Address by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Linas Linkevičius at the 7th Convention of Honorary Consuls of the Republic of Lithuania
It is a great honor to address you on this special occasion, when we are celebrating the Centennial of the restoration of the Lithuanian State.
You will not find many countries in the world which celebrate their statehood three times a year. Lithuania does. Two of these celebrations are independence days. Our state holidays reflect Lithuania’s complex and turbulent history where three dates stand out:
On 6 July 1253 the King of Lithuania Mindaugas was crowned and the formation of Lithuanian state was accomplished. On 16 February 1918 the Republic of Lithuania emerged as a modern state. On 11 March 1990 Lithuania declared independence from the USSR and restored sovereignty.
History shows that desire for freedom is relentless in this part of the world. To build a successful and prosperous state we need every Lithuanian in the world and all of its friends – many of them I see today assembled in this hall. It is largely due to your efforts that the 100th anniversary of restored statehood is celebrated in most countries of the world. We are grateful for your active role in representing and promoting Lithuania’s name worldwide.
Lithuania today is a member of the European Union and NATO - collective European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Being part of Schengen and Eurozone, Lithuania is at the core of European integration. Lithuanians do trust the European project – support for EU remains the highest among Member States – 66 % .
Lithuania has created an open and liberal market economy. We are a trading nation – export produces 85% of our GDP. Therefore we are strong supporters of free trade agreements. Earlier this year the Lithuanian Parliament ratified EU - Canada Free Trade Agreement, while EU-Japan agreement is expected to come into force in 2019.
Lithuania’s newest achievement is the accession to the OECD. It sends a strong signal to foreign investors. OECD is the quality sign which marks the highest standards in corporative governance, investment, competition, financial markets and public government areas.
I kindly ask you to spread the message about Lithuania’s membership in the OECD to wider audiences in your countries, especially within business communities.
There are a lot of pressing topics on the EU agenda. The idea is to reinforce the EU by focusing on the most important issues for citizens: budget, security, migration, economic growth.
Lithuania expects tough and intensive discussions on the EU budget for the next financial perspective. New challenges - migration, Brexit, security – go hand in hand with long-term policies: economic and social cohesion, Common Agricultural Policy. Migration is one of those pressing issues where a long-term solution has to be found to ensure effective management of migratory flows.
Lithuania hopes for successful negotiations on the new relationship with the UK, including the rights of citizens and financial commitments. It is important to keep the UK as close as possible especially in the area of European security and defence.
TRANSATLANTIC LINK / NATO
The value of the Transatlantic Alliance is its unity in dealing with new geopolitical challenges.
In response to Russia’s aggressive actions, NATO allies are deploying troops in the Baltic States and Poland. NATO enhanced forward presence battalion in Lithuania is led by Germany with other contributing nations: Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Iceland, Croatia, and France [1,200 military in total].
Next week the meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government will take place in Brussels. Once again the Allies will address imminent security and defence threats.
However Lithuania has not entrusted its security entirely to other Allies - we are doing our homework as well. Our defense expenditure has reached 2 percent of GDP in 2018. Lithuania reintroduced conscription. Vilnius is hosting NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence.
In terms of foreign policy, Lithuania will continue to attach great importance to the EU Eastern Partnership countries. Association Agreements between the European Union and Ukraine, Moldova, and Sakartvelo (Georgia) are successfully put into effect. These are the most ambitious agreements the EU has ever concluded with the third countries.
Security situation in Ukraine remains tense. The illegal Crimean annexation continues, the aggression in Eastern Ukraine proceeds, the Minsk agreements are not implemented. Lithuania emphasizes that sanctions against Russia should be maintained in response to the illegal occupation of the Crimea and military involvement in East Ukraine. It is important that you make this position known in your residence countries as well.
Russia remains a strategic challenge not only for the countries in its vicinity but for the entire international community. It interferes in the elections or referenda in Western countries, supports Euro-skeptic parties, radical left and right. Its large-scale disinformation campaigns, corruption and cyber attacks have become instruments of day-to-day activities. It consistently tries to undermine confidence in democratic institutions, to discredit our values, to sow distrust both within our nations and in our relations with our allies or partners. Therefore consolidated efforts and response of international community to disinformation, hybrid and cyber threats is vital.
However Lithuania distinguishes between the Kremlin and the people of Russia. I wish to underline that Lithuania facilitates dialogue with Russian civil society. It has become a tradition to host Vilnius Russia Forum where politicians, civil society representatives, human rights defenders, and journalists from Russia and the Western countries are brought together.
