French officer and Finnish journalist to present Vilnius case on EU-US trade talks at EU Council simulation

In the simulation EU Council, Philippe Gabouleade and Piia Immonen-Seuguenot will campaign for the EU-US free trade agreement, putting forward the argumentation they heard during three days of meetings with Lithuanian diplomats, political scientists, economists and businesspeople in Vilnius.

The Frenchman and the Finn are among 50 participants of the program of the National School of Administration improving their knowledge of the EU. Earlier this week, members of the group visited different EU countries before gathering in Paris on Thursday and Friday for a simulation meeting of EU officials to seek consensus on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the EU and the United States.

“Our aim is to deepen the understanding of European issues and look from inside how the decisions are being made,” Immonen-Seuguenot, a journalist of the Finnish business newspaper Kauppalehti in Paris, told BNS.

In Gabouleaude’s words, program participants could choose the country they wanted to represent in the simulation. He said he chose Lithuania because he knew little about the Baltic states. The French citizen said the 11-month program had already included visits to Strasbourg, Brussels and Athens.

Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, director of the International Relations and Political Science Institute at Vilnius University, has told BNS that Lithuania supports the EU-US pact for geopolitical reasons, although direct economic benefits “would not be very significant” due to limited trade relations between Lithuania and the US.

“What is important for Lithuania is the security or geopolitical dimension. Successful completion of negotiations and implementation of the agreement between the US and the EU would demonstrate strength of the trans-Atlantic Alliance and its ability to agree not only on the key security issues discussed in the NATO format but also in the economic area. By creating a free trade area between the US and the EU, the agreement would send a political signal to other world regions and allow stating that forecasts about the Western collapse on the global scale and the lost competition to China should be viewed with caution,” the political expert told BNS.

In his words, Lithuanian leaders also expect the EU-US agreement to pave way for “simpler trade in energy resources, first of all, purchase of natural gas from the United States, where the supply of shale gas has made natural gas prices several times lower than the European average”.

Vilpišauskas says that Western European countries are engaged in more active discussions on the agreement with the US due to more active groups of interests, which can encounter more competition, once obstacles in trade with the US are removed.

With the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement, the US and the EU intend to establish a free trade and investment zone of about 820 million residents, and its trade volume would amount to over 1 trillion US dollars annually.

The start of the negotiations was overshadowed by a spying scandal, when it emerged that the US government was eavesdropping on its European allies. Critics also say that the agreement may pull down health care and food safety standards.

The earlier plan was to sign the agreement before the expiration of the term of the European Commission on 1 November. However, the expected date now is around mid-2015.

“It is yet difficult to forecast but we can state that the initial expectations voiced by the US president of finishing the talks with one tank of gas did not come true. The negotiations have been in progress for more than a year and clearly in some countries different interest groups are criticizing and attacking rather actively. Once the process of negotiations has gained momentum, the resistance of the interest groups can also escalate, and it can push aside the common economic and consumer interests, as well as the strategic importance of the agreement,” said Vilpišauskas.

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