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The expansion of the European Union eastwards

In his speech to the University of Vilnius on 16 September 1994, Sir Leon Britten highlighted some of the issues relating to the expansion of the European Union to include Eastern Europe and, in particular, Lithuania. Sir Leon pointed out the return to the pattern of earlier ...

In his speech to the University of Vilnius on 16 September 1994, Sir Leon Britten highlighted some of the issues relating to the expansion of the European Union to include Eastern Europe and, in particular, Lithuania. Sir Leon pointed out the return to the pattern of earlier times when Lithuania, and the other Baltic States, participated fully in the political, economic and cultural life of Europe. He considered the discussions about Lithuania's place and role in Europe and the wider world at the end of the 20th century. As Lithuania develops its strategy towards the European Union, the Union itself is seeking to determine the structures and composition which will characterize it in the future. Two aspects of the debate are of particular relevance: the likely future evolution of the EU and the policy of the EU towards the Baltic Sea region. One of the strengths of the EU is its open trading regime. In July 1994 free trade agreements with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were signed. These are due to enter into force next year. The partnership agreement with Russia also envisages a free trade area in the future so the prospect is ultimately for a vast free trade zone. The EU is devoting significant financial resources to enhance the potential for economic development in the region through its own Structural Funds, through its PHARE and TACIS programmes, by promoting cross-border activities and by extending trans-European networks to include the Via Baltica and the Helsinki-St Petersburg corridors. In this context, there is active intra- regional contact between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. These three countries have already engaged in active intra-regional cooperation and this process will be further intensified. The EU is set politically to expand its membership to include the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It has made this policy choice partly out of a desire to put right the aberrations of 40 years of history when the continent was artificially divided, partly as a response to the need for security on its borders, and partly for economic reasons. All of these basic impulses are shared by Lithuania. However, if the goal is clear, the way to reach it presents many problems. In 1996 the EU will have to re-examine its structures and make the changes required to maintain its dynamism and capacity for decision making in order to respond to changing needs and priorities in time for the next enlargement.

Countries

Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia