Amid Change of Government, Rail Baltic at an Impasse at Working Group Level
Discussions at the Rail Baltic trilateral working group level are stuck, ETV is reporting, with the Lithuanian side lacking authority to discuss the Estonian compromise of a spur to connect Vilnius to the high-speed rail line linking the Baltics with Berlin.
The change of government in Estonia has also thrown a spanner into the works, as the Lithuanians say they can't be sure who they will be negotiating with in a month's time and what exactly is on the table.
A Wednesday meeting of the working groups in Tallinn was supposed to continue on Thursday, but in essence, ETV reported, the parties found they had nothing more to talk about.
"It turned out [on Wednesday] that the Lithuanians didn't have a mandate to discuss the [Vilnius] compromise made at the last meeting," said the head of the Estonian working group, Indrek Sirp.
The Estonian offer was contingent on two factors, Sirp said. "First of all, the European Commission gives a sense of security that it can be financed by the EU and second, Lithuania performs a cost-benefit study that shows that the whole project has the same level of profitability as shown by the Aecom analysis."
The Lithuanian side says that as they see it, Vilnius is already included. "We see Vilnius as being a component integrated with the Rail Baltic project. The transport ministers agreed and the prime ministers approved it and it doesn't need to be discussed with the European Commission," said Lithuanian Economic Affairs Ministry international relations department head Arenijus Jackus.
The next meeting is scheduled to take place in April, but Sirp said he is not hopeful for a breakthrough, saying the open-ended questions may have to be handled by a higher level. But it isn't clear who will be the economy minister at that point.
Meanwhile, last weekend, putative Estonian prime minister Siim Kallas mentioned a possible public poll on the exact route of Rail Baltic, citing the controversy and opposition to the various track options. He also asked a more fundamental rhetorical question, "Is the European project Rail Baltic necessary or not? If the people say no, then it won't be built." The Lithuanians read Kallas' remarks first in the media.
Parliamentary Economic Affairs Committee chairwoman Kaja Kallas (Reform Party) said these factors do not change Estonia's basic attitude toward Rail Baltic or toward connecting Vilnius to Europe. She said there was consensus in Estonia that the deadlines for applying for EU funding were rigid, and that the price tag of the project was also set in stone.
The EU is considered likely to open the funding round in early autumn.