On 29 August 2011, France, which never recognized the annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union, celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the reactivation of its diplomatic relations with the Republic of Lithuania. In June 1991, a France-Baltic States inter-parliamentary friendship group was set up. The first Western Head of State to visit independent Lithuania was Mr François Mitterrand, on 13 May 1992. Mr Jacques Chirac, in turn, visited Vilnius on 26 July 2001.
Since 2004, France and Lithuania have been working together within the European Union and NATO. Ministerial meetings are held frequently, in Vilnius, Paris or Brussels.
On 4 September 2009, the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Ms Dalia Grybauskaite, was received in Paris by the President of the French Republic. During this visit, the two Heads of State signed a strategic partnership setting out the framework for the development of our bilateral relations.
In that context, two Lithuanian ministers visited Paris in May 2011: the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Audronius Azubalis, with whom an action plan was signed, and the Minister of Defence, Ms Rasa Jukneviciene, with whom it was agreed that a military cooperation agreement would be signed.
The French Prime Minister, François Fillon, visited Vilnius on 30 September 2011. This was the first visit of a French Head of Government since Lithuania’s independence. The Lithuanian Prime Minister, Algirdas Butkevicius, visited Paris on 15 March 2013. The Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Linas Linkevicius, was received by Mr Laurent Fabius on 3 June 2013. Mr Repentin conducted a working visit to Vilnius on 9 and 10 June 2013, to meet the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Linkevicius, and the Minister of Defence, Mr Olekas. On 2 July 2013, the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, was received at the Élysée Palace by the President of the French Republic, the day after Lithuania took over the EU Presidency. Mr Linas Linkevicius was received by Mr Fabius on 5 May 2014 and 3 June 2015. The Minister of State for European Affairs, Mr Harlem Désir, conducted a working visit to Vilnius on 22 and 23 February 2016.
Trade between France and Lithuania is growing.
France is Lithuania’s twelfth-largest customer and its twelfth-largest supplier, with a market share of 2.9% in 2015. The recovery in domestic consumption and investment should further benefit French suppliers, which are already popular on the Lithuanian market. Our main export sectors are pharmaceutical products (13%), motor vehicles (9%) and wine (6%). Our imports are mainly energy products (40%), chemicals (18.9%) and agrifood products (11.2%).
Thanks to the improvement in Lithuania’s economic situation, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows have been rising since 2011. FDI stock continues to be held mainly by the Nordic countries, which are shareholders in the main banking institutions in Lithuania, as well as by Germany and Poland. France has FDI stock of €309 million in Lithuania.
Veolia International, in the heating industry, accounts for 60% of French investment stock in Lithuania. Over the last two years, a dozen more French investors have decided to enter the Lithuanian market, including Danone, Leclerc, Société Générale, La Poste, JCDecaux, Belvédère, Vinci and Alstom. Around 65 French companies are present in Lithuania, employing over 3,200 people. More than 2,000 French companies export to Lithuania on a regular basis.
Other signs of interest are often noted, including from companies considering taking over local firms (cases include Lafarge, Mercurio, etc.) and in some cases, anticipating the mass influx of European funding. There are indeed significant needs and clear opportunities for investment, especially in sectors such as infrastructure (roads, railways, ports, airports, tourism), energy and the environment, where France has much to offer and possesses expertise that is appreciated and recognized by the Lithuanian authorities.
The Institut Français has a high profile in Vilnius. Its artistic and cultural outreach, in partnership with many Lithuanian institutions, makes it a leading cultural centre and forum for debate. It is regularly involved in major festivals in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda. Its lessons are attended by 1,500 students annually.
Lithuania became an observer of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) in 1999. Under a memorandum signed in 2006 and renewed in 2009, around 500 Lithuanian civil servants take part in a French course run by the Institut Français in Lithuania each year. The French National School of Public Administration (ENA) also won a major contract for civil servant training ahead of the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2013.
Academic partnerships in law and political science are being developed with Mykolas Romeris University and Vilnius University, which are centres of francophone excellence. Joint degrees have been created with Bordeaux IV University, Lille II University and Savoie Mont Blanc University. Other projects in the fields of engineering sciences and the environment are being considered, thanks to the increase in exchanges.
Some 20 Lithuanian schools (950 pupils) have had French-speaking bilingual sections since 2009. European structural funds provide financing of €300,000 for the practical and theoretical training of French and non-language subject teachers involved in this network. This programme is supported by the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Science and positively influences the continuation and growth of teaching French as a second and third foreign language in schools (from 2.4% in 2006 to 3.5% in 2011).
Our scientific cooperation is primarily based on the integrated action programme “Gilibert”. This cooperation draws on Lithuania’s fields of excellence: physics, chemistry and biochemistry.
Internal security is another aspect of our technical cooperation, focusing mainly on combating counterfeiting, organized crime and illegal immigration.
Lastly, although the role of French in the education system remains limited, the French school in Vilnius - École Montesquieu - has seen regular growth, with 287 pupils enrolled in September 2014 (of whom 70% were Lithuanian). This school is supported by both the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) and the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Science. It moved into new premises in June 2010 and opened a section for the first two years of secondary education in September 2011.
Bilateral defence cooperation is limited, but the meeting in May 2011 between the two Ministers of Defence revived Lithuania’s interest in this type of exchange. Our action focuses on the following: training, politico-military dialogue, sharing of experiences and exchange of information. This cooperation is governed by an intergovernmental agreement signed in July 2013, which replaced a technical arrangement from 1994. The agreement covers all aspects of military cooperation, including visits, consultation, cooperation and exercises.
Operational cooperation mainly involves support for the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission, provided by France in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013. The visit of the French Minister of Defence, Mr Le Drian, at the peak of the crisis in Crimea, on 21 March 2014, to announce that French fighter aircraft would be sent to Baltic air space as temporary reinforcement, was seen by Lithuania as a mark of support, illustrating our excellent bilateral relations, in response to the fears expressed by the Baltic States.
France is also helping to clear mines in the Baltic Sea in the framework of the Partnership for Peace. Lithuania has shown itself to be very grateful for France’s efforts in this field, as France is the only participating nation without access to the Baltic Sea.
Cooperation in the field of training is regaining momentum with exchanges of cadets between the Military Academy of Lithuania, in Vilnius, and Saint-Cyr Military Academy. The Lithuanian air force sends its staff to France for training at the Analysis and Simulation Centre for Air Operations (CASPOA) and the Air Defence and Control Training Centre (CICDA), which train air operation specialists and military controllers.
Lastly, Lithuania is calling on French expertise in order to modernize its defence and security equipment. Three used “Dauphin” helicopters were delivered to Lithuania in 2015.
- Mr Philippe Jeantaud has been the French Ambassador to Lithuania since 2015.
- Mr Dalius Cekuolis has been the Lithuanian Ambassador to France since 2014.
- Jean-Michel Villaumé, a Deputy for the Haute-Saône department, chairs the France-Lithuania friendship group at the French National Assembly.
- Jean-Marie Bockel, the Senator for Paris, chairs the France-Baltic States friendship group at the French Senate.