Speech by Minister Linas Linkevičius at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Diplomatic Missions of the Republic of Lithuania on 3 July 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Congratulations to all participants of the Annual Meeting! I would like to start with what is today perhaps the greatest concern for everyone interested in international relations. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore certain divergence in our vital transatlantic relationship. While Russia's actions continue to pose the major threat to our security, Europe is still looking at the West – the USA – that has been and will remain an indispensable pillar of our common security architecture, its cornerstone. The growing rift between the EU and the United States of America has raised concerns. We have even heard high-ranking officials say in public that the world we thought we knew no longer exists.
Should we be scared of change? The world we once knew vanished 30 years ago. Another world, as announced, had collapsed along with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. Back then, we also heard people say, “Things will never be the same again.” However, we see that life goes on: we adapt to change and create new forms of coexistence. Therefore, I believe that we will find our place and take a role in a new world to come.
Most importantly, we need to know what we want in life and focus our efforts on achieving it. Then we will not be afraid to take action into the unknown. What we are seeing has already happened before: despite every attempt to intimidate us, a feeling of uncertainty and self-doubt, we finally gained our independence from the USSR, achieved the withdrawal of the last Soviet armed forces from Lithuania, and joined the EU and NATO.
The latest example of this is our membership of the OECD. We have joined this elite club setting a record time, although it was difficult to do and involved a lot of effort. According to estimates by experts, the solutions will help us manage State assets more effectively, reduce cost in management, and save millions of euros to us. I would like to thank all professionals at the heart of our service for their contribution to goal achievement: Mr Rolandas Kriščiūnas, Mr Albinas Zananavičius, Ms Dalia Kreivienė, Ms Lina Viltrakienė, Mr Donatas Tamulaitis, and others. I call on you to promote this attainment in your countries of residence actively, because the membership of the OECD is like a quality label that strengthens the country’s position internationally and its attractiveness for foreign investors.
Today, we need to ask ourselves, what is it that we want and strive for in a modern world?
I believe that a world order based on the rule of law and democracy is our state’s fundamental interest. It is much more beneficial than the one based on the rule of “the law of the jungle”. If we are to agree on this, we should defend our achievements and seek clearer regulation, as there is still much uncertainty.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO is a value-based system of rules. This is also the case for the European Union. These two value-based systems operate for us; therefore, we must defend, strengthen, and develop them.
Moreover, this is already happening. In a very short period, Lithuania increased its military defence spending up to 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The reintroduction of compulsory military service has exceeded all expectations. The NATO enhanced forward presence battalion is a solid guarantee of deterrence. We seek that the battalion should stay here for a long time, so it would become the new normal. We invest heavily in exercise and training, including the Saber Strike, Thunder Storm, and BaltOps. This would be difficult to mention everything. The last large-scale military exercise tested our readiness for accepting allied forces and ensuring their movement across the Lithuanian-Polish border. We found out what is lacking in our present logistics system and what we need to improve.
We have also strengthened the very structure of NATO’s leadership. We are rebuilding the leadership capability for large-scale collective defence operations. We are also reviewing and updating defence plans to match today's realities. A consensus has been reached to increase the preparedness of the forces in order to meet a commitment to have 30 mechanised battalions, air squadrons, and 30 combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days. Issues concerning the defence of air and sea, A2/AD, and Suwalki Corridor still need to be resolved. The NATO leaders will discuss these issues next week.
NATO's cooperation with Finland, Sweden and the entire European Union has reached a new level. A joint statement by the EU and NATO leaders on further cooperation between these organisations is being drafted. Discussions on the movement of military personnel and equipment across the EU are already taking place at the EU level. A “Military Schengen” project within the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) framework and our own initiative – the EU Cyber Rapid Response Force – are among the most advanced projects. The June Foreign Affairs Council meeting primarily focused on the fight against cyber and hybrid threats, the importance of strengthening the EU's resilience to such threats, and strategic communications. The European Council meeting, which has just ended, mandated EU institutions to prepare a coordinated action plan by December 2018 with specific proposals for a coordinated EU response to the challenge of disinformation.
