Lithuania

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

Giedre Razgute, Liu­ci­ja Mazy­lyte

European Parliament elections in Lithuania: key topics in the electoral campaign

The key issues of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions cam­paign were fight­ing unem­ploy­ment, pro­mot­ing Lithuania’s ener­gy inde­pen­dence, social inclu­sion, secu­ri­ty, Lithuania’s stronger voice at the EU lev­el, fed­er­al­iza­tion of the Euro­pean Union, intro­duc­ing the Euro in 2015, and inequal­i­ty of the direct pay­ments for Lithuan­ian farm­ers. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, there were less top­ics of pure­ly domestic/ nation­al com­pe­tence com­pared to the pre­vi­ous cam­paigns in 2009 and 2004. How­ev­er, a num­ber of domes­tic prob­lems such as social inequal­i­ty or social exclu­sion were tied with even­tu­al solu­tions for them on the Euro­pean lev­el by a num­ber of can­di­dates (for instance, by mem­bers of the Lithuan­ian Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty). A new­ly raised impor­tance of secu­ri­ty and defence in the region gained ever more atten­tion through­out the cam­paign due to the Ukraine cri­sis and chang­ing geopo­lit­i­cal envi­ron­ment in Europe.

The key slo­gans of the polit­i­cal cam­paign var­ied from EU-friend­ly ones, such as “Work­ing Europe — win­ning Lithua­nia”, “Safe Lithua­nia in strong Europe”, even a lit­tle EU-exploita­tive, like “Euro­pean mon­ey to every home!”, to more euroscep­ti­cal, such as “Lithua­nia, awake!” or “Lithua­nia for Lithua­ni­ans, Europe for Euro­pean nations!”. Some par­ties had slo­gans based on their key polit­i­cal issues, for instance “For clean envi­ron­ment and clean pol­i­tics” and “For Europe, based on Chris­t­ian val­ues”.

There was lit­tle debate focused on the EU-wide fron­trun­ners in the Lithuan­ian Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions cam­paign. Lithuania’s nation­al broad­cast­er screened the can­di­date debates for the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent post. Main­stream Lithuan­ian par­ties have already indi­cat­ed their sup­port for the EU-wide fron­trun­ners. Social Democ­rats have stat­ed their sup­port for Mar­tin Schulz, where­as Home­land Union/ Lithuan­ian Chris­t­ian Democ­rats sup­port Jean Claude Junck­er. At the same time, the Lithuan­ian Lib­er­als Move­ment and the Labour par­ty have declared their sup­port for the EU-wide Lib­er­als’ can­di­date Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt. All in all, the EP elec­tions in Lithua­nia still strong­ly relate to the nation­al con­text rather than to the EU-wide issues or con­test of the can­di­dates for the high­est posts, such as the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

Euroscepticism in Lithuania’s electoral campaign

Euroscep­ti­cism played a role in the EP elec­toral cam­paign, main­ly rais­ing two issues: sell­ing land to for­eign­ers and intro­duc­ing the Euro in 2015. On 1 May 2014, Lithua­nia had to open its agri­cul­tur­al land mar­ket allow­ing oth­er EU cit­i­zens to buy land in Lithua­nia. How­ev­er, this caused a big debate sup­port­ed most­ly by the Lithuan­ian Nation­al­ist Union and fol­lowed by slo­gans such as “Lithua­nia will be sold to for­eign­ers”, “Lithuan­ian land is not a com­mod­i­ty”, etc. An ini­tia­tive to col­lect sig­na­tures against sell­ing land to for­eign­ers result­ed in a ref­er­en­dum that will be held in late June 2014. The Euro issue is sup­port­ed by euroscep­tics who say that intro­duc­ing the Euro in 2015 is too ear­ly for Lithua­nia, it is bet­ter to wait and stick to our nation­al cur­ren­cy, oth­er­wise it might cause a cri­sis and Lithua­nia would end up like Greece or Por­tu­gal. Nev­er­the­less, Euroscep­tic state­ments were rather minor and did not cause much debate.

Possible explanations of the European Parliament elections’ outcomes

There were some sur­pris­ing moments in the EP elec­tion out­comes. The Social Democ­rats were lead­ers in the opin­ion polls where­as the results were rather dis­ap­point­ing for them as they received only two seats in the EP. The win­ning oppo­si­tion par­ty, name­ly the Home­land Union/ Lithuan­ian Chris­t­ian Democ­rats, won 17.39 per­cent of the votes.The Lib­er­al Move­ment gained two man­dates lead­ing to their high­est achieve­ment in the party’s his­to­ry at the EP elec­tions. The Labour Par­ty had bet­ter fore­casts yet gained only one man­date, as did the Peas­ants and Greens Move­ment.

