Lithuania

1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Deep Concerns for Regional Security

The com­pli­cat­ed geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the region, Russia’s aggres­sive poli­cies in Ukraine and increased mil­i­tary inci­dents in the Baltic Sea region (main­ly Russ­ian mil­i­tary air­craft activ­i­ties), as well as threat­en­ing nar­ra­tive have com­pli­cat­ed the rela­tions and led to pos­si­bly the biggest cri­sis since 1991. The con­cern for secu­ri­ty and defence issues reached its peak in 2014 when the gov­ern­ment final­ly agreed to increase spend­ing for secu­ri­ty and defence by 2 per­cent. Anoth­er issue is Russia’s active infor­ma­tion cam­paign that rais­es anx­i­ety and puts infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty and cyber secu­ri­ty issues on the agenda.

Polit­i­cal elites, ana­lysts, observers, and NGOs are high­ly con­cerned about future rela­tions with Rus­sia, tak­ing into account cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal issues. The per­spec­tives are not opti­mistic and a long-term cri­sis is fore­seen as long as the Kremlin’s posi­tion and aggres­sive poli­cies remain the same. Although polit­i­cal elites and NGOs hope for pos­i­tive changes, they agree that under cur­rent con­di­tions it is rather unlike­ly. All in all, Lithuan­ian polit­i­cal elites (most­ly the pres­i­dent) share a tough rhetoric towards Russia’s aggres­sion and they reach inter­nal polit­i­cal con­sen­sus as far as secu­ri­ty and defence as well as cyber secu­ri­ty issues are concerned.

Lithuan­ian media cov­ers the issues of Russ­ian poli­cies with a high lev­el of atten­tion. How­ev­er, Russ­ian media sources ded­i­cat­ed to the Russ­ian speak­ing minor­i­ty in the Baltics rep­re­sent a rather com­pli­cat­ed case. Know­ing the pos­si­bly pro­pa­gan­da-based nature of those sources, Lithuan­ian elites and NGOs have launched efforts to pro­mote a more ade­quate infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment for the Russ­ian minor­i­ty in the region.

Ana­lysts and researchers active­ly involve them­selves in dis­cus­sions and eval­u­a­tions of the geopo­lit­i­cal process­es in the region. Analy­sis-based reports on the devel­op­ments of Russ­ian poli­cies are reg­u­lar­ly pre­sent­ed by the ana­lysts of a cen­tre-right-wing east­ern pol­i­cy think-tank spe­cial­iz­ing in east­ern region to a wider pub­lic. A high lev­el of infor­ma­tion in the pub­lic sphere regard­ing Russ­ian poli­cies demon­strates Lithuania’s in-depth con­cern about the devel­op­ments in the region both at the polit­i­cal lev­el and among the academia.

Support and Solidarity for Countries that Follow Through on Reforms

On the lev­el of inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics, Lithua­nia express­es polit­i­cal sup­port for fur­ther Euro­pean inte­gra­tion of Geor­gia, Moldo­va, and Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has brought about even stronger ties between Lithua­nia and Ukraine. Lithuania’s polit­i­cal elites aim to con­vince oth­er Euro­pean lead­ers to rat­i­fy asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments with the afore­men­tioned coun­tries. Fur­ther­more, Lithua­nia strong­ly sug­gests that the EU should impose the prin­ci­ple of “con­di­tion­al­i­ty” (which was once applied for Lithua­nia) and thus pro­pose the EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive to Ukraine, Geor­gia, and Moldo­va. In every­day polit­i­cal talks, the top­ic is still “hot” where the atten­tion to the war in Ukraine acti­vates the atten­tion towards oth­er East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. As for polit­i­cal elites, the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the rel­e­vant polit­i­cal par­ties in the Gov­ern­ment reach con­sen­sus and agree on the sup­port for the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion process­es of the east­ern Euro­pean region. Mem­bers of the oppo­si­tion, Home­land Union – Lithuan­ian Chris­t­ian Democ­rats, express their sup­port for Euro­pean inte­gra­tion of Ukraine to an even greater extent dur­ing var­i­ous sup­port cam­paigns, not for­get­ting oppo­si­tion leader Andrius Kubil­ius’ advis­ing posi­tion in the Ukrain­ian Government.

