Speech by Mr Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, Deputy Chairman of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and Chairman of the Committee on European Affairs “European Union’s Eastern policy: challenges ahead” 13th Economic Forum organised by the Eastern Institute Foundation Krynica Gorska, Poland, 4-6th of September 2003
Ladies and Gentlemen,
“Eastern dimension”, “new neighbours”, “wider Europe” - the proliferation of such notions is the sign that we are facing a new reality. We are dealing with a challenge of building a true partnership with countries neighbouring the enlarged Union. It is next to impossible to refer to the security, development, good neighbourhood, and economic development of Europe without the Eastern Dimension of the European Union. Promotion of stability and predictability on the Eastern borders of the European Union is one of the key interests of the European Union.
The Baltic Sea region co-operation could serve as a litmus test to the success of the New Neighbours Initiative. It is the region where old and new EU members states meet with Russia and where Belarus could one day become interested to play its own role. In fact we could consider the Northern Dimension of the EU as a prelude to the Eastern Dimension. The accession of two Nordic countries to the EU in 1995 prompted the plans to launch the Northern Dimension. And now the accession of ten new Member States incites the EU to implement the New Neighbourhood policy.
Let us imagine Europe without the Eastern Dimension. It could become the continent where the old dividing lines could one day emerge again. That would be intolerable. The European Union needs a solid Eastern policy, let alone for its own benefit. The concept of Europe-fortress is an outdated one in our globalised world because it is not based on probably the most important value – solidarity.
It is essential that the EU should pay equal attention to all countries and areas of its neighbourhood. Certain incentives should be foreseen for the well progressing neighbours. The new neighbourhood instrument should be established, providing opportunities of an enhanced, wider and more flexible assistance than presently exists. We do recognise that our new neighbourhood is made up of very different countries. This is why we support the idea of country-specific, or, where appropriate, regional Action Plans. These plans would specify strategic priorities and would contain concrete benchmarks as well as a review mechanism. We suggest to elaborate Action Plans for the countries concerned as soon as possible, but latest by 2004. The right timing and conditions when to start discussion on the inclusion of the Southern Caucasus into the New Neighbourhood policy should be also examined.
The policy regarding Belarus should be based on the benchmark approach, while at the same time the conditions for the establishment of the Action Plan for this country should be also considered. Despite the internal political situation, we cannot ignore Belarus. That would be counterproductive. Belarus should be given an alternative vision of possible relations with the European Union, provided it will advance in democratic and economic reforms. In our opinion, the European Union should continue to pursue an open door policy. More intense links to the non-governmental organisations and concrete regional projects involving Belarussian bordering regions would contribute to the democratic developments in the country. Lithuania has accomodated a significant experience in this field and is ready to further work in this direction.
Ukraine as one of the biggest European countries deserves our special attention. On the one hand, the reform process has been very slow there. There is also a significant democratic deficit in the ukrainian politics. On the other hand, Ukraine clearly stated its European vocation and historically it is right to do so. We have to support the European choice of Ukraine. Therefore a separate and long-term strategy for Ukraine is a must. We gathered today in Poland. As a neighbouring country that has strong links with Ukraine, Poland could and should use its know-how to build relations with Kiev.
The Eastern Dimension would bring a triple benefit: to the present, to the new Member States and to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. The opening of new markets in the East will have a beneficial effect for the economies of present Member States which are not in the best shape now. The same applies to the future Member states’ economies which will need a boost after first years of sometimes difficult adaptations to the membership conditions. As to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and, prospectively, the Southern Caucasus, these states and regions need a positive effect of a prosperity spill-over which will be prompted by the current enlargement. This process will by itself strengthen the democratic structures in the above-mentioned countries. Participation of these states in the political structures of the EU would be hardly imaginable in a foreseeable future. However, their gradual involvement in the common economic area would be highly desirable and logic. For example, a free trade area between the EU and Russia has already been an item of political discussions, and this is a welcomed development.
In its Communication called ‘Wider Europe – Neighbourhood” the European Commission proposes an ambitious vision - the creation of a wider area of peace, stability and prosperity encompassing the so called “ring of friends”, that is our neighbours to the East and the South. We support this vision. The creation of a “wider Europe” means the creation of a common economic and social space where all countries can co-operate more intensively in a very broad range of EU internal policies – from transport to the environment, from justice and home affairs to security and defence.
In co-operation with the Danish embassy, I had the honour to host in Vilnius this April the international conference “The Eastern Dimension of the European Union”. After fruitful discussions we adopted an address to the Parliaments and Governments of European countries. We invited them to create a working group of politicians, experts and professionals of European Union Member States, acceding countries and neighbour states, the European Commission, and other interested parties. This group would analyse the current situation and would draft proposals for the Eastern Dimension policy.
We believe that in a short-term perspective, the matters that are directly related to the functioning of the external borders of the European Union, cross-border co-operation, and development of ties between regions must be the priorities of a new neighbourhood policy. In this context, following key areas could be distinguished:
Justice and Home Affairs: A more favourable scheme for the travel of citizens of the new neighbours to the European Union could be a long-term goal. We should also upgrade border infrastructure, conclude the readmission agreement with the neighbouring states and join efforts in the fight against illegal migration, human trafficking, organised crime, smuggling and other criminal activities;
environmental protection: implementation of urgent cross-border projects in the field of environmental protection is a priority;
economic co-operation: we should gradually advance towards free trade with the European Union, as the neighbours progress in implementing economic and structural reforms and Partnership and Co-operation Agreements, join the World Trade Organisation and create stable and predictable environment for businesses and investment;
enhancement of cross-border co-operation: we should support the Euroregions, promote the people-to-people contacts, tourism, cultural, scientific and academic relations as well as contacts in the health sector.
We are also convinced that successful implementation of the New Neighbourhood Policy can be achieved only if adequate financial resources are allocated for its realisation.
Lithuania already takes an active part in the discussions on New Neighbourhood Policy within different EU structures. We have submitted to the EU institutions and the Member States our proposals concerning the implementation of the New Neighbourhood Policy. These proposals above all recommend focusing on the implementation of specific projects in the key areas of co-operation and on the assistance to the development of Action Plans for individual countries, as proposed by the European Commission in its Communication.
We consider that the social and economic development of the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation is an important element of the strategic relations of the European Union with Russia. Geographic location of the Kaliningrad region provides this region with a possibility to use enlargement of the European Union for a successful solution of the main problems in the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Now we have a unique opportunity to successfully implement the Eastern Dimension policy. On the one hand, we witness the smooth accession of new countries to the EU and the economic growth boosted by this process. On the other hand, after years of painful transition, our neighbours in the East
finally are on the way of economic growth. Of course, problems of their young democracies do remain and will remain in the nearest future. But we cannot neglect the fact that the current window of opportunity is unique. And we cannot miss the chance to take advantage of this situation.
Let me conclude by presenting my answer to the main question of our Forum: is the current EU enlargement the first or the last step of integration?
I am convinced that the current EU enlargement is not the last step of integration. Neither is it the first, of course. The enlargement is yet another step in the long and never-ending process of co-operation among European nations. Integration is a progressive development, it implies progress. I am therefore sure that next year, with the enlargement, the history of European integration will not reach its end. Next year we will open another page of Europe’s history.