During the French Presidential elections, BNS looks at the five most important aspects of the bilateral relations.
France is the second largest economy in the euro zone after Germany but its economic relations with Lithuania are weak. French foreign direct investments in Lithuania reach 378 million Euros and do not fall into the top ten of the largest investors. Lithuania has invested nearly 120 thousand Euros into France.
In recriminations ended the world’s largest water company „Veolia“ investment in the heat sector of Vilnius, and hundreds of millions are currently expressed in claims. “Veolia” says that its investments were affected by behaviour of unfair politicians and regulators, and Washington arbitration requires 120 million Euros in damages. Lithuanian central government, the Municipality of Vilnius, and law enforcement officials accused „Veolia“ representatives of unauthorized manipulation of energy prices and announced 200 million Euros in claims. The French officers pose this question in different levels of bilateral meetings.
The French army is the most developed one in Europe but regarding defence Lithuanian bilateral relations with France are less intense than with Germany. Lithuania rejected the French offer of the largest military purchase and chose the German terms with Israel produced uniforms armoured towers, and Norwegian air defence system.
France has participated six times in the NATO air policing mission in Lithuania and next year plans to send 300 troops to the NATO-led German battalion.
In response to a request from France, Lithuania this year is going to send a platoon of soldiers on the UN peacekeeping mission in the West African Mali, which aims to curb Islamist militants. Ideas to send Lithuanian Special Operations soldiers to Africa were abandoned.
Lithuania has strongly criticized French plans to sell warships “Mistral” to Russia. The contract was terminated in France because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
At the time France faces the biggest security threat from Islamic extremism, Lithuania – Russia’s aggressive foreign policy.
In 2009, the Lithuanian and French Presidents, Dalia Grybauskaitė and Nicolas Sarkozy, signed an agreement on strategic partnership. Last year in a Paris ceremony, commemorating the restoration of diplomatic relations and the 25th anniversary of the partnership, an agreement on the plan from 2016 to 2019 years was made. Latvia and Estonia do not have similar agreements with France.
Last year in April, a French Prime Minister’s visit to Lithuania was planned but it was cancelled due to the French parliament debate on the reform of labour relations.
Last year President Francois Hollande awarded the highest French award – the Order of the Legion of Honour Grand Cross – to the first leader after the restoration of Lithuanian independence -Vytautas Landsbergis for “special merits and historical service to Freedom and Europe, which was returned to Lithuania because of him.”
France is wary of initiatives of Lithuanian to stop Belarus Astravets nuclear power plant, in part – for its nuclear industry interests.
The European Union
So far France been one of the major European Union (EU) integration supporters while Germany favours a “multi-speed” Europe, where individual countries could integrate in certain areas at different levels. Lithuanian leaders, in contrast to the Visegrad countries, do not criticize this initiative and say they want to remain at the core of the EU.
On the other hand, Lithuania also stresses the importance of unity of the EU, especially in protecting themselves from the influence of Russia, is wary of initiatives for a common tax policy and is worried that the EU’s defence structures would not overshadow NATO and US commitments in Europe. It is likely that France is negotiating with Britain on the withdrawal from the EU and should take a stronger position than the Baltic countries.
Inside the euro zone the French often support the southern European countries, Lithuania and Germany and the Nordic countries receive more emphasis on tight fiscal policy, and structural reforms. “Brexit” talks will influence discussions within the EU on the general budget after the year 2020. France and other Western European countries may try to reduce support for the Middle East and Europe.
Cultural relations are actively taken care of by the French Institute in Lithuania, Lithuanian cultural attaché Vida Gražienė is working in Paris. At the beginning of every year Lithuania holds a French film festival “Winter Screens”, this year it attracted over 6400 Lithuanians. Every year, numerous Francophone events are held in spring, they present French culture, music and cuisine. France theatre, film directors, and musicians regularly appear in Lithuania.
In Lithuania around 8 thousand students are learning French language. Vilnius International French lyceum is attended by 400 pupils. Last year, Vytautas Magnus University opened a university centre of Francophone countries. The number of tourists from France to Lithuania is growing consistently and during the year it receives close to 40 thousand visitors from the country, a similar number of Lithuanian tourists is in France as well.