A few days before June’s EU Referendum invited to Riga to give a lecture on Brexit at the University of Latvia. The mood among the audience (and other speakers) was one of total mystification: why would Britain want to leave the EU after more than 40 years, when other countries are knocking on the door to get in? Three months later, the attitude of the Baltic States to the Brexit vote is one of sorrow and dismay, partly because they believe Britain’s departure (if it happens) will weaken the EU but also because they feel it will affect them. The possible return home of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonia migrants currently working in the UK is one outcome, but as the Lithuanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Asta Skaisgiryte, said at a Political and Economic Circle Forum at the National Liberal Club this evening, a major concern is about security, in particular the way that the EU will or will not continue to stand up to Russia. All the Baltic states are nervous about Vladimir Putin, following the Russian encroachment into Georgia and Ukraine, not to mention the dreadful decades of Soviet occupation, human rights abuses and deportations. But the Ambassador also highlighted a specific potential threat from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, arguing where would its growing naval and military might be focused if not westwards to Europe? Baroness Judith Jolly, a LibDem spokesperson on defence in the House of Lords. also concentrated on security matters in her comments from this evening’s panel. Although Britain will remain a member of NATO, pulling out of EU cooperation could weaken the North Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, Brexit could be a prelude to other political events that would have been unthinkable only months ago, such as a possible Donald Trump victory in the US presidential election in November or the triumph of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in next year’s French elections. It was interesting that an unusually large turnout had registered for the seminar, which also heard from Tom Brake MP, LibDem Foreign Affairs spokesman in the Commons, Vytis Jurkonis from the Freedom Association office in Vilnius, and the Chairman, Lord Chidgey.
Posts Tagged ‘Lithuania’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th September, 2016
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Asta Skaisgiryte, Brexit, David Chidgey, Donald Trump, Estonia, EU Referendum, Judith Jolly, Kaliningrad, Latvia, Lithuania, Marine Le Pen, NATO, Russia, Tom Brake, Vladimir Putin, Vytis Jurkonis | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013
|The Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union|
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012
Ireland is scheduled to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 January, followed by Lithuania in July 2013 and Greece in January 2014. Whilst the third, in particular, might raise some eye-brows in fact all three governments in Dublin, Vilnius and Athens are well advanced in their plans and priorities. Here’s what the European Movement has to say about it in its latest Euro-briefing:
Last week the next 3 Presidencies of the Council of Ministers, the so-called ‘Trio’ of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece, presented in Brussels their work programme. In the next 18 months the main priorities of the Council are to further restore the economic stability across the EU and to build strong foundations for sustainable jobs and for long lasting economic growth. The Irish Presidency, which will take over the helm on 1 January 2013, will focus on issues related to the Digital Agenda, the EU’s Single Market, multi and bilateral trade agreements (such as EU-US Trade Agreement) and the Banking Union. The new Presidency will be working closely together with the European Council and the Commission in order to set up long-term plans and operational programmes. Due to the financial, economic and sovereign debt challenges of the past three years, the EU has been working on creating the conditions for economic recovery and to re-launch growth and investment. Support for job creation and social cohesion, with special emphasis on youth unemployment, will be the focus of the forthcoming Presidencies.
Starting off, the Irish Presidency will be working to agree on the remaining proposals of the Single Market Act (SMA I) and to progress proposals for the second Single Market Act (SMA II). The aim is to improve the competitiveness of the EU’s industry. The Irish Presidency will put a strong emphasis on supporting the development and competitiveness of the SME sector, reducing red tape, as well as facilitating cross-border trade and access to finance. This is one of the aims of the EU’s new COSME initiative (Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) and of the Entrepreneurship Action Plan (to be published on 19th December 2012), which includes proposals on insolvency and second chance and entrepreneurial education.Top priority will be given to dossiers like public procurements and moving forward on the Digital Agenda, particularly in the areas of eCommerce (e-signatures and e-Identification), Intellectual Property Rights, cyber security and low-cost high-speed broadband. The implementation of the EU’s Digital Agenda and the better functioning of the Digital Single Market offer huge potential for job creation in a yet to be fully taped area of economic activity. The Digital Agenda can foster cross-border commerce as well as new developments within the IT sector.
