Lithuania to lead the EU Council in a professional and effective, results-oriented way.”
Lithuania is now in the spotlight. Considering that already on July 5 another historic event, according to senior foreign policy advisor to President Grybauskaite Jovita Neliupsiene, takes place to mark the beginning of Lithuania’s Presidency, namely that all the members of the European Commission will visit Lithuania for the first time to discuss the key issues of the Presidency, at least Lithuania knows it will have the support of all its fellow EU members.
The official Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council Web site can be found at: eu2013.lt.