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  Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council: a kaleidoscope of challenges

Viktor Denisenko
2013 08 06

The first month of Lithuanian Presidency of the European Union Council is over. The discussions on the readiness of Vilnius to steer the EU calmed down, and now it is time to speak about the opportunities and challenges of Lithuanian Presidency.

The EU is still facing a challenging time. Southern EU Member States have been most hardly hit by the crisis. Some day Greece (or Spain, Portugal) might again ask for help; London is not sure if the United Kingdom should remain in the European Economic Community. Croatia is still facing financial problems and high unemployment rate, and its membership could be treated as an exception.     

Yet the EU is still a vital geopolitical organism. Presidency of the EU Council gives an opportunity to Lithuania to demonstrate the capacity to pursue serious international commitments. The question is what steps Lithuania will take to fulfil the obligations. Let‘s briefly go through the main issues of Lithuanian Presidency highlighted in the website of Lithuanian presidency of the EU Council. It indicates that the objectives of Lithuanian Presidency will be as follows:  

- Credible Europe with a stable financial sector and public finance and effective growth oriented EU economic governance and stronger social dimension,

- Growing Europe through greater investment into research and technological development, deeper integration of the internal market, as well as better employment opportunities and sustainable social security,

- Open Europe able to tackle global challenges effectively, promoting democratic values, contributing to safe neighbourhood, and actively protecting the rights of EU citizens

On the eve of Lithuania’s EU Presidency it was highlighted that the country has tackled the economic and financial crisis with determination and now can share the experience with the crisis-stricken EU Member States. One of the priorities is the Eastern Partnership Forum which will be held in Vilnius in November.  Here the knowledge of the issue under discussion comes from Lithuania‘s soviet past.  

The Lithuanian Presidency will pursue a strategic EU approach agreed with Ireland which hold the Presidency in the first half of 2013) and Greece which will take over the rotating presidency from Lithuania. The main points of the agreement are economic growth, job creation and further development of the competitiveness of the Member States.  

But these are only the theoretical guidelines of the Presidency. Three scenarios - optimistic, pessimistic and neutral – can be distinguished in relation to Lithuanian EU Council Presidency.   

A neutral or „grey“ scenario could mean that the period of Lithuanian Presidency will not be marked by significant events. Lithuania will not benefit from such Presidency but it will not suffer any loss as well. Such Presidency could be evaluated positively since for it would mean that Lithuania managed to preserve European stability without causing stress.

The optimistic scenario would mean that Lithuania managed to benefit from Presidency and strengthened its positions. A lot is expected from the Eastern Partnership Forum; here Lithuania could position itself as an expert of Eastern Europe. If participants of the Eastern Partnership Programme (first of all Ukraine) are brought closer to Europe, it would be a huge achievement – some EU Member States are still sceptical toward the EU enlargement.

Threats posed by the pessimistic scenario might emerge if something unexpected happens during Lithuanian Presidency. Managing crisis situations would be a real challenge for Lithuania but this could be beneficial in case of successful crisis management. Here the main question is: how many mandates does Lithuania have? If critical situation affects economy, Germany and France would take the lead, and Lithuania will merely fill in the blanks.

A pessimistic scenario is less likely than optimistic. „Grey“ (and in principle positive) scenario would be most realistic.

But it seems that during the period of Presidency Lithuania will also face information pressure aimed to demonstrate that everything works according to the pessimistic scenario. In the public space we could already see the elements of such an information campaign which will probably become more visible with the approaching Eastern Partnership Forum. According to the Kaliningrad portal Rubaltic.ru, „a period of strange presidencies has started in the EU. A country with a questionable level of democracy takes the lead of the EU“. According to portal, the Eastern Partnership Forum in Vilnius will fail.  

This is not surprising since the success of the Eastern Partnership Programme would threaten Russian integration projects in the post-soviet space. According to Z.Bzhezinski without Ukraine Russia ceases to be an empire, and the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement would mean that Ukraine is geopolitically moving „from Russia“.

Thus, one of the major challenges during Lithuania’s Presidency of the EU Council might become not internal EU problems but fights in the information space. This is not unexpected since particular attention during the presidency will automatically be given to Lithuania, both by the friends and by the enemies.

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