With regards to the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the upcoming Presidencies of the Council plan to work on completing the banking union and setting up a Single Supervisory Mechanism. The Council will also continue efforts towards fiscal consolidation and a better co-ordination of the Member States’ economic policies. The so-called ˜two pack” on economic governance will be one of the main priority areas (if final agreement with the European Parliament hasn’t already been reached under the Cypriot presidency). Ireland will steer the third European Semester of scrutiny of member states’ economic and fiscal policies and ensure that Member States, through the Annual Growth Survey process, stay on track to reach the objectives of sustainable economic growth and social cohesion as set out in the Europe 2020 Strategy.
In recognition of the important role research, development and innovation play in achieving sustainable growth and improving the EU’s competitiveness, the Council aims to conclude negotiations on the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme (which is a key EU funding programme, supporting European growth and innovation efforts in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy) and will also work to advance the completion of the European Research Area.
On trade, opening new markets with third countries through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) will be a priority. Ireland will organize an informal Council in April 2013, which will focus on trade relations ahead of a formal Council in June. The Presidency would like to see a mandate adopted during the next six months to launch talks for a free trade agreement with the United States. The Irish also hope that further progress could be made towards concluding FTAs between the EU and Japan, Singapore and Canada.
Last but not least, the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 will have to be discussed again by the European Council in February or March. Implementation of many of the Presidencies’ priorities depends on adopting a 7-year EU budget that is both fit for purpose and can support economic recovery and growth by underpinning areas such as regional cohesion and development and innovation.
For more details on the Presidential Programme, please visit:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2012
Belarus is often portrayed as the Bad Boy of Europe — the only European state that is not a member of the Council of Europe, thanks to its retention (and use) of the death penalty, the apparently fraudulent nature of its elections and its poor record on human rights. Opposition figures are regularly imprisoned (often for short periods), harrassed and denounced in the official media, and the KGB — which still keeps its Soviet-era name — is a looming, ominous presence, with a large headquarters on the main drag in the capital, Minsk. When I went there a few years ago to meet political and human rights activists, I felt I had walked onto the set of a film of one of John Le Carré’s novels. Rendezvous were made with people at their request in parks or noisy restaurants; Even the head of the Communist party insisted on meeting clandestinely in a café. Yet it is an over-simplification to denounce Belarus blithely as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, for all the self-evident shortcomings of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. People can access the Internet in the numerous cyber-cafés, and young Belorussians with enough money to pay for a Schengen visa can travel West, notably to Lithuania and Poland. They don’t need a visa for Russia, to which Belarus remains tied with an umbilical cord, And even if Lukashenko has sometimes irritated Putin and other Kremlin figures, Belarus is a useful ally for Moscow. Some of the subtleties of the situation came out in a meeting that I chaired this evening at the National Liberal Club, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) and Liberal Youth. This was the first such joint venture, which not only packed out the room but also produced some high-level debate, not only from the panel — Jo Swinson MP, Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi of Belarus Digest and Alex Nyce, former East European specialist at Chatham House — but also from the floor. Several members of the audience had had direct or indirect experience of working in or with Belarus and there was considerable discussion about what sort of stance the European Union should take on relations with the recalcitrant state. Intriguingly, a parallel was drawn between Belarus and Myanmar (Burma) and the question was posed as to whether constructive engagement might be a way forward in the hope of encouraging reform — though Lukashenko would have to release prominent dissidents before his good faith would be taken seriously.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alex Nyce, Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus, Burma, Council of Europe, European Union, Jo Swinson, John Le Carré, KGB, Liberal Youth, LIBG, Lithuania, Minsk, Myanmar, National Liberal Club, Poland, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Yaraslau Kryvoi | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th August, 2009
Last night I attended a reception and the opening of a video installation at the 12 Star gallery at the London offices of the European Commission, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way. That was the human chain made up of well over a million people on 23 August, 1989, stretching from the bottom of Toompea in the Estonian capital Tallinn to the base of the Gediminus Tower in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, via the Latvian capital Riga: 600 kilometres of an unbroken line of people of every age and walk of life. Those demonstrators were marking the 50th anniversary of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, but they were also demanding the right to run their own affairs, free from the shackles of Moscow. This would indeed soon lead of the regaining of independence by the three Baltic states, with Lithuania making the bold move first.