I would like to mention the Political Roadmap for synchronising the Baltic States' electricity grid with the continental European network that has been recently signed by the Heads of State and Government of the Baltic States, Poland and the President of the European Commission. Now we can begin work and disconnect from the BRELL network managed from Russia by 2025.
Thus, it is such an obvious sign of progress in strengthening collective defence. We knew what we were aiming for and now we are seeing the results.
We similarly seek clarity of goals in other areas of the European Union’s cooperation. We have been participating in the EU's endless law-making process for 14 years. We know our interests that lie within our sphere of competence, for example, the Eastern Partnership, trade, energy policy, as well as our interests in the negotiations on the next multiannual budget.
But what about other issues and initiatives over which EU member states and institutions have now locked horns?
I would like to emphasize a few main points. Big changes are coming for the European social and economic policy, migration policy, and foreign policy.
The leaders of the biggest EU countries have provided us with fresh new insights into the economic and social regulation in Europe for the years ahead, ranging from common taxes to new institutions. I will not elaborate on this, especially as it goes beyond the competence of our service. I can only say that Lithuania spared no effort to conjoin with the core countries of the EU. Today, we belong to the Schengen area and Eurozone. In addition, we participate in PESCO. Our relations with Germany, France, and other countries have reached a qualitatively new level. The NATO enhanced forward presence battalion in Lithuania is led by framework nation Germany. We are looking very closely at new initiatives for strengthening security in Europe and we will seek to participate insofar as they do not conflict with our interests and the goal of retaining NATO as the leading European security organisation.
As a Kaunasite, I am especially pleased that the second largest city in the centre of Lithuania trades with the core countries of Europe most actively today: Kaunas District is the leading exporter of Lithuanian goods to Germany and France (27% and 32% respectively). However, of course, we seek that all regions of Lithuania would establish closer links with Germany, France, and the Benelux countries in order to include all sectors of the economy. This is one of the priority areas for the immediate future.
We maintain very close relations with the nearest partners - the Nordic and Baltic countries. The NB8 is flexes its “international muscles”. In addition to the traditional NB8+the United Kingdom and the e-PINE formats, we have tried out the NB8+Ireland, NB8+the Netherlands, NB8+the Visegrád Group. Our exports to the NB8 region make up about 30% of the total export, approximately the same as the total export to Germany, Russia, and Poland. Almost half (45%) of all foreign investments accumulated in Lithuania has been brought by companies from the Nordic and Baltic countries. If we gathered all of the NB8 municipalities we have signed cooperation agreements with, we would even more clearly understand the extent of interaction achieved. Only a few municipalities have not signed such agreements yet. I would encourage them to conclude such agreements. Our diplomats are ready to provide the most versatile assistance needed.
We have renewed the dialogue with our strategic partner – Poland. I believe we have proved that we can harmonise our different interests and move forward. We have found a solution regarding the interests of the strategic investor Orlen. We are going to synchronise our electricity networks and a pipeline will connect the two nations. Great works are waiting ahead of us! Together, I believe, we must look for ways to demonstrate solidarity in the areas our neighbours need it. After announcing that it will not purchase power from the Ostrovets NPP, the Polish government has already joined the fight against this threat to European security. Thus, let us cut through this European political noise to hear what the Polish leaders have to say. Let us answer questions, such as, “What can we offer for the sake of partnership?”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At present, particular attention is being drawn to migration, which has re-emerged as a top issue. Europe received a wave of refugees, which is dividing our society and causing more and more tensions, exploited by populists. Suggestions for restricting, constraining, preventing are gaining more support. What are our interests? It is correct to strive to strengthen the protection of the EU's external border and to raise the interoperability of cross-border services. Lithuania has just offered to develop common standards for the control of the EU's external border, because the land border security is of great importance to us. We are implementing the voluntary refugee admission program and we will continue this policy.
