On November 28-29, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will host European Union leaders and their counterparts from the bloc’s six Eastern Partnership countries in Vilnius for what’s expected to be an historic summit. In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, Grybauskaite shared her views on what Ukraine must do to sign an EU Association Agreement, whether Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will attend, and whether EU membership for the Eastern Partnership countries is on the horizon.
RFE/RL: Some reports state that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka might be invited to the summit despite the fact that he is blacklisted by the European Union. Other reports state that the country’s foreign minister, Uladzimir Makey, will represent Minsk. As a host, who would you prefer to come?
Grybauskaite: It is not about a preference, it is about possibilities. We send an invitation to a country and it is very clear that people can only come to Vilnius if they are not on the [EU’s list of blacklisted Belarusian officials].
RFE/RL: Are you concerned that there will be an empty chair representing Belarus, as was the case at the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw in 2011?
Grybauskaite: Look, it is not about an empty chair. It is useful for Belarus to come, but really, the Vilnius summit is not mainly about Belarus. It is about Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia — countries that already did a lot of homework. We will probably be able to push the integration towards Europe a lot further. We are preparing to initial the agreements on free trade [and association] with Moldova and Georgia and probably we already are very close to signing the treaty with Ukraine.
RFE/RL: Would the summit be a failure if there was no signature with Ukraine?
Grybauskaite: I don’t think so. [That’s] because we are so far with a lot of countries, not only with the free trade agreements, but also with the visa-liberalization process and visa-facilitation. I think that these countries did so much of their homework in reforming their legal system and in human rights protection. So, really, [with] this chance and possibility to sign these treaties, already these countries did a lot [in terms of] what is important for themselves, for democratization, for human rights protection, for economic reforms, [and] for the prosecutors’ offices — all things that are very useful for themselves. Whatever Ukraine will decide, finally — even if they will not be able to fulfill all the necessary steps, which I doubt — I think we still have greater chance for a more positive outcome than a negative. I think already [Ukraine is] successfully achieving very good results for themselves because they are on the path of reform.
RFE/RL: If former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is allowed to travel to Germany for medical treatment but isn’t fully pardoned, would that be enough for you to sign an Association Agreement with Ukraine?
Grybauskaite: Let’s not speculate now on the final outcome, because we know that on November 5 there will be a vote on the special legal proposals [regarding Tymoshenko] in the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada, and of course, all the [EU] member states, together with Ukraine, will finally decide [on the next steps]. But we also need to have in mind that Ukraine is under huge, huge pressure from Russia not to do it all. [There is] especially huge pressure on the economy, with bans on some products — [much like the ban on] Lithuanian milk products. They are also under pressure on energy prices and all of this pressure is still increasingly visible. All of the pressure is also having an impact on public opinion in Ukraine and Europe and also on the decisions and the speed of decision in Ukraine itself.
RFE/RL: When do you think Moldova will achieve a visa-free regime with the EU? Will that happen in Vilnius?
Grybauskaite: Moldova is already in the second stage of the process, the so-called [visa] road map, and of course we are very much expecting that they will be able to finalize the next steps as soon as possible for further visa liberalization. All the doors are open and we expect that we will be able to have a report by the end of the year on the progress. The road map is very clear on Moldova: in the nearest years they will have much easier access in the European area.
RFE/RL: Will there be any mention of European aspirations or any other wording to express that the six Eastern Partners could one day join the EU?
Grybauskaite: The path itself is even more important sometimes than any kind of wording. [That’s] because they are doing reforms that are useful for themselves. Democratization, market reforms, human rights protection, legal reforms, and of all these are important for the countries themselves. The integration process, not necessarily membership immediately, is even more important today for them.