The Wednesday coalition council meeting did not shed more light on the future of the coalition’s work together, but the “Farmers” received a slew of new proposals for the planned tax reform from the Social Democrats.
Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis described most as appealing, but surreal wishes. This was discussed on the Dėmesio Centre talk show with Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis and Lithuanian Social Democrat Party deputy chairwoman Rasa Budbergytė.
– Mr. Karbauskis, why does the thought that the Social Democrats will consult with their branches before deciding on their future in the coalition appear odd to you?
R. Karbauskis: Firstly it is the arguments this decision will be based on. If we posed such a question to our branches, the branches would decide based on primarily their interests. However the essence is in the content. If it was a discussion of what we disagree on, that we view social problems and solutions differently, that would be content. It does not exist currently.
– The branches follow the news, important information, they see how the discussion proceeds.
R. Karbauskis: Then I would be surprised by the branches which oppose working. It was probably only in the forestry reform where we had a split of opinion. In everything else we decided more or less together, there were no disputes. Now when we met to discuss the autumn session we are of one mind. With all sorts of proposals being suggested, we would support them, but there are financial limitations. The coalition partners have to understand that all the proposals have to adhere to financial capacities. If the Social Democrats continue working in the coalition, then the decisions in the autumn session, they will adhere to what is possible.
– Mrs. Budbergytė, you are one of those in support of leaving the coalition. What are your arguments?
R. Budbergytė: Stating the arguments is neither easy, nor simple. Our council made the decision that the party has to go work in the coalition. Regarding the further decisions, whether we will remain or will leave the coalition, this will also be decided by the council. Of course the arguments in the branches are of one sort, while the ones in the group are different. There is specifically a concern over a lack of cooperation in decision making, made based on political consensus. There is certainly a fair amount of pressure. I cannot say that this pressure is uncouth in some way, but it exists.
– For example in what questions?
R. Budbergytė: Let us recall the Labour Code. It is no secret that we, the Social Democrats, lost the elections due to the Labour Code. We understood much and discussed a great deal whether such a Labour Code was needed and whether it was adequately balanced. We told ourselves clearly that it is very important for investment so that those labour relations would be regulated more flexibly and such. But our employee’s strength in negotiations is fairly low because we do not have strong enough trade unions, while the social guarantees we have established are insufficient. It wasn’t because our partners didn’t want to agree that our proposals were not considered, but because these discussions in the Tripartite Council were very difficult. But we were discontent that some of the proposals were not heard and were not listened to in their entirety. Also the amendments to alcohol control legislation. We had significant internal discussions. Regarding age limits, we clearly stated we want to trust the youth. We wasted time on discussions, discussing whether one can drink wine or champagne at a theatre. That’s not where the problem lies.
– Mr. Karbauskis, regarding pressure. It has occurred a number of times that opinions do not match and both you and the Prime Minister have stated that it is necessary to consider whether it is possible to continue working together, if the partners are not supporting fundamental proposals, values and such.
R. Karbauskis: The government’s position is that of the coalition. There are Social Democrat ministers in it. There have yet to be cases where consensus was not found there. I am hearing for the first time why the Social Democrats wish to leave. As for the proposal to ban alcohol in theatres, that did not happen, this is a formation of public opinion that supposedly such proposals existed. Back to the point, there were of course disagreements. Regarding the Labour Code, we took the Scandinavian variant, which is what the Social Democrats should be pursuing as a best practice example. We can have differing opinions whether there was need to form a street market, whether there was need for 600 proposals as was in the previous Seimas. Perhaps at some point there was a lack of communication, but I want to repeat that over the past half year we have gotten closer and understand one another better. Most of our members of Seimas are new. In some respects we are learning from the Social Democrats. As for the initiators of the coalition’s dissolution, that is not the group, nor the people, who are with us. The initiative is from the party leader and perhaps certain branches.
– But this leader was elected by party members.
R. Karbauskis: Of course. But we hope that the Social Democrat group will strive to explain what a responsibility it is. I can only be thankful that in certain cases the Social Democrats make our decisions better by criticising and doubting our proposals. The opposition is also there to make the proposals better. If we are thinking about commitment to our voters, then we have to continue work and consistently push forward. Leaving the cabinet without a majority would be very painful, but possible. It would be good if the ruling coalition had a majority. It would be hard to find partners who would understand us better because we have already worked together a great deal. The Social Democrats have to decide what they are doing and whether they care more about the upcoming elections or their responsibility to voters and such. By being in the coalition they can make our mutual efforts better. This is the message I would like to send every party member who will vote.
– Moving on to tax changes. There could be a number of disputes here as well. The Social Democrats have expressed a desire for not only greater children’s money, discount VAT rates for certain types of food products, progressive taxation, but also a discount VAT rate for all heating types, not just central. Mrs. Budbergytė, do you think your coalition partners will listen?
R. Budbergytė: It is important that they would hear us. In the first coalition council meeting I participated in, it was promised that when the cabinet tax reform is presented, we will form a joint workgroup from both parties. So far we have not formed such a group. The cabinet took the package and is discussing it with the public, waiting for proposals from all political powers and this is excellent, but the promised workgroup was not formed. I believe we made a mistake here.
R. Karbauskis: The group can be formed because the legislation will only start being prepared now. On Thursday it will only be the cabinet, coalition position that will be presented. It, by the way, will also include the Social Democrats.
R. Budbergytė: I am sorry, but we have the right to do more than just listen in the coalition council. We were presented with the tax reform and we then clearly stated that there is still need for much work so that the proposals and premises would also match the Social Democrat electoral programme. The government programme implementation plan specifics fairly late dates for these important things that all Lithuanian people await.
R. Karbauskis: We have a joint cabinet programme and what is being proposed does not depart from the government programme framework. Speaking of the proposals made by the Social Democrats, we can contribute to all those proposals. But the question is what funding we could use to implement it. If the state had that sort of funding, we would make these decisions along with the Social Democrats. It is simply a matter of resources, fiscal responsibility legislation. Based on fiscal responsibility we can increase the budget by 300 million euro per year. We have a 150 million commitment to national defence and then only a further 150 million. The cabinet is now putting all its effort into forming a fund for change, gathering funding for social solutions. It is gathering funding from available resources, attempting to resolve questions linked with state governance, ministry work. We are doing what has to be done anyway. The proposal that has been made goes beyond available resources. We spoke in the coalition council that we have a similar vision, but perhaps our colleagues need awareness of available capacities.
R. Budbergytė: We are not saying this has to be done for next year. The Minister of Finance has clearly promised that he will gather 2 billion euro from the black market. There you go, we only want to set aside a billion.