Jonathan Steele of the Guardian, who had been the newspaper’s Moscow correspondent at the time of the Baltic Way, spoke at last night’s event and reminded people that the demonstration was preceeded by moves within the local Communist parties to gain greater autonomy. Moreover, some members of the substantial Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia took part in the human chain. Even some of the state security police drove round in their cars waving the national flags of the three states. By then, Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow must have known that Soviet control of the region was in its twilight days.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 12 Star gallery, Adolf Hitler, Estonia, European Commissoin office London, Gediminus Tower, Jonathan Steele, Joseph Stalin, Latvia, Lithuania, Mikhail Gorbachev, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Riga, Soviet Union, Tallinn, The Baltic Way, The Guardian, Toompea, Vilnius | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st February, 2009
Being part of the European Union is partly about forging a new destiny, in partnership with the other 26 member states. But often this involves re-evaluating the past — whether this is a history of conflict, as between Britain, France and Germany, or a period of Communism, or the dark days of dictatorship. Austria is going through such a period of re-evaluation now, in relation to its own Nazi past. There is an old joke that the Austrians perfected the art of spin, by portraying Beethoven as an Austrian and Hitler as a German. But at long last — decades after Germany went through the process — Austria is confronting the Hitler years.
I wrote about this in a article in the current issue of ‘Diplomat’ magazine, focussing on Linz as this year’s European Capital of Culture (alongside the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius). The castle in Linz has a vast exhibition on Hitler’s plans for it as his capital of culture, which includes some chilling film footage of his triumphal entry into the city at the time of the Anschluss. But here in London, too, the Austrians are examining what happened following 1938, with a whole series of lectures and events at their Cultural Forum in Rutland Gate. The next one is a talk on the legacy of Nazi-expropriation in Austria, given by Clemens Jabloner, former Chairman of the Austrian Historical Commission, on Tuesday 3 March at 7pm. Given the rise of anti-semitism in this country, following the Israeli assault on Gaza, it is salutory to be reminded where anti-semitism can lead.
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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Anschluss, anti-Semitism, Austria, Austrian Cultural Forum, Austrian Historical Commission, Clemens Jabloner, Diplomat Magazine, European Capital of Culture, European Union, Hitler, Linz, Lithuania, Vilnius | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th August, 2008
Russian incursions into Georgia over recent days have left the EU sorely divided. France, as the current President of the Union, has been following a diplomatic course that has tried to charm the Russians into leaving, rather than threatenening them, whereas the former Baltic states and Poland have been notable in their forthright support for Georgian territorial integrity. The British government’s position has been somewhere in between — though David Cameron rather sneekily went off to Tbilisi to wave the flag of England and St George. It will be months or even years before the physical and human damage done by the conflict can be properly measured, let alone repaired.
But even more significant than the particular case of Georgia and the future of its separatist regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia is what recent events tells us about Russia’s attitude towards former Soviet territories. When the old Soviet Union broke up into fifteen separate countries, it all seemed unnervingly easy, after initial attempted crackdowns by Moscow in Lithuania et al. Now we are seeing that it wasn’t as easy as all that after all, and that Russia hasn’t just accepted the breakaway as the end of the story — at least, not when former territories such as Georgia and Ukraine have their sights set on NATO and maybe even EU membership.
Ukraine is the one we really have to watch. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Crimea have Russian citizenship and it is possible we will witness a rekindling of separatist activity there. As Sevastopol, where I was a couple of weeks ago, houses the Russian Black Sea fleet, this is potentially very inflamatory indeed. It is not only Kiev that needs to be worried about Russia’s new neighbourhood policy. The whole of Europe needs to be monitoring it and damping down tensions as well.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st May, 2008
Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House, New York, gave a presentation to the Association of European Journalist (AEJ UK) at the European Parliament office in London earlier today, outlining the situation regarding media independence in OSCE member states. This showed just how far some countries in the ‘greater Europe’ have to go before they can be proud of their record. Freedom House ranks countries using a scale of negative points out of 100 judged on their degree of press freedom, with Finland and Iceland coming out top, at an impressive 9, while Turkmenistan is right at the bottom with an appalling 96, even worse than Uzbekistan. The UK can’t crow, as it comes out at 19th equal, on 18 points, alongside Lithuania. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, interestingly, are the only former Soviet republics that score well enough to be granted the status of ‘free’. Ukraine and Georgia are in the next category down, ‘partly free’, while all the other 10 former Soviet Republics, including Russia, are slated as ‘not free’. All of the Western European countries manage to get into the ‘free’ category, though when Silvio Berlusconi was last Prime Minister, Italy dropped into the ‘partly free’. It won’t just be Freedom House in New York which will be watching to see if Mr Berlusconi’s recent return to office will once again mean that Italy slips.