European Federalist Party

Berlin, 13 June 2013

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EUROPEAN FEDERALIST PARTY – ANALYSIS:

Lithuanian presidency of the Council of the European Union

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(by Martin Fletcher)

 

In anticipation of Lithuania’s upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Netzwerk EBD (European Movement Germany) organised a Q&A session in Berlin with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius regarding the country’s priorities during its six month term. This will be the first time since Lithuania’s accession to the Union in 2004 that it will have held the presidency of the Council. It will inherit the presidency from Ireland, and with European Parliament elections coming up in 2014 it’s sure to be a busy six months.

Linkevičius opened proceedings by outlining Lithuania’s aims during the next semester. They fall into three broad categories he referred to as: Credible Europe, Growing Europe and Open Europe. The goal of Credible Europe is to continue with previous reforms to ensure the Union’s financial stability and economic credibility around the world. Growing Europe concentrates on policies to help nurse Europe out of the global economic crisis – particularly, reducing youth unemployment and attempting to restore the next generation’s faith in the European project. Increasing the strength of Europe’s internal energy market was also included in the Growing Europe agenda, by ensuring that no Member State is excluded from the trans-European energy networks by 2015.

The topic that generated the most discussion in the seminar was the third category of Open Europe. At the moment Lithuania is preparing to host the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013. This will be an opportunity to assess the progress of potential members on their journey toward joining the Union. The Lithuanian presidency is strongly in favour of further opening expansion to countries from former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union – a stance that has often been met with caution by other, more established member states.

Mr. Linkevičius set out the arguments in favour of “not making Europe a closed shop” but rather reaching out to other states and offering them the opportunity to make progress toward accession. This opportunity is a strong incentive for countries with little history of open and democratic political systems to initiate reforms which will be beneficial to their citizens even before joining the Union. These efforts are apparent in countries such as Georgia, which is seeking candidate status and is moving in the right direction on areas such as electoral freedom and human rights.

Bringing further Eastern European states into the EU bloc also provides both sides with additional economic security. The energy crisis that occurred several years ago between Russia and Ukraine was cited as an example of how the Union can use its soft power to influence its neighbouring regions. By making a commitment to the success of the world’s largest economic bloc, these accession states are able to gain a greater degree of security than they could ever aspire to by themselves. This also enables the further spread of values that the Union extols to an ever greater number of Europe’s peoples.

However, there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed with any new states joining the Union. Firstly, it is imperative to proceed with caution throughout the accession process. While keeping the door open to countries outside the Union is a helpful incentive for reform, stringent checks must be made to ensure the long term stability of these reforms and that the citizens of the accession countries will be protected. In terms of political reform, excessively rapid accession could facilitate seeping in of corruption, to the detriment of Europe’s internal democracy as a whole. In terms of human rights, much of Europe’s soft power arises from our track record in the area and the example we set to the world. It is therefore critically important that states with outstanding human rights issues, such as Ukraine, reform and show a commitment to upholding European values upon accession.

A further concern raised with the eastward expansion of the Union is the possible detrimental effect it could have on the notion of “ever closer union” between the existing states. As the Union expands it may become increasingly difficult to harmonise integration between a diverse range of countries. As such, further enlargement could come at the cost of sacrificing depth of union for breadth, jeopardizing the federalist goal. Whilst some of the issues related to this are covered in the Growing Europe pillar of the Lithuanian plan (such as the re-enforcement of the Single Market), little is mentioned on other pertinent areas of harmonisation, such as the reduction of the current democratic deficit at the European level. Such reforms may fall by the wayside as the Union looks instead to the East.

The Lithuanian presidency has much to offer over the next six months, and all eyes are sure to be on Vilnius for this November’s summit. Our hope is that any further expansion is only taken when it can be shown that the candidate can uphold and contribute towards Europe’s democratic tradition. In addition, whilst there are benefits to expansion, it is important to keep our eyes on the goal of deeper and more accountable union, brought about through continued reforms to the European model involving the existing members who wish to push on ahead with integration.

In spite of these concerns, expansion does work as an effective tool for driving reform in candidate states, as well as bringing fresh ideas and drive into our Union. Lithuania is living proof of that. The Chair of the meeting recalled participating in the final German-Soviet youth exchange in Lithuania a little over twenty years ago. Today we sat together in Berlin with the foreign minister of a democratic country about to take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union and making preparations to join the single currency. While caution must be taken, Lithuania is a prime example of how the values of the Union can promote peace and stability on the continent.

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Media information: The author of the above article can be contacted at:
Martin Fletcher: martfletcher2004@aol.com

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The European Federalist Party (EFP) is the pan-European party for a more democratic, united and solidary Europe: a Europe of the people and for the people. The EFP was founded in 2011 in Paris by citizens from all over Europe and has since developed into a cross-border movement with thousands of members, supporters and chapters in 18 EU states. The EFP was instrumental in the introduction of several key laws and reforms in the EU, including improvements to the Lisbon treaty, the European Citizens’ Initiative and the EU roaming regulation.

More information:

Website: www.federalistparty.eu

Twitter: https://twitter.com/eufederalists

Facebook: www.facebook.com/EuropeanFederalistParty

 

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