EU Commission says Lithuania ready to join euro currency as of next year

VILNIUS, Lithuania – Lithuania welcomed a preliminary decision Wednesday by the European Union to accept the Baltic country’s application to adopt the joint currency.

Olli Rehn, the EU’s top monetary affairs official, said Lithuania is ready to become the euro’s 19th member. The euro’s current members are due to make a decision on Lithuania’s membership at some stage next month. Following the EU’s recommendation, that is expected to be a foregone conclusion, paving the way for Lithuania’s formal entry at the start of next year.

Lithuania’s move to join is another vote of confidence in the euro, which launched in 1999 but has suffered a half-decade of financial stress following debt problems in a number of countries, such as Greece and Spain.

However, after a series of debt-reduction measures and a raft of structural changes, the euro’s future is rarely questioned now even though the eurozone economy continues to underperform its counterparts around the world.

Rehn said the bloc’s efforts during the past five years have made “this ship is far better placed to navigate rough seas than it was at the outbreak of the crisis.”

Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said adopting the euro was an “economically and politically measured strategic step” that could boost growth and living standards in the country of 3 million.

The country’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, who was one of the strongest advocates to join, said Lithuania “deserves to be in the club of the strongest.”

“We will be able to borrow at lower costs,” she said. “This will allow us to spend more money on pensions and other needs.”

Lithuania’s Baltic neighbours, Estonia and Latvia, are already members of the euro. All three countries achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

A vociferous anti-EU lobby in Lithuania had requested a referendum but it was turned down by electoral officials.

Describing the expected membership as “only the beginning of the road,” Lithuanian Finance Minister Rimantas Sadzius said it was important “to ensure that the euro is welcomed by the residents, and its arrival is smooth.”