A few days ago, the European Council approved a series of new measures to fight migration. Together with third countries and international organizations, we will establish centres for collecting migrants beyond the EU's external borders and we will attempt to speed up the security screening process for migrants who have already arrived in the EU, in order to grant political refugees asylum and to return economic refugees as quickly as possible. I do not want to dramatize, but the future of the whole EU depends on how we will solve this problem. It is important for us to remain constructive as much as possible and to stand in solidarity. No EU country should feel left alone to face such problems.
I would also like to speak about the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). We have recently heard some proposals to abandon the general rule of unanimity in CFSP decision-making and to move towards majority voting. There have also been talks about the creation of an EU Security Council. This would be a major qualitative leap. But would this ensure the protection of Lithuania’s vital interests?
I believe that beyond the external borders of the EU there has been done too little in the fields of the creation of law, collective institutions, and a cultural space for cooperation. At the same time, talks and actions of individual EU countries still do not allow us to expect that we have reached a principled consensus to strengthen and expand this space in line with Lithuania's security interests.
The EU’s relations with the Western Balkan countries have recently gained a new momentum. The EU-Western Balkans summit took place after a fifteen-year break. A long-sought solution for the issue of the name of Macedonia has been resolved. Talks on an enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans have been resumed. The Commission has presented its vision – a strategic document outlining six initiatives and a concrete action plan. However, unless the homework is completed, including a 100% alignment with the CFSP, we cannot speak about gaining full-fledged membership. This is our principled position regarding the issue.
Lithuania has taken some specific steps and opened an embassy in Croatia, which will also serve a significant part of the Western Balkans. We have already done a great deal of work in this region: more than half of the Twinning projects (we have won as much as 95 of these with our partners since 2004) have been implemented in the Balkan countries and Turkey. We are hoping to expand our legal and institutional cooperation network further.
We are concerned about the United Kingdom the European Union. Will we maintain the maximally regulated relationship or will we only agree on the solution of three “big problems”, and will we switch to the regime of “free sailing” in other areas indefinitely? The draft withdrawal agreement is being finalised; however, there are still uncertainties about the future relationship. We have repeatedly said that our fundamental interest is to keep Great Britain as close as possible to the EU. We will, therefore, seek to maintain as open relations, unobscured by artificial barriers, as possible not only concerning trade but also in terms of security and defence. I would ask you to speak about this not only in London, but also in Brussels as well as in the capitals of all EU countries.
We are actively involved in the development of the European Union’s relations with the countries of the Eastern Partnership. Sometimes we can hear: "No, we cannot give the countries a European perspective!", "There is no Europe here!", and so on. We strongly disagree with this, and we will not accept it.
The 5th Eastern Partnership Summit has agreed to strengthen the EU’s cooperation with Ukraine, Moldova and Sakartvelo. This is a very important decision that will allow our partners to implement the Association’s agreements more effectively, to share the best practices and learn from each other’s mistakes. We must work hard in Kiev, Chișinău and Tbilisi to ensure that the next year after the elections (to be held in all three countries) the strategic direction aimed to accelerate reforms and rapprochement with the West would be maintained.
Also, in the EU countries, we should seek the support of the politicians that the association agreements are just an intermediate stop. The idea to stop the integration, especially now, would be damaging for the European Union's interests. The European Union and associated countries need clear objectives that would define and structure their further cooperation program.
It is important to ensure the EU’s continued political attention to the Eastern Partnership policy, especially after the European Parliament elections, when the changes of the composition of the European Commission will take place. It is important to provide financial support to reforms in the Eastern Neighbourhood in the new financial perspective. The principle “more-for-more” should be maintained as the reference point for this support. The tactic of the least common denominator is the worst of all possibilities. It is important that we see increasing support for the European perspective of the Eastern Partnership countries in the capitals of the EU. I firmly believe that the Lithuanian initiative on the European plan regarding Ukraine, other initiatives and consistent work done by all of us will help to secure our goals.