In aca­d­e­m­ic and mass media dis­cours­es, the process­es in the East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP) region are reflect­ed in a rather sim­i­lar man­ner. Media sources wide­ly express anx­i­ety about Russia’s poli­cies towards EaP coun­tries. More­over, “frozen con­flicts” have become an object of active dis­cus­sions in pub­lic dis­course. Russia’s efforts to involve EaP coun­tries in infor­ma­tion wars as well as oth­er sorts of pres­sure are dis­cussed to a large degree. What is more, regret about the pas­sive posi­tion of West­ern coun­tries on the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion of East­ern Part­ners is evi­dent. Oppo­site posi­tion, the so called “Rus­sia is first” view is pre­sent­ed as a minor if not mar­gin­al posi­tion in the media sources.

Regard­ing aca­d­e­m­ic dis­course, polit­i­cal researchers evi­dent­ly pay more atten­tion to the top­ic than ear­li­er, includ­ing young sci­en­tists and observers. Con­fer­ences and debates demon­strate not only a great inter­est in the process­es in the respec­tive region but also a strong ana­lyt­i­cal base. Yet Lithuan­ian ana­lysts present a crit­i­cal view of the Euro­peaniza­tion of the region. They draw atten­tion to the exist­ing inter­nal prob­lems of the respec­tive coun­tries. In order to imple­ment the struc­tur­al reforms suc­cess­ful­ly, a high­er degree of polit­i­cal con­sen­sus is need­ed as well as the polit­i­cal will to fight the exist­ing cor­rup­tion practices.

All in all, Lithua­nia presents a high lev­el of atten­tion towards the whole region of the EaP coun­tries. A clear­ly expressed mes­sage in the media and polit­i­cal dis­cours­es calls for the EU to pay more atten­tion to the region as well.

Poor Results Emphasized

Lithua­nia has a com­par­a­tive­ly recent expe­ri­ence of the EaP sum­mits, as one of the key events of the Lithuan­ian pres­i­den­cy of the EU Coun­cil was the Vil­nius East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Novem­ber 2013. The Vil­nius Sum­mit was per­ceived as a cer­tain break­out point in the East­ern Part­ner­ship region, as the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments were signed with some of the part­ner coun­tries along with the fol­low­ing events in Ukraine. Fol­low­ing on this, the Riga Sum­mit of May 2015 was expect­ed to be an inte­gral con­tin­u­a­tion of the Vil­nius Sum­mit with fur­ther achieve­ments. Yet the out­comes are viewed from two dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. The so called “opti­mists” of the Riga Sum­mit are sat­is­fied with the fact that the East­ern Part­ner­ship was put on the Euro­pean agen­da. Despite the rather declar­a­tive nature of the sum­mit papers, the “opti­mists” appre­ci­ate cer­tain achieve­ments such as visa-free regime prospects declared in the agree­ments. On the oth­er hand, Lithuan­ian oppo­si­tion par­ty Home­land Union, which is tra­di­tion­al­ly quite con­cerned about for­eign pol­i­cy issues, express­es a rather pes­simistic atti­tude and per­ceives the sum­mit as an emp­ty and bor­ing dis­cus­sion with lim­it­ed val­ue for the EaP region. Accord­ing to “pes­simists”, decreased inter­est of the EU lead­ers in the region and no indi­ca­tion for mem­ber­ship prospects for the respec­tive coun­tries rep­re­sent the unwill­ing­ness of the EU to fur­ther inte­grate East­ern Part­ners. Nev­er­the­less, polit­i­cal elite rep­re­sen­ta­tives draw atten­tion to the fact that some EU coun­tries are not enthu­si­as­tic about the enlarge­ment process­es and that this was also the case dur­ing the enlarge­ment wave in 2004. How­ev­er, know­ing that the sup­port and pro­mo­tion of the Euro­pean Part­ner­ship region is one of Lithuania’s Euro­pean pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties, the Riga Sum­mit was not as successful.

Observers and ana­lysts also tend to empha­size the poor results of the Riga Sum­mit. On the oth­er hand, there were no big expec­ta­tions before the event: it was already clear the out­comes would not be promis­ing (name­ly no EU per­spec­tive at the moment), espe­cial­ly know­ing two fac­tors. First­ly, the lim­it­ed inter­est of many EU mem­ber states in the EaP region. Sec­ond­ly, strug­gles in inter­nal reforms of the coun­tries of the respec­tive region.

