The President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, a former EU budget commissioner, is expected to play an important role in running the presidency. Even though Lithuania is a parliamentary republic, Grybauskaitė represents her country at EU summits and is far better known in EU circles than the Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius.
Lithuania swung left in parliamentary elections last October. The Labour Party of Russian-born millionaire Victor Uspaskich emerged as the winner and the Social Democrats of Butkevicius took second place. The latter took the office of Prime Minister in December.
The former coalition of the conservative Homeland party of Andrius Kubilius and the Liberal Movement took office at the end of 2008 and was forced to raise taxes and cut spending to stave off the tiny Baltic nation’s default on its debts.
It is in this difficult period that Grybauskaitė, then EU's commissioner for budget and financial planning in the first Barroso commission, announced that she would run for the Lithuanian presidency. She won the May 2009 election by a landslide, receiving over 68% of the vote.
Largely under Grybauskaitė's influence, on 14 October 2011, the parties represented in Parliament signed a pact, pledging continuity in the preparation for the Lithuanian EU presidency. In the period of the formation of the current government, it was reported that Grybauskaitė had auditioned all ministerial candidates for their English language skills, since most of them would have to chair Council meetings.
The governing coalition and the opposition have different views on Lithuanian-Russia relations and on projects aimed at decreasing the country’s energy dependence on Russia. Nevertheless it is not expected that internal tensions will play a key role during the country’s EU presidency.
Peak of legislative activity
The agenda of the Lithuania Presidency is expected to be busier than usual, as its EU stint coincides with a peak of the legislative activity of the current Parliament and Commission.
Lithuania's Presidency will be the last full-time Presidency before the May 2014 European elections and will have the largest workload compared to the other presidencies of the 'Trio' - the former Irish Presidency and the future Greek Presidency.
Lithuania takes the view that in spite of some statements, the eurozone crisis is far from over and much remains to be done to move forward with Economic and Monetary Union and Banking Union and reinforcing economic governance and fiscal surveillance. These issues rank high on the agenda of the Union and of the Lithuanian Presidency.
The Lithuania Presidency also aims at progress on the Single Market Act and reinforcement of the Services Directive. Other priorities include measures for the Digital Single Market and the completion of the internal energy market, improving infrastructure and transport links. To encourage job creation, the Lithuanian Presidency will focus on legislation to fight youth unemployment and increase labour market flexibility.
Undoubtedly, the 2014-2020 EU budget, also called Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), is the most daunting task for the Union and for the Lithuanian Presidency, which is committed to ensure that its implementation will start by 1 January 2014.
It is still unclear whether the current Irish presidency will be able to close the EU budget for 2014-2020 by the end of its term. But even in this optimistic scenario, it would be up to Lithuania to steer the adoption by co-decision of 75 pieces of legislation designed to implement it and allow the disbursement of EU funds. Of those 75 regulations, 56 need to be adopted before the end of the Lithuanian Presidency, otherwise there will be legal vacuum for the MFF, according to diplomats.
The summit of the Eastern Partnership to be held in Vilnius on 28-29 November is a key priority for Lithuania, which has been more supportive than others of rapprochement between the EU and those other countries covered by the initiative: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevičius, said that his country would do its utmost to contribute to further development of the Eastern Partnership policy. Lithuania hopes that this third such summit will see the signing of the Association Agreement, including a so-called "deep and comprehensive free trade agreement", with Ukraine, that similar agreements will be finalised with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia, and that progress will be made with Azerbaijan. Lithuania also hopes that the Vilnius Summit will serve as an opportunity to make progress in the field of visa liberalisation.
However, it remains uncertain if such an ambitious agenda can be fulfilled. With respect to Ukraine, the largest country covered by the Eastern partnership, EU officials say that progress is lacking in key areas of concern. These include the situation of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence, seen by many in the EU as politically motivated.
Energy issues are expected to be given a high priority during the Lithuanian Presidency. At their summit on 22 May, EU leaders adopted guidelines in four areas, including on the completion of the internal energy market, launched more than 10 years ago amid much resistance from wary member states.
According to the summit conclusions, EU leaders reaffirmed their objective of completing the internal energy market by 2014 and developing interconnections, so as to put an end to the isolation of Member States from European gas and electricity networks by 2015.
In this context, the Lithuanian Presidency has been tasked to present a report on equal market conditions for internal and external energy suppliers, to work on nuclear safety in the EU neighbourhood and, in general, to reflect how to better coordinate the external dimension of the EU energy policy.
Lithuania is a country that could be seen as an “energy island”, since it is still part of the Soviet grid. The country plans to synchronise its transmission system with that of the Union’s ENTSO-E system by 2016.
Lithuania has stated that it would seek completion of the internal EU energy market, as the only way to ensure secure energy supplies and competitiveness, and provide affordable prices for European citizens. Lithuania will also seek to strengthen the external dimension of the EU energy policy.
At their 14-15 March summit, EU leaders decided to hold a series of thematic discussions on sectoral and structural issues key to economic growth and European competitiveness. Accordingly, the 24-25 October summit will be dedicated to innovation and digital and other services.
Although the organisation of the summit falls within the competence of Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Lithuania will strive to bring to life some “deliverables” ahead of the summit, diplomats said.
The Lithuanian Presidency will seek to reach agreement on trans-European telecommunication networks regulation as a means of boosting investments in the ICT sector. An important aim of the Presidency is to develop secure, trustworthy and easy online transactions, as an important element of the European digital single market. The proposed regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market is seen as a priority for the Lithuanian Presidency.
An important highlight of the Lithuanian Presidency will be the ICT conference in to be held in Vilnius on 6-8 November with 3,000 participants, which is expected to be the largest Presidency event.
Effective management of EU external borders will be one of Lithuania’s priorities during its EU stint. According to officials, special attention will be given to the discussion on the Smart Borders package as well as proposal on Frontex joint operations at sea.
Another key area is cyber security, an issue which Lithuania plans to address in the informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs ministers on 18-19 July in Vilnius.
EU countries gave the European Commission a mandate on 14 June for negotiations with the USA to forge a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP). Brussels and Washington hope to deliver on their promise by the end of the Commission’s mandate in October 2014.
Although no major breakthroughs are expected in the short term, the Lithuanian Presidency is expected to help advance the negotiations, seen as one of the Union’s boldest projects in recent years. A comprehensive EU-US deal could over time boost EU GDP by 0.5% annually and help create approximately 400,000 jobs in the EU, according to the European Commission.