On July 1, Lithuania takes over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union. One of the main events during the upcoming six months will be the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of November when the EU will try to bring its six eastern neighbors -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- into closer association with the bloc. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius sat down with RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels to discuss his expectations ahead of the summit as well as the prospects for the further EU integration of the Western Balkans during his country's time at the helm.
RFE/RL: The two front-runners in the Eastern Partnership, Moldova and Ukraine, seem to be tumbling from one political crisis to another. What will the success story of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius really be at the end?
Linas Linkevicius: Each of these countries [is] different, having different expectations, motivations, ambitions, and that is true. But when I am asked about the success of the summit, as you are asking, let's manage the expectations as well.
Let's be realistic. We are not discussing too often this region, we are discussing North Africa, Syria. Our task is just to remind ourselves that the case in Europe, to create a Europe whole and free is by far not yet implemented. If the heads of states will show up, will take part in the summit, it is also part of the success. We would be able to say after the summit that we have a strategy with regard to the Eastern Partnership.
We have a vision beyond 2013. It is not the end of the game, it is just the beginning. We will be able to implement very important principles. One of them is "more for more" -- when these countries are delivering more, we should set a mechanism to do more as well which is not always the case, if you agree. I can talk a lot about these things, but briefly, this is also a success.
An additional success is to sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine by the summit. It is possible, it is doable. [There are] a lot of obstacles, as you said, but [we are] still moving towards that direction.
With regards to Ukraine there are three cornerstones where we would like to see and they must deliver, must have some progress. It is the electoral segment; it is the judicial reform, in particular the general prosecutor's office; and it is selective justice, as we say. They know what to do, we are telling them what to do, so this is clear.
Then there are another three countries, not just Moldova, but also Armenia, Georgia. We hope we can [conclude] negotiations with them. And by the way, Moldova did that recently, they accomplished this big achievement (concluding negotiations on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, the trade part of the association agreement) after all that turmoil in the government, all that messy story. They didn’t waste time, they still delivered and really, congratulations to Moldova.
We can accomplish negotiations with all of them, frankly. And we can initial agreements, maybe full initialing, that is also discussable and that could be an additional success.
RFE/RL: Will Lithuania recommend that an association agreement be signed even if former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- jailed for abuse of office in a case her supporters say is politically motivated -- is still imprisoned?
Linkevicius: We are telling the Ukrainians that you must dismiss all doubt about selective justice. How you will do that is your, so to say, decision and the most, so to say, understandable decision could be the release of the former prime minister. It is not the way to fight for a position to put [someone] in jail, especially when the woman has some problems with [her] health and this is another reason why we should talk about also the condition of how she is [being] kept.
It is a long story so basically having said this: dismiss all doubts, preferably [it] would be of course helpful and it would be really a signal if she would be released, and we are telling this to the Ukrainians quite directly.
RFE/RL: Aren't you afraid that you will rush to sign agreements with Ukraine and Moldova at the summit even if they don't merit it just to have success and by doing that create a lot of problems for the EU in the future?
Linkevicius: It is just a process. If Ukraine will sign there will be plenty of opportunities to control the process via ratification. It will be 29 ratifications, by that time 28 [EU] members and Ukraine itself. Or when it comes to the other countries, a lot of situations [will] be there during the process.
Let's be realistic. It is very important. I can understand those countries that speak frankly, who are very cautious about [EU] membership perspectives, about enlargement, about false expectations [as] they say. I agree there should not be any false expectations. But the other opposite situation -- when you are killing these expectations, you are killing the hope, you are just [saying] beforehand that there is no perspective -- I believe is even more detrimental. We really should find a balance and I believe in the process itself, not just results.
One more point I forgot to say. Let's mention [it]. They have to choose along these three cornerstones I mentioned. But they also have to make a clear decision with regard to the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area), frankly speaking, and to choose the rules of the game, whether it is the customs union [with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan] or the European Union.
RFE/RL: Will the president of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, be invited to the summit?
Linkevicius: It is too early to talk about that kind of invitations. [It] should be discussed, by the way, among nations, [it] should be discussed among [EU] member states and that depends on the situation in that country. We all know what we expect from [the Belarusians]. It is really too early.
Let's consider for the beginning the possibility to discuss that with the other representatives. We will have a ministerial [meeting] on the Eastern Partnership [in July in Brussels]. Let's see what will come up from that. And then we will see more. I would say that we would like, as a host, to have all sitting by the table. I am not saying who personally, I'm talking about countries which are members of the [Eastern Partnership] program. But to talk about personalities is not timely.
RFE/RL: Will you raise human rights issues with Azerbaijan at the summit, such as political prisoners and the crackdown on the media ahead of this fall's presidential election?
Linkevicius: We are always mentioning that, it is always important; it is part of the dialogue. They know that and we know that. But Azerbaijan, as you know, they have no ambitions to join the EU. They have no ambitions to adjust their legal system, they have their own, so to say, understanding.
But they are an important player in the region. So let's make it possible [for them] to conduct this dialogue with the EU which could be important for us but, as you rightly mentioned, not at any expense.
It should be based on the principles and values which we are supposed to guarantee and cherish and defend and promote. This is obligatory, definitely. But as I said, Azerbaijan is not going to be a member of the EU.
RFE/RL: Do you think that Serbia will open EU accession negotiations during the Lithuania EU presidency and will Lithuania push the five EU member states that still haven't recognized the independence of Kosovo to do so?
Linkevicius: We in Lithuania would like to see the Western Balkans as an integrated part of not just the European but of the Euro-Atlantic community in the future. It is up to them to decide how fast and how efficient will be their integration but we will definitely be helpful. How they will do that is another story. You know that very important decisions were reached but now they should be implemented.
We would all like to wish them success and let's help them because it was not easy for them to reach that decision. Let's respect [the fact that] it was not easy, it was done at the expense of some, probably popularity ratings because they know it is important for their countries.
But let's not rush too much. Let us help them, let's understand and let's cooperate on that. We, as the presidency, definitely will be in favor and will be helping as much as we can.