After the first meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Lithuania’s new President Gitanas Nausėda, both leaders spoke about close and friendly relations between the two countries, skirting around points of potential disagreement.
Nausėda, who addressed reporters at the joint media conference in German, said that the country where he spent two years while studying in the early 1990s was his “second fatherland” and that his meeting with Merkel was warm and friendly.
Astravyets nuclear power plant
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the European Union must watch to ensure that the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant, under construction in Belarus close to the Lithuanian border, meets safety standards.
“Germany supports Lithuania in that higher security criteria must be observed,” Merkel said in a joint news conference with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda in Berlin on Wednesday.
“The European Union must watch (to ensure) that this Astravyets plant meets all safety standards and poses no risk,” she said.
The Astravyets plant is located some 50 kilometers from Vilnius and less than 30 kilometers from the Lithuanian-Belarusian border.
Nausėda said the facility is being built without observing international security standards and that the choice of the site was driven by geopolitical rather than economic considerations.
“We are very much asking for help from our EU friends in ensuring that this power plant complies with all the necessary safety standards before it starts functioning,” he said.
Nord Stream 2
Nausėda also said during the conference that he and Merkel had agreed that Ukraine’s interests should be respected in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Lithuania has been one of the critics of the pipeline that will allow direct gas transit from Russia to Germany, saying it will deprive Ukraine of important revenues and undermine the EU’s efforts to diversify its energy supplies.
“It [Nord Stream 2] is a blow to energy diversification in the European Union,” Nausėda said.
“Another important issue is gas transit via Ukraine and, on this point, Ms Merkel agreed that Ukraine’s interests must be respected,” he added.
German troops in Lithuania
Chancellor Merkel said that Germany would continue to lead NATO’s multinational battalion in Lithuania and to perform the Baltic air-policing mission.
“Through our increased involvement in NATO forces, we are helping to strengthen Lithuania’s security,” Merkel said in the news conference on Wednesday.
“We want to continue this, as we as to continue airspace control,” she added.
Germany has deployed around 550 troops to the battalion stationed in Lithuania.
Responding to a question about initiatives to distribute refugees among EU member states, President Nausėda said Lithuania would join such schemes, “because we understand that, as an EU member, we share both rights and responsibilities”.
He added, however, that the distribution of refugees “must be in line with capabilities”.
The German chancellor said she supported initiatives of the future European Commission president to tackle the problem.
“If migrants, refugees came to Germany, I am sure that we would need a new mechanism and clear commitments on everyone’s part. For this reason, I support the efforts of the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to address this issue,” Merkel said.
Several years ago, Lithuania agreed to take part in the EU’s resettlement program aimed at helping Italy and Greece to cope with an influx of refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
Under the program, Lithuania took in 490 people from Iraq and Syria, but most of them later left for richer Western European countries. Poland and Hungary refused to accept refugees.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last month that 14 European countries had agreed to a new solidarity mechanism to distribute refugees across the continent. However, no more details about the initiative have since emerged.