The joint management model of the European standard-gauge railway project Rail Baltic is already posing threat to the project's continuity, Lithuania's Transport Minister Jaroslav Narkevic said on Thursday, after hinting about the possibility of building the railway independently without Estonia and Latvia.
In his words, Lithuania has been analyzing for some time whether it would be rational to continue the Rail Baltic process independently.
"There's a period when we can improve organizational and managerial sovereignties, but when this so-called improvement poses threat to the project's continuity, we need to clearly say whether we need to take this path any further," Narkevic told a press conference in Vilnius on Thursday.
"With all responsibility, I say that for some time already we have been analyzing and making calculations on whether independent construction in Lithuania's territory, in line with all commitments, would be more rational, faster and ensuring that we can implement that project by 2026," Narkevic said.
He assured that such an implementation would not affect the technological integrity of the pan-Baltic project.
According to the minister, Lithuania does not want companies from other states to build infrastructure in its territory, saying that Lithuanain Railways (Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai ), Lithuania's state-owned railway company, should do that.
But the minister did not specify as to whether the country would consider withdrawing from the pan-Baltic company, RB Rail, which is implementing the project.
Latvia and Estonia would like the Rail Baltic implementation to be more integrated. But Lithuania is resisting and wants to continue implementing the project independently and leave maintenance of the built infrastructure for Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai.
The Baltic states have been in dispute over Rail Baltic's implementation model for some time already. And RB Rail's former CEO Baiba Rubesa, who left the company several years ago, also spoke about conflicts of interest within the project.
Under Rail Baltic's existing management model, the project is only partly centralized as RB Rail is coordinating the project's implementation, studies and cost-benefit analyses, which is all important for all Baltic states, and it is also responsible for the common standard, electrification and the introduction of traffic management systems.
Taavi Aas: The Rail Baltic project is not in danger
Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center) said nothing in the Lithuanian statement was surprising and confirmed that the Rail Baltic project is not in danger.
"Lithuania has always pursued a policy that they want to be as independent as possible. This is actually because they very clearly want their transport infrastructure to belong only to Lithuania and be operated by a Lithuanian state-owned company. This, in turn, stems from the Kaliningrad problem. Of course, this statement must also show that elections are coming up in Lithuania right away and that there are no surprises in the fact that politicians are making strong statements before the elections," Aas told ERR on Friday.
He said the project is still a cross-border project but that the countries are organizing the construction themselves. Aas said the only question was how much Lithuania wanted to participate in the umbrella organization but he had not heard anything about the country leaving it.
"It would certainly be easier if the countries cooperated with each other," Aas said in response to a question about whether the project's eligibility or budget would be affected if Lithuania made its idea a reality, but added the project is certainly not in danger.
Editor: Helen Wright