Speech by Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign affairs, at the European Parliament, Foreign Affairs Committee

09 July 2013, Last updated at, 13:22 EEST
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author: eu2013.lt

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Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

I am greatly honoured to take up your invitation to present the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of Ministers. I highly appreciate the efforts and fruitful results of the Irish Presidency and I have to admit that we have inherited a very ambitious agenda.

Let me remind you that almost a decade ago, during the Irish Presidency, Lithuania together with other nine Member States joined the European family. The fact that we are taking over our first presidency from the country that welcomed us is of symbolic significance.

Now it is our turn – we have a great pleasure to welcome a new, already the 28th, Member State of the European Union. And I would like to extend a special greeting to Mr Picula, who has just joined this committee. The Croatia’s accession is a huge achievement of both, Croatia and the European Union itself. Further enlargement demonstrated once again the attractiveness of European integration and confirmed, even in time of crisis, the vitality of the European model of development.

The Lithuanian Presidency also coincides with the 10 year anniversary of the Thessaloniki Summit, which laid a milestone in the European Union's relations with the Western Balkans. The declaration contained two core elements: it confirmed that the future of the Balkans is within the European Union, but it also made clear that the principle of conditionality lies at the very heart of the enlargement process. The Thessaloniki Declaration was a first step - it was supposed to provide us with common ground on which we should build and improve our enlargement strategy. But we must admit - there is still some unfinished homework on the EU side.

Lithuania has always been a strong supporter not only of further EU integration, but also of EU openness, in particular as regards the EU neighbourhood in all of its geographical dimensions. Let me take this opportunity to remind you briefly of the three central goals of our Presidency which all connect with enlargement: a credible, growing and open Europe. The essential element of the open Europe approach is the successful management of the enlargement process. We believe that now is a good time to reflect together on how it could be improved.

There are three aspects on which I would like to focus briefly:

  1. Firstly, enlargement should be a synchronized policy. European integration being an on-going and dynamic process is a moving target for the candidate countries. The Accession process has to follow and reflect general developments within the EU. We need to find ways to connect better the accession process to all that is happening in the EU.
  2. Secondly, EU enlargement should be an inclusive dialogue.Twenty years after the EU defined the paramount prerequisites of the EU membership we feel a need to reflect more on how EU could drive forward the fulfillment of Copenhagen criteria, especially the requirements for democratic governance. The capacity of the EU to put pressure on national governments to adopt the democratic rules of the game seems to be limited. And the creation of formal institutions is not sufficient for the functioning of democracy. As long as civil society is not free or able to participate in democratic processes, democracy remains an illusion.
    Therefore enlargement strategy should shift its focus more towards the civil society dimension with the aim of encouraging and activating bottom-up approaches in reform and policy-making processes.
  3. Thirdly, enlargement policy should follow a proactive approach.
    Waiting and expecting the neighbouring countries to emulate the EU and to solve their own problems on their way towards us is neither fair nor a good strategy. We need to be active partners. We must send clear messages to our interlocutors and speak with one voice. And this one voice should avoid setting double standards, recognizing that the EU cannot be a hostage of bilateral disputes and interests.

Following these three cornerstones of our approach, three common misperceptions should be clarified. First, EU integration starts at home. The internal developments in aspiring countries are primarily the matter of responsibility of these countries themselves. Secondly, the EU is a voluntary and democratic club. If some of our neighbours do not want to follow the EU integration path, this is their choice that we must respect. Thirdly, the EU is a soft but not a blind power. If there is a huge gap between the rhetoric of European integration and the reality on the ground, the EU should react appropriately.

Despite different and sometimes worrisome dynamics in the region, there are some very positive developments. The agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is of crucial importance since it contributes to the overall stability of the region and ensures that both of them can proceed on their respective European paths. It is also a clear signal that even the most difficult decisions can be made if there is strong motivation and political will. Similar agreements, which we believe can be echoed in different parts of the region, would make the European perspective even closer and more visible.

Dear Members of the European Parliament,
This year we have the possibility to upgrade the status of four countries: to start negotiations with Serbia, to take a decision to start accession negotiations with former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to grant candidate status to Albania and to start negotiations on Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo. In addition to these opportunities, we also need to maintain the momentum of the accession negotiations with Montenegro and Turkey.

