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The Seimas and the EU

The Seimas and the EU

Photo by Olga Posaškova, Office of the Seimas

Relations between Lithuania and the European Community: Beginning

Political groups of the European Parliament established relations with the Lithuanian Parliament and its political groups following the adoption of the Act on the Re-establishment of the State of Lithuania by the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania on 11 March 1990. In September 1990, a delegation of Members of the European Parliament visited Lithuania for the first time. After the tragic events of January 1991, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the military aggression of the USSR in the Baltic States. At the request of the European Parliament, the Council of the European Community froze economic assistance to the Soviet Union. On 27 August 1991, immediately after the failed coup d'état in Moscow, the Republic of Lithuania was officially recognised by the European Community.  

New opportunities opened up for official inter-parliamentary cooperation between Lithuania and the European Community. By its resolution of 6 February 1992, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania approved a list of members from various political groups to represent the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania at the European Parliament, which, under resolution of 14 April 1992, served as the basis for establishing an official delegation for relations with the European Parliament.

Lithuania’s aspirations for membership of the European Union

On 21–22 June 1993, the European Council in Copenhagen (Danish Presidency) decided that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which had concluded the Europe (Association) Agreements, would be able to become members of the European Union (EU) in the future. The European Council also laid down the so-called Copenhagen criteria that candidate countries had to fulfil. Lithuania therefore needed to sign an Association Agreement with the EU as soon as possible.

The Europe (Association) Agreement was signed on 12 June 1995 recognising Lithuania’s ultimate objective to become a member of the EU. The Agreement enabled Lithuania to participate in the process of preparation for accession to the EU alongside other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Moreover, this Agreement provided scope for submitting Lithuania’s official application for membership of the EU. On 7 December 1995, the Seimas adopted the Statement Concerning the Application of the Republic of Lithuania for Membership in the EU. The next day, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania submitted an official application for the EU membership.

Pre-accession ‘homework’

Submission of the application marked a new stage in Lithuania’s integration into the European Union. Lithuania engaged in every effort to get ready for the membership as soon as possible and in parallel with other candidate countries and to launch constructive negotiations for the membership of the EU. Therefore, the Seimas had to do complicated ‘homework’ on integration to speed up the opening of the negotiations. In particular, the Seimas had, first of all, to ratify the Europe (Association) Agreement, which was already ratified by the European Parliament in November 1995. This meant that the commitments taken on in the Statement of the Seimas of 4 May 1995 Concerning the Republic of Lithuania and Europe (Association) Agreement Which is Being Prepared had to be honoured by harmonising Lithuanian laws with the relevant provisions of the Europe (Association) Agreement concerning the sale of land to foreign nationals, and this could be done only by amending the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania. Having done this ‘homework’, the Seimas ratified the Europe (Association) Agreement between the Republic of Lithuania and the European Communities and their Member States on 20 June 1996 (entry into force on 1 February 1998).

The Association Agreement opened up the opportunities for Lithuania to participate in the comprehensive and structured dialogue with the EU, which helped to understand the functioning of the EU mechanism and to prepare for joining it. At the parliamentary level, this dialogue meant a qualitatively new relationship between the Seimas and the European Parliament, which had to be developed through the EU–Lithuania Joint Parliamentary Committee, a new form of cooperation that played an important role in Lithuania’s further integration into the EU.

When Lithuania and other candidate countries submitted their official applications, the timing of launching the formal membership negotiations had not yet been known. The EU itself had no unanimous position on the matter, while candidate countries, including Lithuania, consistently called for setting a date of opening of the negotiations. In December 1995, the European Council in Madrid, Spain, decided to hold the Intergovernmental Conference and authorised the European Commission (the Commission) to submit, at the end of the Conference, reports on progress towards accession by candidate countries. The Intergovernmental Conference drafted amendments to the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union (1997 Amsterdam Treaty), and the Commission submitted the comprehensive document Agenda 2000 on 15 July 1997. In this document, the Commission presented the guidelines on internal reforms necessary for the EU enlargement and gave an opinion on the applications of candidate countries and a comprehensive assessment of the pre-accession progress of each candidate country. Unfortunately, the Commission recommended opening the negotiations only with five candidates (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia), excluding Lithuania.

With a view to launching the negotiations, Lithuania had to carry out a lot of complex internal reforms, notably abolition of the death penalty, commitment to decommission the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and guarantee the right to EU citizens to acquire, by the right of ownership, land in Lithuania. In the absence of the recommendation of the Commission to open the negotiations, Lithuania was in danger of falling behind other leading candidates. The unexpected opinion of the Commission encouraged the Seimas to take a decisive action. The Seimas adopted amendments to its Statute concerning the establishment of the Seimas Committee on European Affairs on 1 July 1997 and the Resolution on Setting up of the Committee on European Affairs on 18 September 1997 (replacing the Commission for Economic Reform and Integration).

