Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė stated in an exclusive interview with Delfi that Lithuania is prepared to maintain equal relations with all its neighbours, however from the very first meeting with V. Putin, she received a list of demands as to what Lithuania must do.
“From the very first meeting with Mr. Putin, I received a list of demands as to what Lithuania must do: not build a nuclear power plant, must cooperate with them, this and that. This was not a proposal to be friends or cooperate, it was either you kneel and comply or you are their enemy. I could not accept such relations,” D. Grybauskaitė said.
According to the head of state, the growing Lithuanian economy has not yet translated into people’s lives, while social segregation is the largest problem of the state. The president admits that there is a mismatch – the taxation of people working for wages is far higher than the taxation of capital and property. According to her, “luxury or major real estate taxation should be greater than is now.”
During the interview, D. Grybauskaitė stated that she will not back any candidates during the nearing presidential elections.
With the current coalition government remaining in a position where it could collapse, the president pointed out that it is hard to expect stability under the circumstances where work is based on separate deals rather than overarching values and ideas. She points out that regardless if the Social Democrats leave or not, the current circumstances may persist as a sort of drifting coalition, which is a new phenomenon in Lithuanian politics. It can go in various directions, but stability cannot be guaranteed. Dalia Grybauskaitė also added that she believes a new coalition that includes the Conservatives is the least likely outcome.
Regarding plans to raise defence spending to 2.36-2.5%, the president stated that specific numbers are irrelevant and while 2% of GDP defence spending is going to be a minimum next year, the state needs to evaluate what functions need expanding and where cooperation with partners can be established, with funding needing to be adjusted based on necessities.
D. Grybauskaitė – emigration is unfashionable for my generation
Despite economic growth, emigration from Lithuania continues at a rapid pace. President D. Grybauskaitė points out that the current growth of the economy, around 3%, does not yet translate in increased personal welfare, with social insurance, pensions and wages still being behind in the region, while labour efficiency is not growing. She expresses concern that Lithuania is entering an inflation spiral, with proportionality between wage growth and efficiency having been broken, something that prevents people from feeling “better wealthier and ensuring our relative lag behind other countries.”
She notes that the reasons for emigration are many, however, stating that there is more to it than economic factors and moods, but also a matter of fashion. “A certain fashion element also contributes – it is very fashionable to leave. For example it was not fashionable in my generation, we thought that there is no second homeland and what we have needs to be improved, rather than seeking somewhere better.
There are many subjective and objective reasons, they should all be considered. It isn’t without reason that we are beginning to talk that to choose Lithuania means to choose Lithuania, regardless of whether we live here or abroad, choosing Lithuania is important because it is not measured in either welfare or housing quality, it is the environment, the country for which you either feel a duty or not, the country that is either your homeland or isn’t,” she said, noting that for her generation, the duty to the homeland was enough as a motivating factor and continues to be.
In terms of what could be done to stymie emigration, the president points to three areas – tangible improvements in welfare, effective law enforcement and civic atmosphere, a feeling “that you can create your country and change it, impact the government’s decisions and the quality of democracy.”
She notes that the number of returnees is gradually rising, just people need to be aided in returning and re-establishing themselves.
D. Grybauskaitė states that birth rates are also an important factor, but stresses that many families say that just funding will not be enough to improve things – holistic social infrastructure is needed, from schools to kindergartens and thus there is no single answer in this respect, it can only improve through efforts in all sectors.
State service reform done from the wrong direction: efforts to create a loyal elite
In terms of social segregation, the president emphasises that this is the largest issue the country faces, especially when the country is developing fairly slowly in many regards, compared to the region, according to her. The president stresses that just raw benefits and social grants increases are not adequate for reducing social segregation, eventually de-emphasising returning to the labour market and thus a whole tax and incentive palette is needed, orienting the system toward reducing segregation.
Over the years international institutions have criticised Lithuania for excessively low wealth taxation and excessive labour force taxation. D. Grybauskaitė states that in terms of social justice, wealth and luxury taxes should rise and she believes the cabinet’s proposals are moving in such a direction.
Nevertheless, she does not concede regarding labour force taxation, stating that it is something of a myth and that the country is close to the EU average, with the tax on employers being slightly above the average, while employee taxation being slightly lower. The head of state does agree, however, that there is a certain disproportion in the taxation of wages and labour relations, compared to that of wealth and property, something she believes the cabinet should move to remedy.
D. Grybauskaitė highlights that the discussions of state sector reform are nothing new, with for example the previous cabinet having formed a list of 68 institutions which had functional overlaps, just that no steps to remedy the situation were made.
She points out a number of guidelines that should be used for the function of the state sector: the number of necessary institutions and functions should be clear, they should not overload businesses with their requirements and they should not be self-perpetuating existences which then become bloated.
