Distinguished Lithuanian diplomats,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you in Vilnius on the eve of a historical event the accession of Lithuania to the European Union. We are already counting the hours left till the membership. It only takes a moment before we return to Europe, or maybe on the contrary a moment before Europe returns to Lithuania.
Lithuania is celebrating. And it is indeed gratifying that you, distinguished Ambassadors, are here today, sharing with us these moments of joy.
However, all celebrations come to an end and life returns to normal. Therefore, I would like to share with you my thoughts as to what awaits us after the festivities are over.
Having achieved its strategic goals, membership of the European Union and NATO, Lithuania is undergoing fundamental transformations. We have to reassess the new geopolitical environment and the role of Lithuania in it and to reconsider our foreign policy priorities. We are increasingly focusing on this task, which we undertook back in 2003.
I hope that not only diplomats but also scientists, public figures, political parties and NGOs will join the debate on the new concept of foreign policy. The concept of foreign policy is a long-term vision of the countrys development and thus has to be acceptable for the public at large.
Lithuania has always taken pride in its internal political consensus on the major foreign policy goals: full membership of the European Union and NATO and the policy of good neighbourhood. I would like to assure you that should the political leadership of the country change, the foreign policy of Lithuania will be continued along the same lines.
Lithuania is not only well aware of the global character of contemporary threats but also has sufficient political will to participate in combating these threats.
NATO is and will remain the main guarantor of security and stability in Europe. We are prepared to be not only consumers of all security guarantees but also to act on all of our commitments in terms of membership of the Alliance. The new agreement on allocating 2 per cent of the gross domestic product for defence needs that the major political parties recently signed testifies to the continuity of our foreign policy and the reliability of Lithuania as a responsible partner. Lithuania will make every effort to ensure that NATO remains a strong, reliable and efficient organisation, capable of effective action and decision-making. We are ready to promote the dialogue between NATO and the European Union as a major factor having impact on European security.
As you know well, Lithuania is making an active contribution to the fight of the international community against terrorism. International terrorism is a new threat posed to the world by the dark forces, and only through joint resolute action can we defeat this evil. The State Defence Council has recently discussed the participation of Lithuania in international missions. Continuing the mission of the Lithuanian contingent in Iraq was among the major issues on agenda. And although the situation in Iraq remains tense, Lithuania will not withdraw its troops from this country by a unilateral decision. I would like to assure you that Lithuania will further remain an active member of the international community, making a practical contribution to military and peace keeping operations.
Lithuania has always strongly supported and will continue to support close transatlantic co-operation. We see strengthening the transatlantic link as a vital factor in the effectiveness of NATO and the security of Europe. The strategic partnership of the United States and Europe lies at the core of the entire transatlantic area and has the largest impact on the international system. Therefore, the United States and the European Union should be strong and closely co-operate in defence and security.
The integration of Lithuania with the European Union has demanded an active and concerted effort of politicians and government institutions. No matter how difficult the decisions, we made them with an awareness that it was first of all Lithuania itself and its people who needed all the changes.
Having achieved our goal, the membership of the European Union, we are facing a new challenge that will demand an equally strong political will, effort and wisdom as we have to use all the advantages of membership for accelerating the development of our country and increasing the well being of the people.
The past several years have been particularly successful for the Lithuanian economy. Last year, our gross domestic product grew at the rate of as much as 9 percent. This is one of the best indicators not only in Europe but in the entire world as well. However, at the same time we have to admit that not all the people of Lithuania have so far felt the positive impact of reviving economy on their life.
Just like the majority of the new member states, Lithuania today experiences two-fold disparities: disparities between us and the old-timers of the European Union, and marked disparities in regional development between our largest cities and small towns and rural areas. I would like to underline that the level of poverty in society always correlates with the level of irrationality in society.
Thus, achieving the economic and social level of the European Union is the main task for our country for the coming decade or maybe several decades. It may sound paradoxical, but having joined Europe, we need to catch up with Europe. I want to put across a clear message that we will not be content with a scenario for a lagging-behind country of the European Union. The citizens of Lithuania have to be granted not only the right to take up residence and freely move in the European Union but also the right to live according to the European Unions standards of living and be fully-fledged European citizens. Therefore, we will have to make maximum use of all the opportunities that the European Union has to offer, and it is my firm belief that Lithuania will succeed in this. During the shortest period of time possible, we will have to make Lithuania a prosperous and competitive country, ensure rapid development of knowledge economy and other most progressive and modern sectors of economy and attract substantial investment as well as search for new markets for Lithuanian products. This is a fundamental task the achievement of which will ensure cohesive development both at the national and the European Union level.
