Arrogant and a little wild

Lietuvos Geležinkeliai
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

One need not be a sage to realise that the European Commission will fine for breaches in competition and will demand to remove the breaches. A capable law student would be able to say after a week’s worth of research that if you cannot justify your decisions, you better immediately remove the breaches, R. Sotvarė-Šemetienė writes in

In other words, that the European Commission will fine for the dismantled railway from Mažeikiai to Latvia was predictable. All that needed to be done was to take action prior to the ruling becoming a legal fact.

However things worked differently in Lithuania. Noticing they are becoming mired in trouble, Lietuvos Geležinkeliai [Lithuanian Railways] hired lawyers. Both in Brussels and locals. All added together, their work cost over a million.

Then they lost the trial – were fined 28 million euro and will still have to restore what they dismantled because the company cannot be split due to geopolitical reasons. Business in Lithuanian.

The story how a country under 3 million citizens dealt with the massive Poland and also Latvia will long be presented as an impressive example in Brussels.

The barely 19 kilometre railway section has already become Lithuania’s business card in Europe. Small and a little wild. Stubborn and reticent. Can destroy even roads for higher profit, despite having rather few already.

This story isn’t only about the railways, the Polish company owning Mažeikiai used to bring goods to Latvia and when the railway was gone the cargo being transported by Lithuanians. It isn’t even about Lietuvos Geležinkeliai.

The company is owned by the state. Its decisions could not be unknown to the cabinets. Not to speak of the international scandal.

Thus the first question is – what has the Ministry of Transport and Communications, its officials and ministers been doing for the past five years since the trial started? Earnestly believed that this giant which led Lithuanian politicians by a leash would also cope with Brussels? Received an order to not interfere, a million euro to lawyers will resolve everything?

There’s no answer. Only the fact that our officials either do not communicate with the European Commission or talk in different languages.

The European commissioner who announced the fine is convinced that Lithuania could seek resolutions and avoid the fine up to the very last moment, but did not do so. Our side claims that they did everything, but no-one in Brussels cared, everything had already been decided.

Did they or didn’t they? Perhaps only believed they are doing? Or perhaps did it so that the decision makers would not find our or understand about it?

You could think that the offices in Brussels are in one reality, while Lithuania is in another. And nothing connects them.

Lietuvos Geležinkeliai and our Ministry of Transport and Communications sent a message – the railway stretch was unsafe and in disrepair. It had to be repaired, but the crisis struck, thus what was dismantled was not rebuilt.

Just nobody bought it. The Poles and Latvians have a specific interest – for one it is lost revenue, for the other – rising operation costs. Neither did Brussels believe it. Why?

The first potential answer – it is untrue. And if it is true, it means that the state lacked a person who could justify it.

Perhaps simply both the Poles and Latvians had better lobbyists who know the language of EU bureaucrats and politicians and managed to whisper the right arguments into their ears. And better consultants.

European Commission members delegated by member states pledge to equally love every EU country and work in the interest of the Union, not their homeland. However it is an open secret – quiet consultations proceed, people who can help come to grips when trouble appears are gathered. It would appear that here Lithuania also has nothing to support it.

Even more interesting is the argument that supposedly time was lacking, there was a change of government. The cabinet of professionals has been working for a year now. There was time, just that it is clear a professional was not found. Furthermore the Minister of Transport and Communications Rokas Masiulis was also the minister of energy previously, not in the professionals’ cabinet, he has clocked up three years, not just one.

Finally so that the change of government would not turn into a natural disaster, we have numerous career officials. Their duty is to ensure the continuity of work and explain their new leaders, what needs resolving urgently. And it didn’t work.

Thus this fine is actually not for the dismantled railway and breaches in competition. It is for the lost capacity to communicate with EU institutions. For arrogance. For shifting responsibility and avoiding accountability. For politicising state service where instead of those who know, you bring in your own.

This pitiful story partly explains why Lithuanian-Polish relations are undergoing by far not their best times. Also why we still do not see normal transport and other links with the West, just stuck projects.

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