The head of state sees progress in this direction, but believes that the process is being done from the wrong direction, stating “Just mechanically firing people or transferring from one office to another solves nothing, quite the opposite, it causes confusion, which will neither help raise, nor lower wages.
The reform is being done from the wrong direction, when half are going to be concealed under contracting, while the rest would become civil servants with doubled wages, creating a so-called civil service elite, only loyal to the government at the time. This is actually a ruining of state service, disrespect for the civil servant. We do not have masses of well-trained civil servants outside our doors ready to perform public governance. It is easy to toss into the street, but where will we find people? I believe this is what the current cabinet is faced with. It is seemingly voluntarily aiding the reforms without calculating functions and needs, just mechanically planning job cuts.”
In the end the president notes that the reforms will require political wisdom and when it is found, the political willpower will be there.
Russia presented a list of demands
D. Grybauskaitė denies the current cabinet’s portrayal of relations with Poland being poor. She states that economic relations are developing, just as with all neighbours and have not halted at any point, while in terms of comprehending security issues, she states that “We definitely have no better understanding and no better neighbour in terms of security, one who views threats and particularly Russian actions the same. At the highest political levels there are fewer visits, fewer empty visits, but practically the relations are good.”
President Grybauskaitė is known for her tough stance regarding Russia, once describing it as a terrorist state. She emphasises that from her very first term she stated that the country was prepared to be friends and cooperate with all neighbours, but at an equal standing as a precondition for mutual respectful relations. In terms of Russia, she received a list of demands during her very first meeting with President Putin.
“From the very first meeting with Mr. Putin, I received a list of demands as to what Lithuania must do: not build a nuclear power plant, must cooperate with them, this and that. This was not a proposal to be friends or cooperate, it was either you kneel and comply or you are their enemy. I could not accept such relations,” she recalls, stating that until Russia maintains such a stance on its neighbours and smaller countries, good relations will not be possible, especially if Russia takes to war, occupation, aggressive behaviours and interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. These sorts of actions, the president notes, will make the country always be viewed as an aggressor.
The Baltic States and Poland, particularly Lithuania and Poland have developed a resistance to Russian influence, D. Grybauskaitė notes. She highlights the construction of the liquefied natural gas terminal, increased energy and economic independence and pursuits to continue synchronisation with continental Europe.
“Economically, not just politically, which we did 27 years ago, we have grown stronger and independent, thus we are unafraid of holding a different position and cooperating with Russia without fear of it, without quavering or waiting some sort of sanctions, closures or blockades. This grants us much strength and confidence, it is seen by the world and then the world communicates with use more, helps and trusts us more. Trusts and listens to what we say, including what we say about our neighbours,” President Grybauskaitė says, albeit once more stressing that the countries do not deny the need for dialogue with neighbours, just that they refuse demands and imposed conditions, interactions without mutual respect and equal standing.
She points out that while understanding of a state declines and relations improve if one does not have shared borders, the Russian occupation of Crimea, actions in Syria and Zapad exercise scenario have opened the eyes for EU countries. D. Grybauskaitė is confident that understanding among NATO members have shifted, evidenced by the deployment of NATO battalions in the Baltics, with 9 countries contributing troops to those in Lithuania and a whole 23 of the 28 member states for the entire region.
Promises to maintain political neutrality
As long as she remains in the post of president, Dalia Grybauskaitė pledges to stand by a policy of neutrality and non-interference in terms of the coming presidential elections. While she may choose a candidate to support with her ballot, she intends to keep her decision personal.
In terms of her remaining two years of term, D. Grybauskaitė intends to focus on continuing her duties as president and only contemplating on further steps when the time comes.
Delfi and LRT are to present their new initiative Idėja Lietuvai [An Idea for Lithuania] which will invite politicians, businessmen, experts and citizens to offer ideas to help Lithuania last and thrive for a hundred years and more, when asked what her Idea for Lithuania would be, the president recalls that she focused a great deal on the economy and Lithuania’s international cooperation prior to her time as president, but on becoming president she understood that other than economic factors, what matters is the idea of social security, something that impacts people’s mood in a country likely more than wages, according to her.
“While travelling through Lithuania we see that attention to the people, their social situation, their dependencies, their problems are sometimes more important to them than their wages or some other material things. Most likely as a president I am speaking more in general and viewing the problems more horizontally.
In terms of legislative initiatives, we are maintaining a pace and my spheres that I invested time into so far – foreign policy and security, combatting corruption and crime, the things I am mandated to. Alongside everything I am investing very seriously into the programmes “For a Safe Lithuania”, the new programme “Choose Lithuania” and I will continue actively participating where I am needed.