EXCLUSIVE / On the eve of taking the baton from Ireland to chair the Council of the European Union for the next six months, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė vowed to push through legislation that would help lift Europe out of its economic doldrums, especially provisions related to the implementation of the EU's 2014-2020 budget.
Grybauskaitė told EurActiv that the main goal of the country’s presidency will be "commitment, professionalism and results."
“We will strive to be a trustworthy presidency – a presidency you can rely on. We will deliver what we promise to deliver,” she said.
Lithuania, assuming the rotating presidency of the EU as of today (1 July), will have to deal with more than 300 legislative proposals, the bulk of it related to the EU's 2014-2020 budget.
Grybauskaitė said that if the European Parliament finally endorses the budget, the presidency will be able to do the job by the end of the year, underlining nonetheless that it will be tough to re-launch Europe's economy with smaller budget.
“About 80% of the EU budget goes to traditional policies and for the rest we are trying to reshuffle our priorities in the leftovers. These are very small amounts. If we front-load for youth unemployment, we are taking away from transport and energy connections, which is again very important,” she said.
Energy security will be a key priority for Vilnius, alongside tackling unemployment, which will be at the centre of an EU leaders' high-level conference in Berlin on 3 July.
Shooting ourselves on the foot
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, more broadly, to reflect on how to better coordinate the external dimension of the EU's energy policy.
The country would seek completion of the internal EU energy market, as a way to secure energy supplies and competitiveness, and provide affordable prices for European citizens.
With the United States and Canada producing shale gas, Europe also has to develop further its own production capacity in the energy market, Grybauskaitė said.
“If we want in the short-term or the medium-term to be less dependent, we need to investigate what we have ourselves,” the Lithuanian president added, noting that not knowing what kind of resources Europe has is a "huge mistake that can be very costly."
“We need to understand that with such energy policies in the European Union, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and we will be less and less competitive and our recovery will be more difficult, more costly to our people,” she said.
Not common, but coordinated defence policy
The president also advocated a coordinated approach on defence policy. “It is not only about defence, it’s about the defence industry, it’s about securitising our neighbourhood,” she said, indicating that almost eight years have gone since the last time the EU attempted to put the issue on the table.
Asked if she thought more integration was needed to lift the 28-country bloc out of its crisis, she said that globalisation challenges push Europe to be more integrated economically.
“We need to finalise our internal market everywhere - in finance, in digitalisation, in services - to be able to compete, to be able to solve the economic pressure coming from outside."
"It's not only about the debt crisis, it's also an economic crisis, it's a symbiosis of both now,” she said.
However, she insisted that more political integration will come with time.
“You cannot impose by force more rapid political integration or more rapid economic integration. All this needs to mature. And with economic difficulties and cycles you need to build stone by stone,” she argued, saying federalists should understand.
Iron lady at the EU top?
Asked if she felt like coming back to Brussels and fill one of the top EU jobs after the European elections in 2014, Grybauskaitė said she did not want speculate about her future.
Responding to a question on the right leadership for Europe, she answered: “It’s not about what kind of leadership, just leadership.”
“A leader takes responsibility, sacrifice for other people. You need to start from yourself … you need to be a leader in whatever you do,” said the Baltic leader often called the ‘Iron lady’.
- 1 July-31 Dec. 2013: Lithuanian presidency of the EU