ON TARGET: Jaroslav Neverovic says Lithuania will work to complete the EU’s internal energy market by 2014.
BRUSSELS - With the European Union Council Presidency under way, Lithuania, the current host, is to flex out all its muscles to roll forward the mounting tasks of the European stint, best laid out in the Lithuanian slogan for the presidency: “For a reliable, open and growing Europe!” To bolster the Presidency host’s resolution to responsibly pursue it, nearly all the Cabinet of Lithuanian government this week has been dispatched to Brussels.
A Brussels try-out for Lithuania’s government
Although - as someone noticed - there’s not the slightest sign of the honorable commitment in the proximity and the outer spaces of the European Parliament, the edifice at the beginning of the week was seemingly teeming with high-ranking Lithuanian officials, press corps, NGOs and others. And yes, at the door of the venues, there were stands announcing the Lithuanian presidency; however, the inscriptions were indistinct.
Overall, the Lithuanian ministers and vice-ministers who presented the Lithuanian EU Council Presidency’s agendas in their respective fields did, largely, quite a good job.
Needless to say, some of them could hardly quench their unease in speaking in front of seasoned MEPs from across the old continent. But with slip-of-the-tongue mistakes (like Energy Minister Neverovic, who called a respectable EP senior male officer “madam” when addressing him from the painstakingly crafted speech script), the advisers came to the rescue - prompted by which questions had been missed, or what else should have been said.
Some of the Lithuanian ministers and vice-ministers, like the Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister Vytautas Leskevicius, reminisced briefly of their personal experiences from the Soviet past in their speeches.
Sure, all of them praised the EU spirit and European values and hurried to assure listeners that the Lithuanian Presidency will strive to enhance them.
The European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who descended into Vilnius ahead of the Lithuanian government’s Brussels voyage, had already reminded Lithuania that the EU expects the first-ever EU Presidency’s Baltic host to pursue not only spurring EU financial security, economic growth and the EU Eastern Partnership, but also enhancing minority rights, especially those of gays. The latter group can be perhaps the hardest to gulp down for a slew of Lithuanian politicians.
Barroso’s remarks on the LGBT situation in Lithuania so far is the only rebuke Lithuania has received.
Slogans need to be filled with content
Frankly, it was hard to follow all the presentations and meetings with participating Lithuanian government members, especially since some of them were taking place simultaneously. But from my point of view, Linas Linkevicius, the foreign minister, and Jaroslav Neverovic, the Lithuanian energy minister - and the heartthrob of EP female officials - have scored best.
“The slogans of the EU Council presidency are very nice as most of us are very good in creating them. But our task is to fill up the slogans with an appropriate content. And I’m talking not only of the EU Eastern European Partnership, our main focus, but also other regions that, because of what is happening, there is a concern for the European Union,” said the foreign minister at the beginning of the meeting with the members of EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
For Ukraine, he said, it is crucial not only to revamp its judicial and electoral systems, but also to finally resolve the Julia Timoshenko issue – and release her from jail.
Reverberating on the previous remarks on Ukraine by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, that Lithuania should not be pushing Ukraine “too much,” the minister did not grill further, but optimistically hinted that there are, for Ukraine, “certain perspectives” to sign the EU Association Treaty in the fall. Sure, if the country makes progress in solving the three issues.
“Sure, we want to involve Ukraine into the EU processes; we want it to approach the Union. But first Ukraine has to do the homework, and [then] I believe Europe will be ready…” Linkevicius said.
Speaking of Georgia, Linkevicius warned it not to take steps that would make the “European process irreversible.”
Azerbaijan, he said, will not be a member of the EU, but he noted that there’s an ongoing dialogue with the country. “And that’s good,” noted the minister.
Speaking of Belarus, Linkevicius said he “was reluctant” to put the Lithuanian and Belarusian issues to the audience, but emphasized that a nuclear plant on the countries’ border “cannot be acceptable to Lithuania.”
The Lithuanian minister said he was quite positive about Albania, which was praised by some euro-parliamentarians for a recent transparent election.
Asked about the U.S. snooping scandal, Linkevicius stuck with careful wording. “Frankly speaking, I feel like avoiding being too emotional when speaking about it. We need to be professional and to clarify the situation, and make sure that violations of human rights will not take place in the future,” Linkevicius stressed.
Lithuanian MEP Vytautas Landsbergis asked his fellow countryman whether a political dialogue with Belarus can be started if the country releases its all political prisoners. “I have no illusions to change the Belarusian policy makers’ thinking, but I really would like them to understand that it is in their interest to be on good terms with Europe,” the minister said.
Linkevicius noted that Lithuania will seek to start negotiations with Serbia over a closer relationship with the EU before December.
Two pillars in Presidency Energy agenda
Perhaps the most important questions of the Lithuanian Presidency for Lithuania lie in the energy agenda.
“The completion of the EU internal energy market by 2014, and enhancing the external dimension of energy policy are the two pillars of the Lithuanian EU Council Presidency’s energy agenda,” Lithuanian Energy Minister Neverovic announded to members of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee.
Completing the EU internal energy market by 2014, he closely links with positive EU economic and security of energy supply effects.
Why for the Presidency these two priorities matter a whole lot more than others is their potential to spur the European Union’s job market and growth agenda, which is an inseparable task from the EU targets for competitiveness, as well as achievement of the climate and energy goals set for 2020.
Emphasizing that the external dimension of energy policy is the second pillar of the Lithuanian Presidency’s Energy agenda priorities, Neverovic agreed that it can be implemented only if the EU will have a stable and transparent global energy market able to ensure energy security.
“We must continue to strengthen the EU member states’ cooperation as regards the external dimensions of the EU energy policy, and in our relations with external suppliers of energy resources,” the minister emphasized.
Given the many significant developments which have occurred over the last two years in the field of external energy relations, the Lithuanian Presidency will serve in helping the European Commission review and update the guidelines set out in the 2011 Council Conclusions on external energy relations, with a view to improving the consistency, credibility and effectiveness of EU action.
This review is expected to be endorsed at the Energy Council in December.
Irish Presidency’s continuity
Obviously, the Lithuanian Presidency will have to ensure the continuity of the Irish Presidency work, during which, Neverovic acknowledged, for example, “significant progress” has been made on the draft Directive on Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC).
“Time is essential for our joint discussions… My impression is that the three Institutions - European Parliament, EU Council and EC - share a similar appreciation of the need for ILUC mitigation on the one hand, while maintaining clear investment perspectives and the achievability of the EU renewables targets on the other… The Lithuanian Presidency is keen to reach agreement with the Parliament on a common objective so as to finalize this dossier,” the energy minister stressed.
Besides, during the EU Council mission, Lithuania expects to finalize the Draft Regulation on Notification of investment projects in energy infrastructure, as well as the proposal for sustainability requirements for solid and gaseous biomass in electricity, heating and cooling.
When it comes to nuclear issues, the Lithuanian Presidency’s energy agenda is to focus on the revision of the 2009 Directive on Nuclear Safety, which will be one of the most important dossiers in the nuclear field.
So far it seems the Lithuanian EU Council Presidency has been off to a good start. “Despite having a small administration, Lithuania will do its best to achieve results. But they will not depend on the Presidency or the Council alone. Success is the task for all EU institutions. We very much hope that all relevant institutions would assume their share of responsibility,” said the convinced Lithuanian ambassador to the EU, Raimundas Karoblis.