As some researchers and observers point out, sev­er­al fac­tors hin­dered the Social Democ­rats’ suc­cess. First­ly, their can­di­date, Zig­man­tas Balčytis, ran for both pres­i­den­tial and EP elec­tions. Vot­ers may not have sup­port­ed this dual­ism. Sec­ond­ly, the par­ty put names of sev­er­al act­ing min­is­ters and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans on the list. Vot­ers may have wished to “pun­ish” the rul­ing par­ty for this act. As Pro­fes­sor Liu­das Mazylis points out; there might be two expla­na­tions for the cen­tre-right-wing suc­cess in the Lithuan­ian EP elec­tions. First­ly, the elec­torate of the Home­land Union/ Lithuan­ian Chris­t­ian Democ­rats gen­er­al­ly presents greater loy­al­ty and com­pli­ance and they tend to be well mobi­lized. Sec­ond­ly, the EP elec­tions were held on the same day as the sec­ond round of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. The win­ner Dalia Gry­bauskaitė was a can­di­date strong­ly sup­port­ed by cen­tre-right-wing par­ties. The suc­cess of the Peas­ants and Greens Move­ment might be explained by two aspects: pop­u­lar­i­ty gained dur­ing the Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and the party’s vis­i­bil­i­ty as strong oppo­nents of sell­ing Lithuan­ian land to for­eign­ers.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Dominant views on future relations with Russia

Linas Kojala

Lithuania’s rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia and pos­si­ble future devel­op­ments are dis­cussed main­ly from two per­spec­tives: economic/energy and secu­ri­ty.

Lithua­nia cel­e­brat­ed its 10-year anniver­sary of acces­sion to the EU in May 2014, but remains high­ly depen­dent on East­ern mar­kets, Rus­sia in par­tic­u­lar. About 1/5 of Lithuan­ian exports go to Rus­sia – it is the high­est share of exports to Rus­sia in the whole EU. Even though most of the com­modi­ties are re-export­ed – Lithuan­ian prod­ucts, most­ly meat and dairy prod­ucts, account for less than 5 per­cent – local busi­ness­es are sen­si­tive to eco­nom­ic uncer­tain­ties and remain keen on sta­bil­i­ty. How­ev­er, the econ­o­my is not sep­a­rat­ed from pol­i­tics: for exam­ple, Lithuania’s active stance on the East­ern Part­ner­ship dur­ing its Coun­cil Pres­i­den­cy, which was seen extreme­ly neg­a­tive­ly in Rus­sia, is con­sid­ered to be the cause of bans on Lithuan­ian dairy prod­uct imports to Rus­sia at the end of 2013 with­out giv­ing clear expla­na­tions.

Lithua­nia is even more vul­ner­a­ble in terms of ener­gy, as 46 per­cent of elec­tric­i­ty, 98 per­cent of oil and remark­ably 100 per­cent of nat­ur­al gas is import­ed from the sole sup­pli­er Rus­sia. With­out alter­na­tive sources, Lithua­nia cur­rent­ly pays some of the high­est gas prices in Europe – Russ­ian state-owned Gazprom sold gas at a price of around $480 per thou­sand cubic meters in 2013, while the aver­age price for Euro­pean coun­tries last year was around $380. The strate­gic goal of Lithua­nia to become ener­gy inde­pen­dent, through the diver­si­fi­ca­tion of ener­gy sup­pli­ers, direct­ly con­tra­dicts Russia’s inter­ests. Strate­gic ener­gy projects such as a liq­ue­fied nat­ur­al gas (LNG) ter­mi­nal, which is due to start oper­at­ing at the end of 2014 and would enable gas imports from coun­tries such as Nor­way, or the planned nuclear pow­er plant in Vis­ag­i­nas, could be extreme­ly impor­tant to this cause. Dur­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of these projects, Rus­sia offered to low­er the price of nat­ur­al gas by 20 per­cent. There­fore, in this aspect, Lithuania’s per­cep­tion towards Rus­sia is twofold: on the one hand, some argue that the per­cep­tion towards the neigh­bour­ing coun­try should be as neu­tral as pos­si­ble in order to avoid polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed eco­nom­ic deci­sions, which may hurt Lithuan­ian busi­ness­es and ener­gy con­sumers; on the oth­er hand, there is a broad agree­ment on the need to diver­si­fy both eco­nom­ic mar­ket reliance and ener­gy resources in order to reduce depen­dence on Rus­sia, even though it might mean short-term or medi­um-term finan­cial loss­es.

