Lithuanian Head of Mission: Smaller Nations Must be Reliable Partners
Interview of Novinite.com with Lithuanian Charg? d’Affaires (Head of Mission) to Bulgaria, Mr. Darius Gaidys.
Mr. Gaidys spoke to us about the EU presidency, broader European issues, as well as relations with Bulgaria.
Lithuania recently completed its rotational presidency of the EU. In these challenging times for the union, how difficult was it? What were your main achievements?
There were certain objective reasons, due to which our presidency was rather more difficult than others. First of all, we are at the end of the legislative cycle, as we have the European Parliament elections coming up this year. We had to finish adopting certain legal documents.
Of course, we are still feeling the economic crisis, that hit the whole European Union, and when we started our EU presidency, we had some unexpected issues. First of all, we had to cope with the crisis in Syria and Egypt, and we had to deal with the influx of refugees, as well as the tragedy in Lampedusa, Italy. We also had the situation with the United States, regarding data protection issues.
Therefore, our presidency was rather busy. The most important work we did was related to the multiannual financial framework. We finished what the previous presidency started. We finished the negotiations with all concerned institutions regarding the adoption of the next European budget, which we adopted during our presidency.
In November, Vilnius hosted the Eastern Partnership Summit. It received wide international coverage, but mainly due to Ukraine’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. Did that event have a negative outcome on the meeting?
I wouldn’t say so, because the Association Agreement and the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement are still on the table. The European Union made it clear, that it remains ready to sign this agreement. Of course, if the agreement was signed in Vilnius, it would have been a fantastic final touch to the event, but we do not have any bitter feelings about it.
During that summit, there were also other key documents that were initialed, such as the Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova. Plus, with Ukraine, we signed a cooperation agreement for a common aviation area.
There seem to be increasing sparks between Brussels and Moscow on various key issues, political and economic. In these times of economic recession, shouldn’t Europe be building bridges rather than walls?
Of course, bridges are always better than walls. But in a global perspective, we have to see that each country or group of countries has its own interests, and tries to push those forward. Thus, we need to find a decent balance internationally.
Seven years after entering the EU, the initial enthusiasm among Bulgarians has given way to increasing skepticism. Do you feel the same trend in Lithuania, 10 years after your entrance?
I have not seen the latest opinion polls, but of course, the enthusiasm is probably not the same as it was in 2004. This is natural. However, I believe the majority of Lithuanians see the benefits of EU membership. Of course, some are not happy, for different reasons, but this is normal.
As small countries on the outer border of the EU, how can Lithuania and Bulgaria better assert their positions in the growing European family?
Bigger countries are maybe more visible, for objective reasons. However, if a country is a reliable and efficient partner, its size doesn’t matter.
We are a country of only 3 million, but I think we managed to make our presence visible and received a lot of praises from the European Commission, from the Parliament, and from member states, for our efficient presidency.
What are the key areas of cooperation between Lithuania and Bulgaria currently?
Lithuania and Bulgaria are both members of the European Union and NATO, so this is dictating our bilateral agenda as well. We are separated by 2,000 km and belong to different regions, with some different problems and neighbors. We have certain similar areas, like regarding the commissioning of our nuclear power plants.
So are there any particular key projects between the two countries envisioned for the near future?
Well if we are talking about something dramatic and huge, then there are no such. Our cooperation is in the framework of the European institutions, as well as trade relations. Bilateral trade is increasing, although not as much as I would like to see. Otherwise, everything is going in the right direction.
Recently, the UK has been trying to curb immigration, in a move which seems to be targeted at Bulgarians and Romanians in particular. How do you see this campaign, and is it also affecting Lithuanians who plan to move and work in the UK?
For me it is very difficult to comment on UK policy. They have their own reasoning and motives about such rhetoric.
For us, I can say that UK and Ireland were the first countries which said that they will not apply a transitional period for free movement of labor when we joined in 2004. I was working in London at that time, and I saw in the day after our accession a huge queue of people standing outside our embassy. Overnight, all the illegal immigrants became legal.
Again, this is a question to the British authorities, what their motives are.
Bulgaria has been experiencing months of anti-government protests and the political situation in the country is far from stable. How do you evaluate this, and can you predict any possible outcomes?
The protests are running already for nearly 200 days. For me it is interesting to observe, as I live on the street by the St. Kliment Ohridski University. From my window, I could observe the student occupation, all the protests and the media.
I would say that these protests have one big positive thing. People are finally expressing their voice, either against certain policies, or against certain personalities. This is a movement forward. It is important that both the current and future governments listen to the people.
Regarding the future of this government, I cannot comment. It is difficult to say whether this coalition will stay or there will be snap elections.
What is the overall image of Bulgaria among Lithuanians? Is our country becoming a more popular tourist destination?
Yes, as a tourist destination it is very popular. In the summer, we have direct charter flights from Vilnius to Varna. This year we will have even more charter flights, to Varna and Burgas, so as a destination for summer tourism it is very popular. The weather here is good, and prices are fairly reasonable.
I would say, for now, it is only popular for beach tourism. Unfortunately, cultural tourism is not popular yet, and winter tourism as well.
What would you recommend to Bulgarians who plan to visit Lithuania? Perhaps, it is not yet well-known among Bulgarians?
Yes, this is a problem, that it is a one-way street. Lithuanians are traveling to Bulgaria in the summer time, but the reverse is not happening. Of course, I would encourage all Bulgarians to go there.
It depends which area of interest the person has. We have fantastic cities to see, from an architectural point of view. We have very rich baroque traditions. We have interesting nature, slightly different from Bulgaria, and very good spa and medical tourism. We are a country of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, so we have many holy sites.
I would highly recommend visiting Lithuania.
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