A lack of respect for international law and a lack of cooperation culture are especially noticeable in the actions and statements of our neighbour Russia. The United Nations Charter and the European conventions are violated without hesitation. The manifestation of repeated episodes of amnesia worries us. Can anyone remember Istanbul’s commitments today or the six-point ceasefire agreement signed in Sakartvelo? The persecution of foreign institutions operating in Russia has reached extreme levels of absurdity. Even the participants of a public campaign “Mission Siberia” have been denied visas.
Nevertheless, we can hear more and more loud voices say that we need to “restore the relationship”, “to seek a dialogue”, and to develop “a new policy”. Although in the beginning, it would be sufficient to consistently do the following: to pass the “Magnitsky Act” also in other countries, to ensure compliance with the undertaken commitments, etc.
It is highly likely that we will soon face a new reality - specific proposals to “modify” the existing sanctions against Russia, although neither their underlying causes have been removed, nor have they started to implement the Minsk agreements. In this regard, the mobilisation of all of us will be needed. I ask you not to relax and to follow closely each movement related to this subject. To give up on these sanctions would justify de facto the annexation of Crimea, open aggression in eastern Ukraine, and the use of force instead of the rule of law in the neighbourhood. This would be an open invitation to use force once again. For which time already?
I do not see how the EU decisions could be taken by a qualified majority under such conditions.
Surprisingly, there are far fewer calls to “seek a dialogue” and to create “a new policy” in the event of disagreements with our strategic partner, the United States. Although this is where dialogue is needed the most. Yes, there is much tension today, and rhetoric is becoming sharper. Some may not like the unilateral decisions made by the USA and some may not like the long and slow decision-making process in the EU. However, the transatlantic relationship was not was not built in a day; it has decades to build it. It would be a mistake for us to stop looking for joint solutions to the problems caused by unfair competition in the world. Today it is more important than ever before not to hurry, not to lose patience, to rely on facts and to adhere to the global rules. The EU has responded with “balanced” measures to the trade restrictions unilaterally imposed by the United States. We sought them to be proportionate and introduced strictly in accordance with the established procedure in order to avoid possible escalation of the restrictions.
Thus, if problems emerge, let us sit down and solve them. Especially because there are good examples – for instance, the national defence expenditure accounting for 2 per cent of GDP. The ball that had been pushed around for a long while has finally moved forward in a clear direction. More and more NATO countries are reviewing their defence budgets. The US administration has increased funding by 40 per cent to maintain its troops in Europe and, after a pause, American tanks have returned to Europe. I do not doubt that solutions can be found regarding other issues, it is only important not to drown in the sea of emotions and not to swing on the “balanced measures” spiral.
We are sometimes asked whether we should choose the US or the EU. This is fundamentally flawed. Lithuania has already chosen its path. We are in the European Union. At the same time, we are also members of NATO and we consider the United States of America our strategic partner and an essential security guarantee. We speak for strong transatlantic relationships, for a strong Europe that does not compete but cooperates with the USA. Indeed, we are not going to contribute to the policy of separation, isolation, which is detrimental to both Lithuania and the entire transatlantic community.
The US decisions to withdraw from Iran's nuclear deal (JCPOA) or move the embassy to Jerusalem have caused intense passions. Lithuania reacted reservedly to the latter decision. We believe international law and the UN resolutions must be respected. We see Jerusalem as a capital of the two states in the future and this must be resolved through negotiations. So how will we find a long-term solution without the active involvement of the USA?
We support Israel on many issues. Today our relations are better than ever, and the bilateral cooperation is very intense. At the same time, we see that Israel's relations with some EU countries are complicated – they openly criticise the policy of Israel towards the Palestinians. This does not help the European Union in the Middle East peace process. We have therefore taken particular measures to establish a more balanced position of the EU. Our, Lithuania's initiative, was successful in organising a visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to Brussels for the first time after a 22-year break.
We support Israel and its right to defend its territory and sovereignty. We understand how difficult it is to resist terrorist attacks organised by radical Islamic groups. Many colleagues in Europe do not always mention this and do not always draw attention to it. However, this does not mean that the position of Lithuania is predetermined on all issues concerning the Middle East. Having taken a single position, we would degrade not only the role of the EU in the peace process, but also the opportunities to come to terms, contributing to tension.