Due to objec­tive rea­sons, the debate on secu­ri­ty is much more one-sided. Rus­sia, which regards the Post-Sovi­et region as Near-Abroad, is still per­ceived as a threat due to the high lev­el of mil­i­ta­riza­tion in Kalin­ingrad, var­i­ous mil­i­tary activ­i­ties and hos­tile for­eign and intel­li­gence poli­cies. It is empha­sized both in offi­cial Lithuan­ian pub­lic secu­ri­ty doc­u­ments and ana­lyt­i­cal reports, which state that the hos­tile actions are con­duct­ed by com­bin­ing the eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary fac­tors. For exam­ple, there are repeat­ed cas­es of Russ­ian mil­i­tary vio­lat­ing Lithuan­ian air­space or sea­wa­ters; fur­ther­more, reg­u­lar mil­i­tary exer­cis­es in the region car­ry out offen­sive sce­nar­ios. The per­cep­tion of Rus­sia as a threat great­ly increased dur­ing Russia’s aggres­sion in Ukraine, which was under­stood in Lithua­nia as evi­dence that Rus­sia could quick­ly imple­ment mil­i­tary actions on a num­ber of coun­tries in the East­ern region. There­fore, Lithua­nia seeks defence assur­ances from NATO and oth­er allies in order to reduce its expo­sure to Rus­sia.

Reflections on the events in Ukraine

Linas Kojala

Accord­ing to opin­ion polls in Lithua­nia, most of the peo­ple con­sid­er Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a direct mil­i­tary aggres­sion towards anoth­er state (41 per­cent) or pres­sure in order to intim­i­date and desta­bi­lize Ukraine (36 per­cent). Fur­ther­more, there were a lot of pub­lic cam­paigns, such as ral­lies, protests against Russia’s actions, and finan­cial sup­port cam­paigns, in sup­port of peace and Ukraine’s inde­pen­dence.

The Euro­pean Union’s reac­tion to the cri­sis is seen as insuf­fi­cient. Sanc­tions, which were imple­ment­ed by the EU against peo­ple and enter­pris­es con­sid­ered part­ly respon­si­ble for annex­a­tion of Crimea and dis­tur­bances in East­ern Ukraine, were seen as sym­bol­ic rather than effec­tive. The ques­tion of uneven depen­dence of EU mem­ber states on Rus­sia, in terms of their econ­o­my, ener­gy sources and pol­i­tics, and its influ­ence on polit­i­cal deci­sions is wide­ly dis­cussed.

It leads to two con­clu­sions. On the one hand, Lithua­nia remains a staunch sup­port­er of the EU’s inte­gra­tion or enlarge­ment east­wards, which is seen as an even big­ger neces­si­ty dur­ing cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances and a more unit­ed and stronger stance towards Rus­sia is expect­ed in the future. On the oth­er hand, Lithua­nia seeks assur­ances from mem­ber states that the cur­rent cri­sis will lead to the devel­op­ment of com­mon poli­cies, which may reduce Euro­pean depen­den­cy on Rus­sia, for exam­ple, through the cre­ation of an inter­nal ener­gy mar­ket.

Perception of Turkey’s EU membership perspective

Liu­ci­ja Mazy­lyte

Dur­ing Lithuania‘s pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Union Coun­cil, Lithua­nia strong­ly expressed its sup­port for Turkey in its nego­ti­a­tions with the EU. The fact that Turkey has active­ly sup­port­ed Lithuania’s acces­sion to NATO should not be for­got­ten and this point is often referred to when pre­sent­ing Lithuania’s posi­tion. As the chair of the Seimas Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs, Ged­im­i­nas Kirk­i­las, point­ed out, Lithuania’s Pres­i­den­cy broke the dead­lock and restart­ed the Turkey-EU nego­ti­a­tion process. The results, how­ev­er, depend on Turkey’s polit­i­cal will and abil­i­ty to meet the mem­ber­ship cri­te­ria as well as a guar­an­tee of ensur­ing human rights and ful­fil­ment of jus­tice. Some oth­er politi­cians stress the need of the EU to work more close­ly with Turkey in order to help the coun­try in pro­mot­ing jus­tice and human rights. Regard­ing the future mem­ber­ship, some politi­cians view a sim­i­lar­i­ty between the sta­tus of Turkey and Ukraine – there might be a com­mon sta­tus for both of them. They may not share full mem­ber­ship in the Union, yet cer­tain aspects of mem­ber­ship will be achieved.

