The first Nordic Council of Ministers meeting to be held outside of the Nordic countries was held last week in Vilnius. This meeting could have a symbolic meaning to Nordic-Baltic cooperation and especially to Lithuania’s efforts in strengthen its cooperation with the Nordic region.
Lithuania’s turn ‘to the North’ intensified after President Dalia Grybauskaitė assumed office more that half year ago. Grybauskaitė’s first visit abroad was not to next-door neighbour Poland but to Sweden.
After meeting with the visiting Nordic ministers President Grybauskaitė said in a statement, “Lithuania’s cooperation with the Nordic countries is among the top foreign policy priorities that I pursue. The Baltic and Nordic countries are united by common interests, and close cooperation would widen the region’s potential and strengthen our role in Europe and globally.”
Newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius said to reporters after the meeting, “Lithuania together with Latvia and Estonia have always been supported by the Council, and we still feel grateful and see the work done by the organization. We are willing to strengthen and continue our relations with our friends in the Nordic states.” The Minster added, “We are intensifying ties with the Nordic states because it is one of Lithuania’s foreign policy directions.” He also noted that his counterpart from Norway will visit Lithuania, and that he is planning to visit Helsinki in April.
Since the mid nineties Lithuania has concentrated its attention on improving its relations with Poland and being active in the Post Soviet Eastern European countries. The strategic relationship with Poland was based on the conviction that Poland would facilitate Lithuania’s accession to NATO. Creators of Lithuanian foreign policy also believed that Vilnius could become a regional centre through the active containment of Russia’s influence in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the South Caucasus republics and opening doors for them in the corridors of NATO and Brussels. The foreign policy strategists maintained that by anchoring those republics to the West, Lithuania would be secured from Russia’s retaliatory plans. Lithuania’s foreign policy strategists were convinced that the country has a choice between becoming a passive ‘golden province of Europe’ and being an active ‘regional centre’.
Lithuania and Poland were active in promoting democracy in Eastern Europe but Vilnius underestimated its human and financial capital. The winds changed in Europe when the ‘enlargement fatigue’ became obvious. The winds of change also blew in Washington with Obama’s inauguration.
It also became more and more apparent that the strategic partnership with Poland was mostly based on strong personal relationships between the Lithuanian and Polish Presidents. When change came in Vilnius with Grybauskaitė taking the President’s office she declared that Lithuania is reviewing it foreign policy and soon announced that for the first visit she is going to Stockholm, not to Warsaw. Even though Grybauskaitė explained her choice of destination justifying it by Sweden’s EU Presidency, Warsaw would not buy it. The President went to Warsaw after visiting Riga and Brussels.
Hence, Lithuania’s foreign policy has been altered dramatically. One of the directions, which Lithuania neglected for a very long time, is back on the President’s radar. Lithuania is turning its face towards Northern Europe.