Tiny Lithuania prepares to wrestle with heavy EU dossiers

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Lithuania, the tiny Baltic country that will take over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, will have to deal with extremely heavy dossiers, such as the adoption of the 70 items of legislation needed to implement the EU budget for the next seven years, as well as preparation for the Eastern Partnership summit, diplomats told EURACTIV.

The Lithuanian government held a joint meeting with the European Commission in Brussels yesterday (24 April), to “synchronise the clocks” ahead of the country’s first EU stint.

Speaking alongside Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevi?ius, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said this would be “a period of particularly hard work in the Council and in the European Parliament” with European elections looming in May 2104.

Diplomats told EURACTIV that the small administration of Lithuania will have to deal with an unusually heavy agenda that will also include the “unfinished business” of previous presidencies.

Lithuania, a nation of 3.2 million, will be succeeded in the presidency by Greece, a nation nearly four times larger which inherits the presidency during the election season when less policymaking will take place.

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 some 70 pieces of legislation designed to implement it and allow the disbursement of EU funds.

In addition, Barroso said Lithuania would have to push the implementation of the ‘Compact for Growth and Jobs’, agreed in June 2012 under pressure by the recently elected French President François Hollande. Two other priorities Barroso cited are the Banking Union, including the adoption of the proposal on the single resolution mechanism which the Commission will present in June, and pushing the objective of fully completing the internal energy market by 2014.

Barroso said he shared Lithuania’s view about the importance of the Eastern Partnership summit that will take place in Vilnius on 28-29 November. If successful, the summit could mark the signing of an association agreement with Ukraine, as well as the initialling of Association agreements with Armenia, Moldova and Georgia.

‘Credible, growing and open Europe’

Butkevi?ius said his country had the ambition to help reach consensus on difficult topics and show the world that Europe remains “credible, growing and open”.

Butkevi?ius, who is the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania and took the job of prime minister in December following long negotiations after the October elections, spoke of the need to restore the markets’ confidence trough developing the economy and creating jobs, but also through fiscal stability and sustainability.

EURACTIV asked both leaders about the small window of opportunity given to Ukraine to respond to a series of conditions for its Association agreement to be signed. Indeed, the EU-Ukraine summit held last February gave Kyiv until May to make "tangible progress” on the problem of "selective justice" – a reference to the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The deadline also applies to democratic shortcomings stemming from the October national elections, and advances on judiciary reforms.

Barroso said that the Commission and Lithuania were working already now to prepare for the Vilnius summit.

The Commission president said he attributed “the highest importance” to Ukraine-EU relations, but stressed that the result depended mainly on the Ukrainian authorities themselves. He added that the EU will use the opportunity “to ask Ukraine to show real commitment in the implementation of reforms, to show that we can count on Ukraine to be an important partner, so that we can attain the objective we have set for the Vilnius summit”.

Butkevi?ius said he hoped that the Ukraine association agreement would be signed on the 28 or 29 of November.

According to diplomats, even in the most optimistic scenario that all documents are signed or initialled, the real success of the Vilnius summit will rely on the EU's ability to propose a perspective of integration with the countries concerned.

Lithuania, a country of 3.2 million which joined the EU in 2004, will assume its first presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July.

Although it has not yet become a eurozone member, Lithuania considers itself as one of the most successful countries to overcome the economic and financial crisis and to return to sustained recovery and growth.

The priorities of the presidency are built around the key words “credible Europe”, “growing Europe” and “open Europe”. It will strive to make progress toward sounder public finances, towards the implementation for the Compact for Growth and Jobs, and towards the strengthening of the EU as a global model of openness and security.

  • 1 July: Lithuanian Presidency begins
  • 28-29 Nov.: Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius
  • 1 Jan.: Greek Presidency begins

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