The country’s offi­cial posi­tion remains to con­tin­ue to pro­mote and fos­ter the nego­ti­a­tion process. Among the lead­ing politi­cians there is a con­sen­sus on the issue of Turkey’s mem­ber­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties. The issue fre­quent­ly aris­es dur­ing debates on EU enlarge­ment and sup­port is declared with some ref­er­ences to the need of human rights and jus­tice imple­men­ta­tion. Nev­er­the­less, regard­ing the EU enlarge­ment, the key focus remains on the East­ern part­ner­ship coun­tries and their future acces­sion chances.

In order to enhance busi­ness rela­tions between Lithua­nia and Turkey, the Lithuanian–Turkey Busi­ness Forum was held in 2013. Some coop­er­a­tion ini­tia­tives that were derived from the Forum include a mem­o­ran­dum of the coun­tries’ nation­al broad­cast­ers and the rail­way coop­er­a­tion ini­tia­tive “Vikingas”. This forum can be viewed as a pos­i­tive step towards greater coop­er­a­tion between the two coun­tries.

Lithuan­ian media paid spe­cial atten­tion to the offi­cial vis­its of the Turk­ish Pres­i­dent and Min­is­ter of EU Affairs before and dur­ing Lithuania’s pres­i­den­cy of the EU Coun­cil. Fur­ther­more, the Lithuanian–Turkish Busi­ness Forum was pos­i­tive­ly viewed. Nev­er­the­less, Turkey’s mem­ber­ship in the EU hard­ly gains any per­ma­nent atten­tion in Lithuan­ian media sources, except from the high­est offi­cials’ vis­its dur­ing the Pres­i­den­cy peri­od.

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3. Power relations in the EU

Lithuania’s perception of Germany’s role in the EU

Liu­ci­ja Mazy­lyte

Ger­many is a strate­gic part­ner of Lithua­nia, eco­nom­ic, social and cul­tur­al rela­tions with the coun­try are high­ly val­ued. Polit­i­cal elites agree on the impor­tance of pro­mot­ing coop­er­a­tion between Ger­many and Lithua­nia. Lithuania’s for­eign pol­i­cy strat­e­gy strong­ly indi­cates the impor­tance of bilat­er­al rela­tions with Ger­many as one of the key strate­gic part­ner.

As the chair of the Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs, Ged­im­i­nas Kirk­i­las, point­ed out, Ger­many took on a lot of respon­si­bil­i­ties dur­ing the finan­cial cri­sis. At the same time, while being a great pow­er, it has nev­er aimed to use this for polit­i­cal ben­e­fits. Accord­ing to Kirk­i­las, the coun­try has a lot of pull in the EU but acts in a very gen­tle man­ner. Merkel is con­sid­ered as a strong and tal­ent­ed leader. Politi­cians from the oppo­si­tion also agree on the impor­tance of Germany‘s role in the EU, espe­cial­ly dur­ing eco­nom­ic cri­sis. Nev­er­the­less, France and the UK are per­ceived as more or less equal play­ers.

Ger­many often appears in the Lithuan­ian media as one of the lead­ers in the EU, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis and the appli­ca­tion of strong aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures. Ger­many is clear­ly viewed as a leader in sav­ing the Euro­zone as well as lead­ing the EU out of the cri­sis. How­ev­er, the chan­cel­lor, Angela Merkel, is some­times slight­ly iron­i­cal­ly por­trayed in the mass media sources with ref­er­ence to her strict rul­ing and deci­sions con­cern­ing euro-cri­sis or the past close coop­er­a­tion with the French pres­i­dent N. Sarkozy. All in all, the tone of the Lithuan­ian media is rather sup­port­ive.

All this leads to the con­clu­sion, that Lithua­nia per­ceives Ger­many as one of the key play­ers in the EU, while not for­get­ting that the strate­gic Lithuanian–German rela­tions must con­tin­ue to be fos­tered.

