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CLEER Presidency Lecture series – Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council

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By Dr. Aaron Matta, Senior Researcher in EU Law.

Academic Programme Coordinator of CLEER, T.M.C. Asser Instituut

 CLEER special lecture on ”The experiences of the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council in the field of external relations”, 20 February 2014, T.M.C. Asser Instituut, The Hague.

 The lecture was chaired by Dr. Aaron Matta, Senior Researcher in EU Law and Academic Programme Coordinator of CLEER and took place in the context of the CLEER special lecture series examining the Presidencies retrospectively with the aim of assessing the extent to which each country has fulfilled its aspirations and what its actions have meant for the European Union’s international relations more broadly.  Dr. Matta made a few preliminary remarks before introducing the speakers, discussing in brief the three main priorities for the Union agreed upon at the beginning of the Lithuanian Presidency in July 2013, namely, restoring financial stability and growth, guaranteeing energy security and promoting openness, particularly through closer cooperation with Eastern Partners.

 His Excellency, Mr Darius Jonas Semaška, Ambassador of Lithuania to the Kingdom of the Netherlands gave a highly reflective presentation on the key challenges, aims and achievements of the Presidency, with particular reference to the unique Lithuanian perspective in policy-making and the advantages this offered. The Ambassador underlined the fact that although the Lithuanian Presidency began in a difficult political climate, at a time when the EU was facing criticism regarding its capacity to respond to the economic crisis and a great deal needed to be done to restore credibility, many achievements were nevertheless accomplished. He referred to the significant steps made towards the establishment of the Banking Union, the restoration of trust in the Eurozone, evidenced by Latvia’s recent accession, and the advancements made in trade cooperation. The Ambassador underlined that energy infrastructure was further developed and that Union-wide projects were successfully implemented which created a more favourable business environment, thereby strengthening the EU’s stand in external relations. He also referred to the advancements made in the field of enlargement, emphasising that the prospect of EU accession remains a great driving force for a country to implement the necessary reforms, pointing to the agreement on the resumption of negotiations with Turkey by way of example. The Ambassador also discussed the successes of the Vilnius Summit of November 2013 with regards to the development of the Eastern Partnership, referring in particular to the Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova, along with the visa facilitation agreement with Azerbaijan. 

 Prof. Dr. Peter van Elsuwege, Professor of European Union law at Ghent University and Academic Coordinator of a Jean Monnet Module on “The Legal Dimension of EU External Relations” continued by providing an insightful, critical analysis of the success of the Lithuanian Presidency in the light of the challenging political and economic climate. Prof. Elsuwege examined in particular the priority of the development of the Eastern Partnership in the Presidency’s external policy, concluding that its visibility has increased and that important steps were taken at the Vilnius Summit, in spite of the fact they were tainted by the disappointment over the U-turns in policy witnessed in the cases of Armenia and the Ukraine. He referred to the rather hesitant response of the EU regarding the Russian ban on diary exports from Lithuania and following the first protests in Kiev. He questioned whether things could have been done differently in retrospect and whether it was foreseeable that the development of the Eastern Partnership would encounter these hurdles, rendering the decision to prioritise it rather naïve. Prof. Elsuwege nevertheless concluded that the Lithuanian Presidency did what was expected of it and successfully managed the economic and social agenda of the EU, making significant advancements towards the achievement of its overriding objectives in external relations.

 A highly engaging discussion followed the presentations, with both speakers responding to comments and questions from the audience, particularly on the issue of the EU’s response to the situation in the Ukraine. The lecture concluded with a reception.


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