“Today is a great day. The first former Soviet Republic presides over our Union. We have come a long way in 25 years. We look to Lithuania to breathe new life into Europe,” ALDE Party President Sir Graham Watson MEP opened the discussion on the occasion of Lithuania taking over the EU Presidency on July 1. Lithuania is the first of the three Baltic states that joined the EU in 2004 to hold the rotating presidency.
H.E. Ambassador Raimundas Karoblis of the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Lithuania remarked that Lithuanians felt proud that their presidency coincides with the accession of Croatia because it proved that the European project has not reached its end and that the EU can be trusted to keep its promises.
Leonidas Donskis MEP raved that the presidency is more than a technical detail or duty for EU member states. For Lithuania “it is the culmination of the dream of becoming a full member of the European Union,” he said. “During the Soviet era, Lithuania lost five decades of European life and of freedom,” Donskis pointed out. Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence, but even though the desire to be part of NATO and the EU was strong, the structural conditions at the start were not favorable. Donskis remembered “we had no democratic political parties, institutions or organized political life. And the Soviet-conscience with all its memories and animosities had to be overcome and put aside”.
Yet for Lithuania, EU membership was the light of the end of the tunnel. And the transformative engines were strong. “The Baltic states have challenged liberal pioneer and former European Commissioner Ralf Dahrendorf, who wrote that it takes laws and 6 months to build a market economy, 6 years to build a democracy, but 60 years to develop civil society. We are a case study that it is not only possible but essential to overcome the past to build a democracy with a strong civil society,” according to Donskis.
This part of history plays into Lithuania’s strength at understanding and empathizing with small states in the process of democratization. That and its geographic location explain Lithuania’s determination to devote its presidency to its intermediary role between the EU and those striving to follow in the path of Lithuania towards accession.
A key date during the Lithuanian presidency will be the Summit of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius this November.
You can find pictures of this event here.