THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE BALTIC STATES TOWARDS BUILDING EU INSTITUTIONS AND SHAPING EU POLICIES by MR. VYTENIS POVILAS ANDRIUKAITIS CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS SEIMAS OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA
Mr. Chairman / Madam Chair,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The topic of our todays discussion is the future co-operation of the Baltic States within the European Union and our contribution towards shaping EU policies. The Baltic States have already proved to be active, effective, and constructive players in the Baltic Sea region. The region which is gradually becoming one of the most dynamically developing and forward-looking regions in Europe. We all are interested in it becoming a model of successful regional co-operation.
Today, on the eve of our membership in the European Union, however, we must admit that the Baltic States are still among the least developed acceding countries. True, our individual economies are growing fast. Our integration processes into the EU and NATO are going smoothly. But our regional infrastructure remains weak; our tri-partite economic and political co-operation is far from adequate. Yes, in theory, on paper it looks good, but not in practice, not in real life. This inadequate coordination of our national and regional interests was especially evident during the Convention on the Future of Europe. We all represented smaller states, we all came to the Convention to stand behind the interests of the same region. But our views often went different, if not opposite, directions. We are all newcomers to the club of the EU Member States that over the last decades learnt how to co-operate and to co-ordinate their actions for the sake of both national and supra-national interests.
As of yesterday we have exactly one hundred days left before we become full-fledged members of this elite club. I am not afraid to use the word elite. We have been trying to earn its trust for almost a decade. It is high time therefore, to stop for a while and think about our common future in the Union we are about to join.
Catching up with the economic and social standards of the current EU Member States is the task that may be accomplished only over decades and only through joint effort. There are also a number of issues that we have to deal with today, tomorrow, this and the next year. Soon the European Commission will publish its communication on the next financial perspective the Agenda 2007. How do we deal with it? Individually? Or is there any room for our common interest? I am convinced there is.
The Baltic Assembly, the Baltic Council, the Baltic Sea States Council are the forums we must use for this purpose first. They have already contributed to the cooperation effort of the states of the Baltic region. I am confident that under the new political circumstances they will become irreplaceable as the stage to debate our views on the shaping of the EU policies and on the building of the EU institutions.
A lot of challenges still lie ahead of us. To avoid such dangers as the rise of two-speed Europe and to demonstrate that we can be active, effective, and constructive players in the EU, the Baltic States should be prepared to look behind their individual state borders and behind our narrow national interests. We have a lot of unanswered questions: how and when do we remove the customs control on our internal borders? When is the best time to join the Eurozone? Do we do it separately as rivals? or will we try to coordinate our actions? The same relates to Schengen. What is the optimal time frame for the introduction of the Schengen regime? Is it possible that the three of us can speak to the European Commission in one voice when it comes to the separate EU budget line for the financing of the Eastern Dimension as an alternative to the EU Mediterranean Dimension? These are just a few questions that I want to raise today.
Then there is another aspect. Where if not within the Baltic Assembly, the three of us can discuss such issues as the situation in our immediate neighbourhood. We hear and read today about the challenges that Poland faces in its preparations for the membership in the EU. The reasons are various and I do not suggest a debate on them. What I am concerned about, is the impact that the situation may have on us. If by the 1 of May we are ready to absorb the EU structural funds and Poland is not, can the situation affect us? Can we - Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania do something together to avoid such a situation? Or is it really something that we need to worry about? I think it is. We should discuss such issues so as not to miss any opportunity for accelerating the dynamism of our economies and creating stability and wellbeing throughout this region.
Our neighbours to the East are Russia and Belarus. On the one hand, our status after the first of May this year demands our greater attention towards strengthening our external borders and internal security control. But, on the other hand, they are our neighbours, important centuries-old trading partners. The EU declares Russia its strategic partner. But the reality shows that there is no EU Russian strategic partnership, but rather German Russian, French Russian or Italian Russian strategic partnerships. It is the task for us and it is in our common interest to create the solid and genuine EU Russian partnership. In terms of experience and know-how, we can offer to the Union much more than it has ever had before. Let us share our ideas and discuss specific proposals here, within the framework of the Baltic Assembly.
The benefit will be multiple: good neighbourly relations, political stability in the region, economic growth, prosperity, fewer environmental and crime problems, spread of common European values, democracy and rule of law.
Lithuania has already made considerable effort towards that goal. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and the Supreme Rada of Ukraine has been established. It comprises an ad hoc group of parliamentarians for the exchange of experience in the EU integration. We also have a successfully functioning Forum of the Inter-parliamentary Group of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania for Relations with the Russian Federation and the Duma of the Kaliningrad Region. The agendas of its meetings focus on the future of the Kaliningrad Region and our bilateral relations.
These are relatively narrow aspects. While the Baltic Assembly is a suitable forum for debating wider regional aspects. For instance, we all know that the EU recognises the Kaliningrad region and St. Petersburg as partners for regional cooperation within the Nordic Dimension of the EU. The answer then seems to be clear we need to look at a wider picture. The regional parliamentary forum like the Baltic Assembly is the solution we are lucky to have. We must therefore spare no effort in making the Assemblys voice strong and widely recognised. Nobody else can do it, but us.
One more point I would like to briefly touch upon today. It is the role of our national parliaments. The Convention on the Future of Europe was very explicit in supporting the enhancement of the role of national parliaments in the EU matters. Among the innovations suggested by the Convention, such as the early warning mechanism for the monitoring of the application of the subsidiarity principle is the suggestion to hold an annual European week. The week would be aimed at considering the European Commissions annual legislative and work programme. I would like to suggest holding in our parliaments a similar regional parliamentary week every half a year. On the occasion, I suggest exchanging parliamentary delegations and focusing our debates on regional EU-related matters that demand our attention. It is evident that great added value lies in prompt exchange of information, in closer co-operation between our standing committees and administrations of our parliaments, in particular, the committee secretariats, the information and analysis units, the European information centres and libraries.
It is a great challenge and honour to be a member of parliament involved in the European matter at this unique time.
On May the first 2004, Europe and the World will witness a truly momentous day completing a process begun in the early 1990s with the collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe. Our peoples know the true price of this reunification. We still vividly remember Russian tanks roaming the streets of Vilnius just over a decade ago.
I therefore would like to use this occasion and to urge you, my colleagues, to mark the day of accession with a real sense of celebration throughout the Baltic States and wider throughout the European Union. After the collapse of Berlin Wall this is in fact the first occasion of such a magnitude. Let us make the 1 May the day to remember.
Let us hold our first parliamentary European week between the first and the ninth of May which is Europe Day. Let us meet each other in person: by exchanging parliamentary delegations, inviting representatives of the EU institutions, candidate countries still awaiting their membership in the Union Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, our immediate neighbours and let us share our views on the new EU Constitutional Treaty, on Europe that is closer to its citizens and the new prospects the reunification of Europe opens up to all of us.
We have never been away from Europe. It is time now to say to ourselves - here we are proud, determined and sharing Europeans united in our diversity.
Thank you for your attention