Russia is using its influence in neighbouring countries. A good example is Astravets Nuclear Power Plant - a dangerous geopolitical project under construction in Belarus, only 40 km away from Vilnius. Lithuanian position with regard to Belorussian NPP is a highly principled and clear: construction of Astravets NPP should be stopped on grounds of non-compliance to the international standards of environmental protection and nuclear safety.
Global role of Lithuania has significantly increased over the past years. In 2014-2015 Lithuania served for the first time as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Lithuanian contribution to international missions and operations to Afghanistan, Mali, the Mediterranean has been significantly increased.
Lithuania continues high-level contacts with the countries of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America. It is of great importance to establish new business contacts, promote Lithuanian economic potential abroad, assist Lithuanian exporters to find their partners. Having in mind our limited diplomatic network in these regions Honorary Consuls’ assistance in promoting business contacts is of special value.
Lithuania is emerging as a global partner in development cooperation. Last year 86 development co-operation projects [worth 1 mln. Euro] were implemented. Particular attention was given to Ukraine, Sakartvelo and Moldova, where Lithuania provided assistance to social and economic reforms.
Since joining the EU Lithuania actively participates in the EU Twinning Program. Lithuania actively cooperates with Germany, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Finland and other states in twining projects. Most of them are in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Again we count on your support in identifying relevant areas of development cooperation.
Recently Lithuania has successfully completed several election campaigns for the positions in international organizations. Professor Jonas Ruškus was re-elected to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the highest number of votes. Professor Dalia Leinartė was elected Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Lithuania was elected to the Executive Board of the World Tourist Organization.
Election campaigns require time and a lot of effort. Your helping hand in election campaigns could also be valuable.
Lithuania counts on your further support in promoting Lithuania’s economic potential abroad, assisting Lithuanian exporters to find their partners, attracting FDI and tourists, fostering establishment of relations in science and innovation fields.
Your close cooperation with the Embassy in your residence country and contribution to the Embassy’s economic activity is very important.
In brief, there are some messages I kindly ask you to spread about Lithuania:
- a fast growing economy (2017 - 3,8%, 2018 forecast – 3,2%);
- positive international ratings regarding business climate (No. 16 in Doing Business 2018 by World Bank);
- top ICT infrastructure (fastest public WiFi in the world; 1st in Europe for mobile 4G coverage) and highly educated talent pool;
- regional hub for innovative sectors: life sciences, financial technologies, ICT (in e-government, e-commerce);
- strong in exporting traditional industries: food and agriculture, textiles and apparel, chemical products, wood and furniture.
- transport and logistics hub and chain: East-West corridor, OBOR, Klaipėda seaport, Rail Baltica, etc.
- attractive tourist destination: 6,6% growth in 2017, with 3 million tourists per year.
CONSULAR ISSUES & DIASPORA
The contribution of the Honorary Consular officers to the Lithuanian consular service is of critical importance.
Honorary Consuls are the primary contact point for Lithuanian citizens in cases of emergency in countries without Lithuanian diplomatic missions.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to those Honorary Consuls who timely and selflessly assisted the Lithuanian citizens in distress.
Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is collecting information on the possibility to involve our Honorary Consuls in 2019 Presidential elections [which might be held in tandem with a dual citizenship referendum] alongside with the Lithuanian World Community.
Lithuanian diaspora is a very important and valuable part of our society especially in promoting Lithuania abroad. I would like to encourage you to take leadership in bringing Lithuanians together and sharing community activities.
[The Government initiated a special programme for Lithuanian citizens and people of Lithuanian origin living in humanitarian crisis-strike countries (e.g. Venezuela) to return to Lithuania. ]
An important part of our diplomatic service activities is public diplomacy and cultural promotion of Lithuania. In this regard, I encourage you to be creative and active in presenting Lithuanian cultural heritage in your residence countries.
Lithuania has a lot to be proud of: 4 UNESCO heritage sites, 3 inscriptions of its art and traditions in UNESCO immaterial world heritage, and 1 inscription in UNESCO Memory of the World. [Vilnius Historic Centre, Curonian spit, cross-crafting and its symbolism, Baltic song and dance celebrations, Sutartinės -Lithuanian multipart songs, The Baltic Way - Human Chain Linking Three States in Their Drive for Freedom, etc].
With your help and enthusiasm, we can reach the hearts of many people. Exhibitions, publications in mass media, concerts, your public presentations – these are the examples for your consideration and guidance for possible action. All of them would significantly contribute to our common diplomatic efforts in promoting Lithuania.
I take this opportunity one more time to express my personal gratitude for your continued efforts to represent and promote Lithuania in the world, for your assistance and support to our citizens, to the business community and institutions.
2 July 2018 at 10:00
Presidential Palace, Column Hall, Vilnius