Lithuania’s Foreign Minister’s speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission accredited to the Republic of Lithuania
Excellences, Charges d’Affaires,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you to this traditional annual meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vilnius. Let me greet you all in one of the oldest of all the modern Indo-European languages – the Lithuanian language – “Sveiki atvykę!”
As we meet in the beginning of the year, it is only natural for us to reflect on our achievements and challenges before us. On 16 February last year, our country celebrated the Centennial of the Restoration of the State of Lithuania. This year my country as well as Latvia and Estonia will celebrate 30 anniversary of Baltic Way. On 23 August 1989 more than two million inhabitants of the Baltic States joined hands forming a human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius, thus demonstrating their unity in their efforts towards freedom. Today, I am proud to host you in this democratic and responsible state, which is also a full-fledged member of NATO, the European Union, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
As for the OECD, I am very pleased that Lithuania became the 36th member of this exclusive club last July. It sends a strong signal to foreign investors, as the OECD membership is seen as a “seal of quality” and a sign of confidence in many areas of our economy. Lithuania is now 14th most business-friendly country in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 Index and 1st at Business satisfaction in technology infrastructure.
Five days ago, we commemorated the events of 13 January 1991, when the Soviets rolled out tanks and used brutal force in retaliation for our peaceful statehood bid.
It constantly reminds us of the need to defend sovereign statehood, democracy, freedom, and values. Bearing in mind our recent history, Lithuania strongly believes that a world order based on the rule of law and democratic values is in our best interests. Whatever helps us strengthen, build, and promote this world order is good for Lithuania and our allies.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the cornerstone of the world order based on common values. In 2019, NATO celebrates its 70th birthday. This year also marks the 15th anniversary of Lithuania’s membership of this organization. Despite all challenges facing the Alliance today, my country continues to adhere to the position that transatlantic unity and NATO are the bedrock of our stability and security. We greatly appreciate the outcomes of the 2018 NATO Summit, as well as the decision to further strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and collective defense, namely to increase responsiveness, heighten readiness, and improve reinforcement. This will further NATO’s adaptation to new challenges.
I am particularly pleased that Lithuania has substantially raised its defense spending to reach the 2% of GDP target. Our Special Operations Force has returned to Afghanistan and works hand in hand with the Afghan National Army. We also joined the new NATO Mission Iraq and the NATO Strategic Direction South Hub in Naples.
Growing coherence and cooperation between NATO and the European Union should yield win-win results, especially in the field of hybrid threats, such as disinformation and cyber security. EU leaders are already discussing the strategic initiative on military mobility that would facilitate border crossing for the military and their equipment within Europe, and Lithuania’s initiative of cyber rapid response force formation. Lithuania is ready to share its experience regarding our resilience in resisting to hybrid threats with other nations.
I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to several nations, first of all to Germany, which leads the NATO enhanced forward presence battalion in my country, then to other contributing states, namely Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Iceland, Croatia, and France. Similarly, I want to thank the friendly nations – Denmark, Portugal, Spain, and Belgium – that took part in NATO Baltic air policing mission last year, contributing to integral security of NATO.
Let me turn to the issue of the European Union, which is another anchor for the world order based on the rule of law and democratic values. Lithuania, which celebrates the15th anniversary of its membership of the EU, remains a staunch supporter of the European idea, despite the challenges, including migration, facing the EU today. However, there is a clear need for serious debates on the future of Europe. When the populist wave is sweeping through Europe, the only answer to this challenge should be responsible leadership and reaching out to EU citizens to bring them closer to Europe. EU citizens will determine the future direction of the EU by voting at the European Parliamentary elections this spring. It will be first time that citizens borne in free and independent Lithuania will vote at the EP elections.
The EU summit in Sibiu, Romania, will focus on the future of the EU. At this point, let me congratulate Romania on its Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The first EU Summit after Brexit will take place in Sibiu. Without going into detail about various Brexit scenarios, I would like to stress that Lithuania’s bottom-line position on Brexit remains the same: the EU-UK relationship should be as strong and close as possible.
Today, we consider new European integration initiatives, ranging from military cooperation to foreign affairs issues. We are even slowly opening up the possibility for further enlargement, as developments in the Western Balkans facilitate this thinking process. My only dream is that one day this prospect will also include our East European neighbors that show incredible resolve to transform themselves and prove their value to our family.
The Eastern Partnership remains one of the main elements of our foreign policy. However, the Eastern Partnership policy as a whole needs a new impetus. Over the years, it has become too technical. The Partnership’s 10th anniversary in 2019 provides an opportunity to review its strategic objectives. Our best performing partners – Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – have expressed their interest, which we support very much, in deepening their integration through the implementation of their Association Agreements with the EU in such strategic sectors as the Energy Union, Digital Single Market, and Justice and Home Affairs. In addition let me mentioned that Ukraine constantly fights for its European choice. I just came back from trip to Ukraine/Mariupol area and will share my impressions with my EU colleagues at FAC on Monday.
Talking about our neighborhood, one of the global challenges, very important and even vital for the EU, is nuclear safety. I have to mention the Ostrovets nuclear power plant (NPP) in Belarus. As you may already know, the Ostrovets NPP is an important challenge facing Lithuania, the Baltic region, and the EU. The Russian state energy corporation Rosatom spearheads this project. The Ostrovets NPP is located only ~ 40 km from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Stress tests were carried out on the Ostrovets NPP and important deficiencies were identified.
Therefore, Lithuania hopes for fruitful cooperation with all countries regarding the Ostrovets NPP within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the Espoo and Aarhus Conventions, and within the framework of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
It is our common responsibility to bring nuclear power production worldwide into compliance with international safety standards.
The UN remains one of the most important pillars of our multilateral diplomacy. Lithuania, a responsible member of the international community, has announced its candidature to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the term 2022-2024. Lithuania has never served on this Council before. Our task list includes strengthening the Council and the United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms; advocating for women’s empowerment; fighting gender-based violence; promoting freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as well as the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.
We are interested in intensifying our bilateral cooperation with partners in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. We are delighted that our effort to promote our interests in these regions has received a positive response.
Lithuania also plans other moves to step up its international presence and to make its diplomatic network more efficient. We have already opened Embassy in Croatia and decided to open a diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates this year. Lithuania has recently opened new consulates headed by honorary consuls in Brazil, Belize, Nicaragua, Malaysia, Australia, and other countries. I would like to encourage those foreign governments, which have not opened their diplomatic missions in Vilnius yet, to more actively take advantage of the institution of the honorary consul.
Our Ministry has also launched a series of outreach activities to engage more closely with other regions and continents. The Africa Days, Latin American Days, Days of Arab Culture were a great success last year. Thus, I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has contributed to the organization of these events. We look forward to continuing this work together also in 2019, so your continued support of our efforts is be very important.
These and other issues will be discussed in detail during our further meetings. You can rest assured that our Ministry will do everything it can to implement your initiatives.
Have very productive days and a cozy stay in Vilnius.