Dear Andris, excellences, distinguished guests
It is a great honor for me to welcome all of you to the first development ministers meeting in the format of Nordic – Baltic countries and the European Commission represented here by our Nordic-Baltic Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and his team. I hope this meeting will widen the context of NB8 cooperation.
Not accidently we gathered at this venue – in the neighborhood of the Lutheran Evangelic church of Vilnius and the Embassy of the Minor Lithuania, which was ethnic region historically influenced by different cultures and religions and currently belonging to different states – Russia, Poland, Lithuania. Hope this cultural environment will lead us to common ideas in today’s meeting.
This year Lithuania is coordinating Nordic – Baltic cooperation, next year we will face a new challenge – the Presidency of the European Union Council. I believe that our development priorities fit well into the European agenda. Let me mention just few of them - support for democracy, support for civil society, gender equality, social protection, common cultural heritage. Geographically we are mainly focussed in the region of Eastern Partnership and Afghanistan where we see the greatest added value of our expertise and engagement.
I believe that you would agree with me that democratic values are highly emphasized in today‘s development agenda. The promotion of democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance is one of the key pillars of development policy.
I agree that these democratic values should prevail when offering assistance to the developing countries. However, only a practical approach could lead us to achieving concrete development goals. In this regard we support the new initiatives for stronger engagement of civil societies and local authorities in development cooperation.
We would also encourage considering the role of political parties which are essential elements in strengthening domestic democratic processes. Be it North Africa or South Caucasus – it is absolutely necessary to assist in transforming “street fighters” into normal political parties enabling political dialogue and social stability.
Significant events such as Arab spring showed that global environment is changing rapidly and the new development policy structures should be considered and adapted. The term when Millenium Development Goals will be essentially reviewed and the new – post-2015 agenda will be adopted is very close. I believe that Nordic – Baltic countries could join their efforts in assuring a clear introduction of democratic principles and human rights into the upcoming global development framework.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Baltics have valuable experience of democratic change and economic transformation. Let me express the gratefulness to the Nordic countries which effectively supported us during our transition period. We have undergone impressive changes through accession-driven reforms. Democratic political process, governance, economic and social institution building, the rule of law are just several sectors to mention. This is a considerable base of know-how which could be of high use for transition societies in partner countries. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to consider using this experience in implementation of development policies.
I am glad to mention that as a new donor Lithuania already has a great experience of development initiatives which were jointly funded and implemented with Nordic countries.
I also have to thank European Commission and others European Humanities University friends for their support to this university-in-exile. About 2,000 Belarusian students currently study in Vilnius and have opportunity to access an education in the European liberal arts tradition in a free and democratic environment.
Speaking of education I am pleased to mention a new undergraduate Bachelor programme of International Politics and Development Studies which has been recently launched in the Vytautas Magnus University with support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am pleased to know that using this opportunity the Commissioner agreed to meet with students coming from Eastern Partnership countries who study in this programme.
Today this Nordic-Baltic meeting is not the only event dedicated to development cooperation – in the same time Lithuanian non-governmental organizations hold international conference to discuss democracy and human rights in development cooperation. We believe the role of civil society organizations as independent actors in their own right play a vital role in shaping development policies and partnerships.
I hope that after sharing the ideas and views on current and future development agenda it will be easier for us to reach common positions in European Union, as well as other international organizations.
These weathervanes which you can see in this hall is a beautiful tradition from our costal area of the Baltic see – invented by fisheries inspector of the Curoniain Lagoon Ernst Vilhelm Berbom and legalized by a special law back in 1844. 150 years ago those small flags served a function of today’s electronic chips or bar-codes, showing the origin, wealth, family status of the fisher. They are also an important part of traditional crafts of the Minor Lithuania.
I wish these weathervanes give you the right direction in today’s discussions.