I would like to put a particular focus on the importance of infrastructure projects for our country. Lithuanian business people, just like their colleagues from some of the other new member states, have more difficulties in reaching the markets of the European Union in physical terms. Therefore, it is vital for our country and I will make every effort to ensure that Lithuania is connected to the neighbouring countries via modern transport and energy infrastructure. I have in mind implementing the Lithuanian-Polish power bridge project, building the Via Baltica highway and carrying out the Rail Baltica project.
Concluding on the European Union matters, I would like to emphasise that the political leadership of our country maintains a very clear position: Lithuania has to proceed with a vigorous policy of integrating with the European Union and be an active member of the Union. We have a clear goal before us: joining the Schengen Area and the euro zone with the first wave of countries.
Lithuania is aware of its responsibility to further expand the area of security and stability in Europe and the neighbouring countries. Accession to the EU and NATO turns a new page in the relations of Lithuania with the neighbouring countries and provides a new stimulus for regional co-operation.
Just a week ago we marked the 10th anniversary since Lithuania and Poland signed the treaty on friendly relations and good neighbourly co-operation. This treaty is extremely important for the relations between our countries since it has served as the start of the strategic partnership between Lithuania and Poland.
Today it is becoming increasingly topical to adapt the Lithuanian-Polish co-operation to the needs of the European Union and NATO and to focus more on forming the policy of these organisations regarding the region.
The co-operation of the three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, is gaining new significance. The co-operation of the three Baltic states and the three Nordic countries, all members of the European Union, becomes an important format of co-operation that allows the countries to effectively promote their interests in the Community.
Strengthening democracy and market economy in the region will be among the major priorities in the policy of Lithuania. To strengthen the European values, we are ready to co-operate actively with both the countries in the region and the partners in the transatlantic community.
The membership of Lithuania in the European Union and NATO and co-operation with Russia in the framework of these organisations markedly expands and enriches our relations with the neighbouring country. We see numerous opportunities for active and constructive participation in the EU-Russia and NATO-Russia dialogue.
As always, Lithuania allocates special attention to co-operation with the Kaliningrad region. It is within our interest and Lithuania is making considerable efforts to ensure that the neighbouring region feels the benefits of the European Union enlargement and makes full use of its advantages.
Several weeks ago I visited Ukraine and reiterated the strong support of Lithuania to and our interest in further democratic and market economy-oriented transformations in the country as well as in Ukraines establishing closer relations with the European Union and NATO. Lithuania supports continuing an open door policy of the European Union and NATO regarding Ukraine.
Lithuania is particularly interested in a successful implementation of the European Unions New Neighbour Policy. Moldova, Ukraine, and possibly the countries of the South Caucasus in the future, are offered an excellent opportunity to use Community support while advancing on the road to Europe.
Here I would like to underline that the policy of New Neighbours cannot leave aside Belarus. We are in favour of the European Union drawing up an action plan for Belarus as well. At the same time, the European Union would give a clear signal of its readiness to co-operate with this European country, taking into consideration concrete steps by Belarus towards the values of democratic Europe.
The membership of the European Union opens up for Lithuania new opportunities for co-operation with the countries in the more distant regions. The Barcelona Process and the European Unions dialogue with Asia and the countries in Latin America should serve as a bridge connecting Lithuania to the countries in these regions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you are well aware, the past several months have been indeed challenging for Lithuania. This has probably been the most serious test for the young democracy of Lithuania since the restoration of independence. A test never before taken by any European state.
Lithuania passed the test with dignity and once again confirmed that it is and will be a stable and reliable partner for your countries.
To conclude, I would like to express our gratitude to you for your activities and your contribution to stepping up relations with Lithuania. I wish success to your countries, to the people of your countries and to all of you personally. We are witnesses and participants of significant events and I invite you to mark this historic event together with us. May the spirit of the celebration be with you in Lithuania.
Thank you for your attention.
H.E. Mr. Artūras Paulauskas, acting President of the Republic of Lithuania