Lithuania Should Find its Own Way in the EU
On March 17th Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė attended a European Council meeting which focused on the EU’s Annual Growth Survey and the progress made by member states in implementing the European Commission’s economic and social recommendations for 2015. One cannot deny that there are problems for a number of EU countries caused by the imposition of anti-Russian sanctions.
While EU governments extended asset freezes and travel bans on Russians and Russian companies, it should be said that there is less consensus on whether to prolong more far-reaching sanctions on Russia’s banking, defense and energy sectors after July. For example, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Hungary are among the EU states most skeptical about the sanctions. Moscow has imposed its own tit-for-tat sanctions against many EU food imports.
Italy and Hungary said there should be no automatic extension of the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, the most public sign yet of fraying unity on how to deal with Moscow.
Lithuania, despite the weakening of its economic position in the European Union, continues to strictly adhere to the need for anti-Russian sanctions.
Many Lithuanians, who once exported heavily to Russia, want to see markets reopen. Political views continue to confront economic benefits. Is it a right or wrong choice of the government? This will be confirmed or disproved only in the course of time. For now economic and political situations in Lithuania are a matter of EU concern.
After the meeting, Dalia Grybauskaitė had to acknowledge the disappointing conclusions of the European Commission. According to the EC, Lithuania made virtually limited or no progress in 2015.
It was stated also that some little progress was achieved only in easing tax burdens, reforming pension and health care systems and seeking to ensure that education meets the needs of the labor market. However, there are still many economic and social problems which need to be immediately addressed.
“The observations on reforms which face difficulties and are not carried out have been recurrent over the past several years. This is a very strong call to make more progress,” the President said.
It is hoped that this time the President will hear the call and will really take the needed steps to improve the situation in Lithuania. The European Union is not the place where you only speak and support the common views on international summits but do nothing. The prosperity of the organization depends on each member state’s prosperity. No one will argue that if one of 28 members becomes weaker, it will pose a threat to the organization itself. And vice versa if a country is self-sufficient and strong, its voice would be prominent and heard in the organization.
Let’s take the United Kingdom. London has achieved tremendous success in political negotiations with other EU member states and has secured the most favorable conditions of membership in the organization only due to its strong economic and political positions.
It is obvious that such areas in Lithuania as pension reform, fiscal discipline and stability, improvement in tax collection, and the liberalization of the labor market need immediate action from the President and the Government. It is time to stop political games and act.
According to the Lithuania Country Report of Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index 2016, Lithuania tops the EU in the number of incarcerated persons per 100,000 members of the population and intolerance to sexual and ethnic minorities. For example, persons belonging to Lithuania’s ethnic Polish minority are obliged to use the Lithuanian spelling of their names in official documents, which some find discriminatory. A solution has still not been found despite the fact that in 2012-2014 the Polish Electoral Action party participated in the center-left ruling coalition.
Some business groups continue to have disproportionate access to policy-making, notably in the energy and development sectors, which tend to dominate municipal politics. The number and nature of corruption scandals over the past decade, which mostly occurred at the municipal level and involved local politicians being bought off by business interests, are evidence of this influence.
Another sizable challenge is Lithuania’s negative demographic outlook. The working age population is shrinking rapidly and will be soon threaten growth. Population decline is due to negative demographic developments but is aggravated by net emigration and, in the context of the EU, low life expectancy and high mortality rates.
In other words the Lithuanian government has a lot to do and should face the challenges, paying attention not only to foreign affairs but to internal policies as well. Only when Lithuania becomes strong and prosperous will the EU consider it as a full member and not a burden for the organization.
Now is the best time for Lithuania to adjust or change its politics. Unfortunately, the idea of Unity of the EU is not justified in all spheres. Some member states have chosen their own way of further developing without leaving the EU. Maybe Lithuania should also find its own way in the EU taking into account its economic situation.