Harmonisation of legislation of Lithuania and the European Union

On 17 March 1998, the Seimas adopted the Resolution on the Implementation of the National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis in support of the aspiration of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania for rapid integration into the EU. In fact, the National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis became an important programme of Lithuania’s domestic reform priorities. It provided for many sectoral reforms. In a relatively short time, the Seimas adopted a number of important documents, such as the Guidelines on the Legal System Reform, laws governing the areas of law and law enforcement and the fight against corruption (on courts, police activities, adjustment of public and private interests, funding of political campaigns, prevention of money laundering) as well as implementing the reforms in connection with banking, financial services, securities, insurance, bankruptcy, competition, consumer rights, telecommunications, energy, tourism, agriculture, environmental protection, public procurement, public administration, audit and other sectors.

On 9 December 1998, the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty provided for by the sanction of Article 105 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania contradicts the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania. On 21 December 1998, the Seimas adopted the amendment to the Criminal Code abolishing the death penalty in Lithuania. Against the backdrop of complex political debates, Lithuania had to develop the National Energy Strategy because the Commission required setting the acceptable schedule for shutting down the two reactors of the Ignalina NPP (first and second shut-down before 2005 and 2009 respectively). On 5 October 1999, the Seimas approved the National Energy Strategy by its resolution and paved the way for the start of the negotiations. By adopting the Strategy, the Seimas made a commitment that the first reactor of the Ignalina NPP would be shut down before the year 2005 and the decision on the timing of the shut-down of the second reactor would be taken in 2004.

As soon as one week later, on 13 October 1999, the Commission presented a new regular report on progress of the candidate countries towards accession, which welcomed Lithuania’s readiness to start the membership negotiations. In December 1999, the Helsinki European Council invited Lithuania to start the negotiations alongside other five candidate countries — Bulgaria, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Slovakia.

Negotiations for the membership of the European Union

The formal negotiations started on 15 February 2000. Lithuania was immediately faced with the challenging tasks: catching up with the candidate countries that commenced the negotiations earlier, concluding the negotiations with them at the same time, and simultaneously joining the EU. Therefore, Lithuania had to speed up the pace of the negotiations. To that end, on 18 January 2001, all political groups at the Seimas signed a joint statement regarding the speeding-up of the integration into the EU.

Lithuania’s negotiations with the EU proceeded particularly rapidly during the Swedish Presidency in the first half of 2001. Talks were launched on all negotiating chapters (29 out of the 31), except for the chapters on institutions and other issues. In the middle of 2001, Lithuania closed 18 chapters. In the regular report on progress of the candidate countries towards accession published on 13 November 2001, the Commission acknowledged for the first time that Lithuania was capable of concluding the negotiations before the end of 2002 and getting ready for accession to the EU until 2004. This meant that Lithuania, in all respects, caught up with the leading candidate countries that had started the negotiations almost two years earlier.

In the framework of the European Council in Copenhagen (Danish Presidency) on 12–13 December 2002, all candidate countries had the final negotiations, where the financial issues related to the enlargement of the EU were settled, the entire negotiating process was completed and the principled decision on the unprecedented enlargement of the EU was announced.

The Treaty concerning the accession of Lithuania and other new Member States to the EU was signed during the Greek Presidency at the solemn ceremony in Athens on 16 April 2003.

Referendum on the accession of Lithuania to the European Union

Fairly long before the signing of the Accession Treaty, Lithuania had made a firm decision to put Lithuania’s accession to the EU to the national referendum. Therefore, on 10–11 May 2003, soon after the signing of the Accession Treaty, Lithuania held the nationwide referendum attracting the turnout of over 63 %, out of which over 91 % of voters approved of Lithuania’s membership of the EU.

Lithuania as a Member State of the European Union

The Accession Treaty, which was signed in Athens on 16 April 2003 and ratified by all parties to it, formally entered into force on 1 May 2004. On that date, Lithuania, alongside the remaining nine countries of Central and Eastern Europe, officially became the EU Member State. The unique economic and political Union, which now brings together 28 Member States, ensures peace, democracy and prosperity in a large part of the European continent. The EU membership has strengthened Lithuania’s security and helped to foster the European values — democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights and individual freedoms, contributed considerably to the modernisation of the Lithuanian economy, economic competitiveness, and a business- and investment-friendly environment. Participation in the EU internal market with 500 million of consumers is one of the key drivers for economic growth in Lithuania.

Substantial financial support from the EU has helped to modernise Lithuania’s infrastructure, improve the competitiveness of the Lithuanian economy, develop science and innovation, and preserve cultural heritage. The EU political and financial assistance has enabled Lithuania to significantly strengthen its energy security. The membership of the EU allowed Lithuania to join the Schengen area, where the principle of free movement of persons is applied. Following the adoption of the euro, the EU single currency, on 1 January 2015, Lithuania became a full member of the Economic and Monetary Union.

In the second half of 2013, Lithuania was the first Baltic State to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Accordingly, the Seimas performed the functions of the Presidency Parliament, i.e. organised the EU inter-parliamentary cooperation: joint meetings of parliamentary committees and inter-parliamentary conferences, as well as the Conference of Speakers of European Union Parliaments, which took place in the Seimas on 6–8 April 2014. These functions are typically referred to as the parliamentary dimension of the Presidency of the Council of the EU.