“Austerity vs. growth” debate in Lithuania and preferred reform options at the European level

Ramu­nas Vilpisauskas

Two par­ties, which came in first and third in the recent Euro­pean par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, the con­ser­v­a­tives and the lib­er­als respec­tive­ly, sup­port fis­cal con­sol­i­da­tion (which seems to be a more appro­pri­ate term for what has been under­tak­en dur­ing the cri­sis peri­od of 2008–2009. Aus­ter­i­ty sounds like a very mis­lead­ing term as the total amount of pub­lic expen­di­tures has hard­ly been affect­ed dur­ing the cri­sis). The Social Democ­rats who are cur­rent­ly a rul­ing coali­tion par­ty and came sec­ond in the EP elec­tions, talked before the nation­al par­lia­men­tary elec­tions of 2012 about the need for stim­u­lus and less aus­ter­i­ty, but their pol­i­cy has been rather sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous cen­tre-right gov­ern­ment and the expect­ed result of this pol­i­cy is the planned intro­duc­tion of the Euro in 2015. Oth­er coali­tion part­ners such as the Labour par­ty of Law and Jus­tice are more out­spo­ken against fis­cal con­sol­i­da­tion and are in favour of spend­ing on pen­sions and sim­i­lar social expen­di­tures, but it seems that their state­ments are just a pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign. Thus, most prob­a­bly, it could be con­clud­ed that the dom­i­nant per­spec­tive in Lithua­nia is mud­dling through with some incli­na­tion for fis­cal con­sol­i­da­tion, but not because of its expect­ed ben­e­fits, rather because of it being a pre­con­di­tion for the intro­duc­tion of the Euro.

Lithuania’s view on the possibility of the UK leaving the EU

Liu­ci­ja Mazy­lyte

After Cameron’s famous speech in 2013 on the poten­tial ref­er­en­dum on the Unit­ed Kingdom’s (UK) Euro­pean Union mem­ber­ship, the issue of the UK leav­ing the EU has attract­ed atten­tion both from the Lithuan­ian elite and the mass media. It was a stim­u­lus for euroscep­tics to raise their doubts on the future of the EU and the path for Lithua­nia to take.

Accord­ing to key politi­cians, there is almost no chance that the UK will leave the EU. As the chair of the Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs point­ed out, the UK cit­i­zens are edu­cat­ed enough to under­stand the ben­e­fits of the mem­ber­ship. The coun­try is still fight­ing the con­se­quences of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis and EU mem­ber­ship remains cru­cial for a recov­ery. The mes­sage of his well known state­ment of Jan­u­ary 23, 2014, was main­ly meant for the inter­nal rather than the exter­nal audi­ence and pre­sent­ed a polit­i­cal and tac­ti­cal manoeu­vre before the future elec­tions, as the chair of the Com­mit­tee on Euro­pean Affairs claims. How­ev­er, Lithuan­ian politi­cians see the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the UK ref­er­en­dum on the EU mem­ber­ship with almost no chance for a with­draw­al.

Some Lithuan­ian politi­cians from the oppo­si­tion also raise the ques­tion of France and its ever increas­ing euroscep­ti­cism, espe­cial­ly after the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions where Marine Le Pen and her Nation­al Front gained 24.9 per­cent of the votes. Thus the euroscep­tic moods in the UK are dis­cussed in line with coun­tries such as France and Aus­tria.

Lithuan­ian media high­light­ed and gave an overview of both Cameron’s state­ment in his 2013 speech and the EU response, name­ly state­ments from the mem­ber states’ lead­ers and key EU fig­ures. The arti­cles indi­cat­ed impor­tant con­se­quences if the UK choos­es to leave the EU, includ­ing dam­ages to its finan­cial busi­ness sec­tor, large enter­pris­es and cit­i­zens. The media also reflects the issue of ris­ing euroscep­ti­cism in the EU coun­tries, the results of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions acquired much more salience than the cam­paign itself.

All in all, as regards the threat of the UK leav­ing the EU, the gen­er­al view in Lithua­nia does not sup­port the idea of a UK with­draw­al. Impor­tant ben­e­fits of mem­ber­ship, such as strong busi­ness ties in the EU’s inter­nal mar­ket or the free move­ment of cap­i­tal, goods, work­ers and ser­vices should out­weigh the euroscep­tic moods.

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This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.