I was always touched by the story of Lithuania's renewed independence in 1990, the one our Lithuanian colleagues and friends are celebrating today. From the images of two million people - Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians - holding hands in a human chain, peacefully calling for independence (in what came to be known as the 'Baltic Way') to the incredible story of Lithuanian basketball players who were first able to represent their own country in the Barcelona 1992 Olympics and… brought home a
Video of The Other Dream Team Official Trailer #1 (2012) - Basketball Movie HD
The courage and passion for independence clearly still flows through the veins of Lithuanians, only this time it's about a different kind of independence: that of its energy supply. Make no mistake; 'energy independence' is not about being self-sufficient. Having abundance of natural resources is a privilege of rather few countries and depends on nature more than on us humans.
But what a country's policy-makers can and should decide on is whether to depend on a sole energy supplier or rather free their country to competition by opening to the global market. Lithuanians have chosen the latter.
In that sense, Lithuania has gone through no less than a revolution; up until the beginning of last year the Baltic region was an energy island - entirely dependent on a single gas supplier. But with the construction of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the port city of Klaipėda, Lithuanians can now choose from where and from whom they want to import. No wonder they chose to call the new LNG carrier 'Independence'…
The impact is tremendous. Gas prices dropped by one third! Suddenly, Lithuania is not a pure energy importer but it can actually trade gas with its neighbours, therefore boosting competition in their markets as well.
In fact, ensuring the security of our energy supply has been a hot topic lately as just last month, on 16 February, the Commission presented a legislative package with this objective. (The fact that the date coincided with Lithuania's 1918 independence was mere coincidence but perhaps highly symbolic...). These recent developments in Lithuania are therefore perfectly in line with the new European approach.
Obviously it is not only about energy but the entire industrial chain. The new and highly impressive LNG terminal in Klaipėda offers so much potential for economic growth in its related industries that Klaipėda University has set itself the mission of preparing the next generation of experts in marine sciences with programmes, specialising on the various aspects of LNG transport. And from what I heard when addressing the university, graduates in these fields are greatly sought after by the region's developing energy market.
Similar breakthroughs were recently achieved with regards to Lithuania's electricity grid which is now connected with Poland's (through LitPol Link) and to Sweden's (through NordBalt). Such projects are important milestones towards a fully inter-connected continent, where energy can flow freely, where countries enjoy access to various energy sources, and consumers can choose from a range of suppliers.
The connection of the Baltic countries to continental Europe is also important in view of the future likely synchronisation of their electricity network with that of the continental Europe. The Baltics have always been European at heart; soon their electricity will follow the same European heartbeat.
I am very glad to say that this success is, to a large extent, due to the Baltic Energy Market Integration Plan initiative, the so-called BEMIP, under which both interconnection projects were identified as priority projects. The Commission also recognised both projects as key security of supply infrastructure projects and provided substantial co-funding.
Visiting Lithuania was in fact an important stop my Energy Union Tour, through which I have been presenting the project and held discussions on its implications with national governments parliaments, industrialists, civil society, researchers and students. It was therefore the opportunity to congratulate President Grybauskaitė, Prime Minister Butkevičius, parliamentarians, and citizens for the tremendous progress they had made and for meeting the national 2020 renewable targets back in 2013!
The accomplishments are no coincidence. President Grybauskaitė is a true ambassador for the energy transition, and I heard her in this year's World Economic Forum in Davos tell world leaders that over half of Lithuanian electricity and heat production comes from renewable sources. I agree with President Grybauskaitė that this is definitely something to be proud of!
During my visit, I also presented the additional benefits which Lithuania can see from the Energy Union. These include further diversification of the gas market and more cross-border connections of both gas and electricity. I told my interlocutors about the need to invest more in energy efficiency, especially in the building sectors where there is still huge potential for savings. Finally, the new strategy for Research and Development will help Lithuania make investments in the R&D system which is currently undeveloped and to successfully implement the smart specialisation strategy.
To sum up, Lithuania has two official independence days; February 16th is the State Restoration Day, commemorating the declaration of Lithuania's independence in 1918 and March 11th, the Independence Restoration Day, which recalls when the country's leadership declared sovereignty in 1990. But in fact, given Lithuania's increasing energy connectivity, independence has another meaning and this one we can celebrate every day…!
Happy (Re)Independence Day! Su Nepriklausomybės diena!