NATO Remains the Key to European Defence

The idea of com­mon Euro­pean troops is con­sid­ered rather hypo­thet­i­cal. In Lithuan­ian views, NATO remains the key play­er in secu­ri­ty and defence mat­ters. More­over, the rather weak EU posi­tion on Russia’s aggres­sion in Ukraine and resis­tance to impose sanc­tions demon­strate that it is not a polit­i­cal union and could hard­ly agree on com­mon for­eign pol­i­cy lines. The com­mon view in Lithua­nia is rather to strength­en the role of NATO and coop­er­a­tion with­in the Euro-Atlantic line than to build new enti­ties with­in the EU. The need of the EU army is bare­ly dis­cussed in the media and does not gain much atten­tion from researchers. Yet the secu­ri­ty and defence issues in the con­text of Euro-Atlantic rela­tions are of much greater inter­est. Under cir­cum­stances of increased exter­nal threats and chang­ing geopo­lit­i­cal con­di­tions, Lithua­nia has raised (though after long post­pone­ment) its bud­get spend­ing on defence and secu­ri­ty. All in all, NATO is viewed as a key strate­gic play­er to secure the region where­as the EU and its struc­tures’ role in defence mat­ters are per­ceived as minor.

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2. EU Enlargement

Public Opinion Supportive of Wider ‘Europeanization’

A high lev­el of atten­tion to the east­ern neigh­bour­hood region is well rep­re­sent­ed in opin­ion polls in Lithua­nia. Not only polit­i­cal elites but also the wider pub­lic is high­ly con­cerned about the process­es in Ukraine for sev­er­al rea­sons. First­ly, a sense of broth­er­hood with Ukraine is part of Lithuan­ian nation­al iden­ti­ty due to strong his­tor­i­cal ties, shared Sovi­et bloc expe­ri­ence and, in its after­math, a com­mon will to west­ern­ize. Lithuania’s suc­cess­ful inte­gra­tion process enables its cit­i­zens to under­stand what obsta­cles Ukraini­ans face in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and their strug­gle for democ­ra­ti­za­tion is well known. In order to share expe­ri­ence and pro­mote reforms in Ukraine, polit­i­cal elites and NGOs have cre­at­ed var­i­ous plat­forms of sup­port and coop­er­a­tion. Forums, sem­i­nars, train­ing events, and oth­er for­mats of coop­er­a­tion for both politi­cians and civ­il soci­ety are fre­quent. Yet the exist­ing prob­lems in the EaP coun­tries, such as strug­gling struc­tur­al reforms, cor­rup­tion, lack of polit­i­cal con­sen­sus, and trans­paren­cy, are also reflect­ed in the Lithuan­ian media and ana­lyt­i­cal reports.

Despite a high lev­el of involve­ment in the sup­port pro­grammes for the coun­tries in the respec­tive region, the prospects of fast and smooth reforms are tak­en with some reser­va­tions. The posi­tion of Brus­sels to refrain from enlarge­ment in the near future is also well known. Nev­er­the­less, Lithuan­ian pub­lic opin­ion is pos­i­tive towards Euro­peaniza­tion of the EaP coun­tries. The events in Ukraine broad­ened the under­stand­ing of com­pli­cat­ed geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the EaP region, where the strug­gle between the “West” and the “East” exists.

Support in Principal, but with Attention in the East

The EU mem­ber­ship prospects of Turkey are rarely debat­ed in the Lithuan­ian pub­lic sphere or among polit­i­cal elites. The offi­cial posi­tion of the gov­ern­ment is to sup­port fur­ther nego­ti­a­tions between the EU and Turkey, yet this does not entail more in-depth dis­cus­sions. How­ev­er, some rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Lib­er­als or Home­land Union high­ly sup­port Turkey’s Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, argu­ing that wide­spread Euro­pean val­ues shall con­tribute to a stronger Union and democ­ra­cy pro­mo­tion in wider regions.

Lithuan­ian media pays minor atten­tion to the issues of Turkey or West­ern Balkan coun­tries’ mem­ber­ship, with the excep­tion of elec­tion results or sev­er­al salient inter­nal pol­i­cy issues of the respec­tive coun­tries. Although not strong­ly opposed, the poten­tial EU mem­ber­ship of West­ern Balkan coun­tries’ is hard­ly debat­ed among polit­i­cal elites. These ten­den­cies could be explained by the cur­rent focus on the EaP coun­tries and main­ly Ukraine. The enlarge­ment ques­tion is more often raised while dis­cussing the sit­u­a­tion in the EaP region as it meets Lithuan­ian for­eign pol­i­cy priorities.

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This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 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.