15 January 2004
White Hall, Presidential Palace
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to see you today in this Hall. I would like to thank you sincerely for coming. Please accept my congratulations to you and the countries that you represent on the start of the New Year 2004.
After season’s holiday, we return to intensive work, and I find this meeting at the start of the New Year both symbolic and meaningful.
Distinguished representatives of foreign countries,
It is gratifying that I have an opportunity to share with you my thoughts on the previous year and discuss the major tasks and objectives for the future.
Certainly, I firstly need to mention the processes that are currently underway in Lithuania.
I believe that no matter how painful the processes that Lithuania is going through, they should not undermine the key principles of democracy. I am aware that we stand only at the start of the road to democracy and we need to be patient as we learn.
It has been noted long before that democracy and the strength of its institutions is revealed not when everything functions smoothly but rather when a crisis situation develops. It is the crisis that will show how effectively our key political institutions and law enforcement bodies function.
Two days ago, at the commemoration in the Seimas of the 13th anniversary of the Soviet aggression, I said that independent Lithuania is advancing along the European road that it has chosen and that no one, or almost no one, doubts this decision.
I also underlined that the political confusion, which has been caused in Lithuania, should not slow down our advancement. At the same time, we cannot forget that we have to join Europe not only as a strong economy but also as a mature country of the rule of law.
I personally will make every effort to justify the trust and support of your countries, which Lithuania has felt during the thirteen years of independence. Despite the present confusion in our internal politics, a national consensus on foreign policy exists in Lithuania and it will be further maintained. No matter how this fierce political fight ends, and I know its final outcome, we shall be able to continue our foreign policy along the same lines.
All this strengthens my belief that we, the people of Lithuania, will pass the test that we have been put to. I am confident that we shall emerge stronger from this situation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The signing of the Treaty of Accession to the European Union on 16 April in Athens was one of the major events in the previous year. At the referendum in May, our citizens said “Yes” to the future of Lithuania in a united Europe. Thus, the year 2003 is a historic year for us.
Last year Lithuania was responsibly preparing for the membership of the European Union. Although in its last Comprehensive Monitoring Report the European Commission gave a particularly positive evaluation of Lithuania, we have to deliver by 1 May of this year the commitments that the Commission has indicated.
In 2004, our European agenda will acquire a new quality: we will move from the state of accession to ensuring an effective and qualitative membership.
Last year saw the start of responsible implementation of regional infrastructure projects. It is gratifying that joint action in this area by Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Estonia and Finland drew attention from the European Commission.
I have expressed belief on numerous occasions that implementing the Via Baltica, Rail Baltica, power bridge and other regional transport and energy projects will ensure the practical integration of the countries on the eastern Baltic coast into a united Europe.
Last year Lithuania took an active part in the negotiations on the draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union. Our country will continue making an effort to achieve that the European Union functions as a democratic and effective organisation in which the voice of each and every country is heard. We do not dramatize the divergence of opinions that occurred last December. Discussions on the future of the European Union continue, and this is a normal process.
In 2003 the entire world and Lithuania once again faced new security threats. The Iraqi crisis clearly revealed how vital it is to ensure close co-operation between America and Europe. Lithuania has been and will remain an active supporter of the transatlantic link.
We shall continue making an active contribution to the effort of the democratic international community to fight terrorism. I myself visited last year the Lithuanian soldiers who serve in the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. I got convinced that even small countries are capable of fighting the emerging threats if they stand by the other nations.
Last year we continued the policy of active co-operation in the Baltic Sea region. As the new head of state, I considered it important to reiterate that Lithuania will not only further pursue this policy but will also search for new areas and opportunities for regional co-operation.
I met with the leaders of Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Germany. I believe that the enlargement of the European Union opens up new opportunities for co-operation in the Baltic Sea region and this region can become one of the fastest developing regions in Europe or even in the world.
Lithuania has always given a particular focus to the relations with its eastern neighbours. It was last year that we succeeded in solving with Russia several key issues that overstep in their significance the framework of bilateral relations. I am referring to the scheme for the transit of Russian citizens to the Kaliningrad region and the coming into force of the state border and readmission agreements. These decisions carry particular importance.
Lithuania takes a rather active position in providing assistance and sharing of experience in the field of Euro-Atlantic integration. In this context, I want to mention specifically our strengthening relations with the states in the South Caucasus and the partnership with Ukraine, which is gradually acquiring new dimensions. My visit to Georgia and Armenia has fortified our resolve to assist the countries in this region.
What are the reasons behind the active position of Lithuania vis-a-vis the East? First, there is a natural reason for it as we have broad knowledge of our eastern neighbours and have accumulated valuable experience in the course of our integration into the European Union and NATO. Furthermore, recently the European Union has launched its New Neighbours Initiative and Lithuania is determined to take an active part in this process.
Rapidly growing national economy also allows for Lithuania’s active foreign policy. The year 2003 witnessed the growth of the gross domestic product, investment and trade. In ten months of the last year, our exports and imports increased by 8.5 and 4 per cent respectively, helping to reduce trade deficit by 7.7 per cent. Other economic indicators are equally good but I do not want to burden you with figures, all of which testify to a successful integration of Lithuania into the world economy.
2004 will be the first year of our membership in both the European Union and NATO.
Apart from global issues, we will have to address more practical daily tasks. For example, certain decisions will have to be taken, as a growing number of Lithuanians will have an opportunity to work in the EU institutions and NATO structures.
A most challenging task will be negotiations for a new financial perspective of the EU, which have already started. Therefore, I have already discussed these issues with our Prime Minister and the minister of finance.
Lithuania, who is determined to promote its interests, will work to ensure sufficient financial resources for the implementation of Kaliningrad transit scheme, new neighbours policy implementation, external borders protection and funding of the needs of the new members.
The experience of small EU member states has shown that small nations have many more opportunities to benefit from membership. But effective employment of these opportunities will depend not only on our administrative capacities, but will also require common decency from our different-tier officials.
Therefore, the other task that I put to myself is ensuring an honest and effective use of financial support received from the Union. The funds received should be channeled into the implementation of strategic economic, business and infrastructure development projects that are important for us.
Furthermore, I believe it is crucial to preserve the key principles of solidarity and cohesion, which would help the new members to integrate into the single market of the Union.
The quicker the new members will catch up with the old timers, the more competitive and stronger Europe will be. I will take efforts to achieve the earliest possible joining of Lithuania of the euro zone and the Schengen agreement.
We are also considering Lithuania’s possible input into the management of the Union’s external borders. In this context, setting up in Lithuania of the Union’s training center for officers of national borders guards could make a good contribution.
Much work is ahead of us in completing preparation for NATO membership and ensuring our effective engagement in the activities of the Alliance. We are committed to continue with the implementation of the Timetable for the Completion of Reforms after joining the Alliance. Also, I will work to achieve a political agreement on maintaining a 2 percent of GDP funding for defence needs after 2004.
NATO membership does not stand opposite to the European security and defence policy that is being developed. But we should seek to avoid duplication of NATO and the EU Forces.
With utmost responsibility Lithuania will prepare for the NATO Summit that will take place in Istanbul in June this year. For the first time Lithuania will join the allies in Istanbul as a full-fledged member of the Alliance.
It is with full responsibility that I assure you that Lithuania will be a reliable European partner of your countries and together with old democracies will shape our common future.
May I reiterate my gratitude to you for all the support for Lithuania. I hope that our relations with your states will continue to develop in the spirit of friendship and understanding. I wish you the best of success.
H.E. Mr. Rolandas Paksas, President of the Republic of Lithuania