We see that Russia is strengthening its geopolitical position in the Middle East, North Africa by signing military co-operation agreements, establishing military bases, and not avoiding direct military interventions. It strengthens partnership with the Iranian and Syrian regimes. The export of Russian arms to this region is counted in billions. This is how the great policy acts in a space in which there is a lack of international rules and the authorities supervising them. In addition, I would like to add, in the space, which the EU considers its neighbour.
The extension of a set of tools and rules of cooperation in the Southern Neighbourhood would probably be one of the EU’s strategic objectives for the coming decade. Considering this, we have started to expand relations with the countries of this region: we organised visits to Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. We are participating in the EU Operation Sophia, which aims to prevent illegal migration flows from North Africa to Europe.
Our contribution to the United Nations and European Union missions in Mali, Central African Republic, near the coast of Somalia is increasing. We have initiated development cooperation projects in Mali and Nigeria. Seeking to be more visible in the dialogue between the EU and the African Union. I have attended the summit in Abidjan myself.
The reality forces us to re-evaluate our relations with Greater Asia: India, Japan, China. Over a decade, our exports to these three countries have grown ten times and exceeded 350 million euros. Next year, we expect, the EU-Japan free trade agreement will enter into force and another market with 127 million consumers will be opened to Lithuanian exporters. And what about the increasing flow of incoming tourists, students? Obviously, we will need to review the resources and start preparations for the development. Other EU countries have already started this process.
The ASEAN region, the export to which has nearly tripled over the past 10 years and reached 235 million euros should not be left in the margins as well. Already this year, the EU intends to sign a free trade agreement with Singapore and Vietnam, and negotiations are taking place regarding an analogous agreement with Indonesia. According to the research data, even 93% of Lithuanian exporters could benefit from the privileges granted by the EU free trade agreements. This is one of the best indicators across the European Union. Thus, let us try to keep it this way - for the sake of the growth of our economy, the creation of jobs, and the welfare of the population.
The base of bilateral agreements with the Asian, African, and Latin American countries is still poorly developed. This is especially obvious when our citizens are in trouble or when a child is taken from Lithuania and not returned, or when a Lithuanian company chooses the flag of another EU country but not of Lithuania due to double taxation or investment protection. Therefore, let us not sit and wait. Let us develop a base of agreements with other countries now, while our relations are still developing, while no serious issues are emerging that could aggravate our cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The up-to-present cosy world, based on the Euro-Atlantic co-habitation rules, has been gradually withdrawing. A new world, new power centres, new principles of interaction between countries are emerging. However, our fundamental interests do not change: in this new world, we would also like to see more cooperation based on international law and institutions. This is in line with the fundamental interests of Lithuania.
I would like to conclude the speech by saying a few words about our internal affairs. The time has come for certain reforms. In 2004, when we entered the EU and NATO, only one-fifth of our diplomats abroad worked at international organisations. Now there are almost 40% of such diplomats. A diplomat in the classical sense moves to the background. The formula “representation-meeting-memo” is being used more and more actively in the working culture. Is it enough? Is it compatible with our long-term interests? These are the questions for a broader debate. I hope we will discuss this during this Congress.
The existing financing model does not offer any visible results either. The Office’s budget has risen by approximately 30% over a decade since the crisis, but this represents an average of 3% per year – i.e. covering of inflation. The salary issue is becoming more and more relevant. There will always be those saying that 636 euros before tax for a beginner diplomat are enough. However, it is especially difficult to attract gifted and talented young people with such a proposal and to win a competitive struggle with the private sector.
A few days ago, the Seimas redacted the Law on the Diplomatic Service, which I believe will help to balance the situation. The salaries of all diplomats should increase. The preparatory period for the beginners has been shortened after which diplomatic ranks are granted. There will be not only the possibility of vertical but also horizontal career and the possibility of remote work. I will not go into details now since they will be more broadly presented in the next meeting. I would only note that the direction has been set. Our state moves towards a more modern, flexible and effective civil service. Thus, I invite the returning ambassadors to take leading positions at the Ministry. The new law will encourage this step, providing for better salaries.
