German President Horst Köhler on Monday started a three-day trip to the Baltic republics. He began his visit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where he praised the country's quick ratification of the EU constitution.
Germany's Horst Köhler and Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus
With the aim of bolstering already close ties with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Köhler's will spend one day apiece in each of the former Soviet republics and new European Union members. He praised the zeal with which all three countries have attempted to rejoin Europe both culturally and economically.
"The dynamic nature of the people here is good for the EU," Köhler said after arriving in Lithuania.
After meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus, Köhler commended Lithuania for becoming the first of the 25 EU members to ratify the bloc's new constitution. Adamkus signed the parliament's approval of the document earlier on Friday.
Köhler's trip aims to strengthen Germany's position as the region's most important trading partner, as well as highlight Berlin's role as the first stop for the Baltic republics when they need diplomatic support on international issues.
Both Köhler and Adamkus called the two countries' relations "very close" and the Lithuanian president thanked Germany for its willingness to organize NATO's air surveillance for the Baltic region starting next autumn. Köhler said he hoped to encourage greater interaction between the citizens of the two countries.
"I will personally ensure that people are welcomed with open arms," he said.
Adamkus also tried to get German support for a planned new nuclear reactor for Lithuania, which has committed itself to shutting down a risky Chernobyl-type plant by 2009. More than 80 percent of the country's electricity needs are met by nuclear power.
"Lithuania is not prepared to stop using atomic energy," Adamkus said, adding Lithuania hoped foreign investment would enable "a modern reactor to be built."
The old town of Vilnius, Lithuania.
Köhler, who as Germany's president has largely ceremonial role, visited a memorial for those dying in the struggle for Lithuanian independence. After meeting Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas und the president of the parliament Arturas Paulauskas, he also visited Vilnius' university and took a stroll around the baroque old town.
On Tuesday, Köhler, who is accompanied by his wife, will travel to Latvia. He will conclude his trip on Wednesday in Estonia. All three Baltic states declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. This spring they joined the EU and NATO.