  • Turkey

During the Irish Presidency, EU-Turkey negotiations gained political momentum, which should be maximised as much as possible. The Lithuanian Presidency is committed to maintaining this momentum. The decision to open the Chapter 22 [Regional policy and structural instruments] creates an opportunity to restart the talks on other chapters, while recent events in Turkey confirm that Turkey needs more reform and that Turkish society is ready to participate actively in these processes. As the EU accession process is the most effective tool we have to influence the reform agenda in Turkey, we firmly believe that constructive dialogue with Turkey and progress in EU accession negotiations would be a strong incentive to deliver tangible results.

  • Montenegro

In line with the new approach to enlargement, the main focus during the Lithuanian Presidency will be on the two essential chapters related to the rule of law, namely Chapters 23 and 24. Depending on the progress of Montenegro in implementing the necessary requirements, our Presidency will seek consensus among the EU Member States on opening these chapters by the end of the year. We strongly believe that such a breakthrough would give an impetus to the overall negotiation process with Montenegro, but we want to be sure that the reform process is following a quality-driven approach.

  • Iceland

Lithuania as well as the Council as a whole respects the decision of the Icelandic government to put accession negotiations with the EU on hold until the outcome of a national referendum. We hope that EU membership negotiations will continue and we strongly encourage both sides to use all the achievements of negotiations for the further development of EU-Iceland cooperation.

  • Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

As the question to start EU negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was not discussed during the General Affairs Council in June due to the internal political situation in the country, we will aim for Council conclusions during the Lithuanian Presidency on the beginning of EU negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The country must show political will to follow the path of EU integration by fully implementing the so-called ‘March 1st agreement’, by making further progress in developing good neighborly relations and by seeking a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue. Progress in all these areas will be conducive to reaching a positive decision among the EU Member States.

  • Serbia and Kosovo

In June the EU Member States supported Serbia's way forward to the European Union and agreed to open negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. These decisions were a consequence of great political will and concessions from both sides during the Belgrade-Priština Dialogue. It is of vital importance to keep the positive momentum and continue to implement the Belgrade – Priština Agreement. The success of the dialogue is a success for all of us as it strengthens European Union as a global player.

The Lithuanian Presidency will aim to ensure that the framework for negotiations with Serbia is agreed in the Council by the end of the year. We will put all our efforts into encouraging Kosovo to continue implementation of EU reforms, and we will actively promote the process of negotiations for an SAA with Kosovo.

  • Albania

Some weeks ago Albania underwent a very important test of its political and institutional system. Albania’s national elections to the Parliament were held in an orderly manner. I would like to encourage a smooth transition, which can lead the way towards candidate status. I would also reiterate that all political parties are responsible for ensuring people's confidence in the electoral process.

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Lithuanian Presidency will try to keep Bosnia and Herzegovina on the European path. However, the situation in the country is complex and difficult. Considering recent developments in the region, the country is lagging behind on the EU integration agenda. Nevertheless, decisions must come from within the country, according to local ownership principle, and should not be prescribed by the EU. Political will and unity are required in order to reach needed agreements, which are in turn a fundamental prerequisite if Bosnia and Herzegovina wants to apply for EU membership.

Dear Members of the Parliament,
I am confident that enlargement will remain a strong and successful policy, but I also believe that we need to do more to enhance its credibility. And this house of democracy has a valuable voice in every aspect of enlargement process.We have a lot of work ahead of us and we are ready to make the most of every single opportunity for further tangible advancement.

I am here today not only to answer your questions but also to seek your views, your ideas and your perspectives. A close dialogue with European Parliament is particularly important given the complex nature of the issues we must resolve together.

Let me conclude by saying how proud I am to be here today. Lithuania is example par excellence of the success story that is EU enlargement. Our return to Europe showed that there are no curtains or barriers that can keep us separate. However, the European map is far from being complete. On their path to Europe, our neighbours need not only perspectives, but also signposts on where to turn next. And we cannot retreat. We have given a promise that must be maintained.

Thank you.

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