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Different issues, but a common front

  • 2002-12-19
Chief negotiator for Lithuania's Accession to the European Union, Petras Austrevicius, shared some insights with Line Wolf Nielsen after having completed negotiations about Lithuanian EU membership at last week's summit in Copenhagen. Well seasoned in foreign affairs, Austrevicius has found himself in the middle of a diplomatic tour de force that has helped the largest Baltic nation receive an invitation to join the union in 2004.

How do you feel tonight after having completed the accessions talks only a few hours ago?

In a way, I still feel as if I'm in the middle of it. Reality hasn't kicked in yet, and my mind is still busy because I have a feeling that quite a few chapters of the accession agreement need an overhaul. It's been a long marathon race, yet one with a time limit that sometimes has forced us to do things in a rush.

Right now, only a half-hour after the big "family photo" with European leaders, I'm still thinking about what letters need to be sent, what regulations need to be implemented…But I also feel relief because most of our goals have been accomplished, and Lithuania is a new member of the EU. I see the leaders of the European Union congratulate each other, and it makes me proud to know that they couldn't have done it without my team and me.

How did you enter the accession talks as Lithuania's chief negotiator?

It was natural for me to get involved when the job became vacant in the beginning of 2001 since I had been director general to the European Committee. It was a big challenge to pick up with the existing team and [to tackle] the issues of accession, but I knew quite a few of the team members from previous assignments and already had a good sense of the talks. Together we quickly got a grip.

What has been the most interesting and challenging part of the negotiations?

I think the year 2001 was an especially challenging one. Lithuania was lagging behind. We had only managed to close seven chapters in the beginning of the year, but in December we had caught up, which means that we have actually managed to close the chapters in twice the speed as the rest of the candidates.

We've also had the two special issues of Ignalina and Kaliningrad. These two aspects assured us that the negotiations were never boring. Kaliningrad came out in May 2002, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the middle of big power politics. It was not easy to see where it would end, and at one point I did ask myself if we were rushing into an EU where Russia too would become a member.

What was the biggest achievement then?

I think we reached a civilized decision on Kaliningrad. The question of how to secure the rights of the Russian exclave as well as Lithuanian sovereignty was solved by combining the interests of both the Schengen Agreement and Russian interests with the controlled transits. It is reasonable in all aspects - political and financial - and also for the EU.

Then we had some very long talks over Ignalina. Not just hours, but weeks and months. Ignalina wasn't solved until Friday [Dec. 13], on the last day of the negotiations. It has been a challenge to be that patient, and I think that goes for both sides since the commission never before has been so involved in nuclear politics. We managed to get an extra 285 million euros for a period of three years to ensure the safe closure of the plant.

To what degree have you coordinated your efforts with the other Baltic nations?

Baltic cooperation [intensified as time went on]. We did well, especially in the end. We met on a bilateral and trilateral basis, formally and informally. This has led to an increased understanding of our positions. We've all had very different issues to deal with but also shared some common fronts like agriculture. Having a well-defined united front on agriculture was an asset for all of us since it gave a stronger position in the negotiations.

What do you think of the Polish hard-line strategy?

I think Poland took some very important internal political issues into the negotiations. They did achieve something by doing it. They did get some extra money in the end, but I'm happy to say that they didn't do it at our expense.

Before entering the final negotiations what did you do to prepare yourself mentally?

I tried to be psychically relaxed. It wasn't that hard because I knew this last meeting would be rather easy for us. You have to find your place – where you are well aware of strengths and weaknesses - and then just fight your way through to the finals. I did stay on alert though, at least until Friday night [Dec.13.], when Poland had finally closed their deal, and we too had gotten a little extra.

What's up next then?

I will still be in my office Monday morning [Dec. 16] at the usual early hour. I'm sure there's a huge pile of papers, e-mails and other things that need my attention. We still have a lot of work remaining, trying to formulate the accession agreement in detail and informing the public about what we've achieved.