With Lithuania assuming the European Union presidency on Monday, what will it bring to the table? The Baltic states have been some of the most democratic and prosperous market economies in Europe since their independence from the Soviet Union. There is a very strong indication that with Lithuania at the helm of the EU it will try to bring the East closer to the West. The EU will now hope to capitalize on Lithuania’s historic ties with eastern neighbors to clinch a landmark association and free trade accord with Ukraine and finalize talks on similar deals with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova. This will very likely anger Russian politicians as they will view this as a threat to their sphere of influence. Things are very tense right now with the global uprisings preoccupying the interests of many world powers. The last time the West attempted to expand its influence this far into the East was when the United States urged Latvia and Estonia to join NATO. Just as then, Russia will be the first to oppose such proposals. But that won’t stop the Lithuanian president from inviting Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Belarus to a summit of the so-called Eastern Partnership in Vilnius at the end of November.
Although it has not yet become a eurozone member, Lithuania has been more successful economically than many other EU countries during the eurozone crisis. “Lithuania is a fresh breeze, an innovative and vital voice in the EU family,” the country’s minister of foreign affairs Linas Linkevicius recently stated. The austerity measures being pursued in the rest of the EU clearly haven’t been producing the results that elites were anticipating so maybe a change in leadership can bring about a new course. The Baltic States have the track record of successful economic plans, but it remains to be seen whether Lithuania be able to translate this into a scale fit for a continent inhabited by approximately 503 million people. It will be a difficult agenda for the Lithuanian president to oversee, but I think that Lithuania at the helm of the EU will bring a breath of fresh air and innovation to a system that has been struggling since the economic crisis of 2008.