On this occasion, I would like to thank all of those who have contributed to the program of the Centenary Anniversary events. We have celebrated it as befits. More than 120 events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the State were held in various capitals around the world, a large part of them were co-organised together with local Lithuanian communities. This is another successful example of how we can expand the scope of our message and broadening our reach by acting together.
I hope it will inspire us to continue to shape a common communications policy. Our “silent diplomacy” is sometimes too silent. Battles in the virtual space are increasingly affecting our reality. Let us take, for example, the topics of historical memory and anti-Soviet resistance. In October, the remains of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas will be reburied. Your message for both the Eastern and Western audiences will be required. These messages must be coordinated; the social networks must be more exploited. A separate session will be held on this issue these days. I invite you to participate actively in it.
And, finally, one more concrete task: today the results of the “stress test” conducted by Belarus regarding the Ostrovets NPP have been presented. Our fears have been confirmed once again. The power plant is not safe, although it is intended to load nuclear fuel at the end of the year. The commission may not take place. All the above deficiencies must be corrected; all international requirements must be implemented. It must become a condition for further cooperation between the EU and Belarus. We must demand it in the capitals of the countries and the institutions of the EU. We are interested in good neighbourly relations with Belarus and we are expanding our cooperation where possible. Attractive and competitive conditions have been developed for Belarusian cargo transit, and we are seeing the development of business relations. However, we will not remain silent when the “red lines” are crossed. An extraordinary meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention is to be convened in Geneva in February. It will be decide whether Belarus, in developing the Ostrovets NPP project, has violated the Convention or not. I think the message is clear. Please, seize the opportunity to achieve desired results.
Some of our operational features have been revealed by the innovations introduced in the field of economic diplomacy. Individual economic activity plans of our missions, an electronic platform for managing and exchanging economic information, have provided a wider view. And it shows that only 15% of diplomatic missions and their heads actively engage in economic activity. The approach towards economic diplomacy, as well as this statistics, should change.
Today, 430 thousand of our citizens are officially registered abroad. More than 800 thousand travel abroad every year. After the entry into force of the new EU regulation, all our travellers will now be able to apply for consular assistance in the missions of every EU country. This will be of great assistance where we still have no diplomatic missions. However, the primary and most important source of assistance is the entire diplomatic service. Let us not stop looking for new innovative measures to protect our citizens, help them in the event of a disaster. I am happy with the success of the mobile app for Safer Travel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has already been downloaded more than 23 thousand times. According to this indicator, it is among the most popular state apps.
The presidential election is due next year. If the Seimas makes an appropriate decision, we will also hold a referendum on dual citizenship. The requirements for the referendum are very high, so the active role of the embassies will be especially important in preparing for and organising the election. We have witnessed how some foreign countries attempted to intervene in elections and referenda in other countries. Therefore, I invite you to observe the process closely and to keep the Ministry informed.
A few days ago in the Vingis Park, the capitals of Europe, and around the world, four million Lithuanians sang the National Anthem – “National Song of the Century”. This was an extraordinary feeling. While political debates are boiling up regarding the idea that should unite all of us, the answer became evident in practice. A modern, European, democratic, and global Lithuania has already become a fact in this era. We can argue regarding how modern, European, democratic, and global Lithuania actually is, but it would be absurd to assert that the country is not modern, not European, undemocratic and not global.
Today, not the issue of direction, but the issue of quality asks for our attention - the quality of the State administration, public service, and every our effort. The diplomatic service is no exception. For many years we have been an avant-garde of the State and this should remain so.
Therefore, I wish that in commemorating the 100th anniversary of our service and thinking about its transformations and ways of improvement, we would remain open to all ideas, even the most daring ones. The history will be our witness and judge.
Thank you for your attention.