The anti-globalist, anti-neoliberal movement which contributed to the United Kingdom’s decision to withdraw from the European Union and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States presidential election has supporters in Lithuania as well.
Not many however. As Delfi was told by European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP and CETA representative in Lithuania Karolis Klimka, Lithuanians do not believe that they are capable of influencing the opinions of their representatives in for example the European Parliament.
The initiative fighting against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement has, according to K. Klimka, existed for several years and currently unites several labour unions, as well as animal rights and consumer rights protection organisations.
“In countries such as Germany, Austria or France you can ask people in the street and they will definitely have heard of CETA or TTIP. There are hundred thousand strong demonstrations. Meanwhile no-one knows about it in Lithuania. Our officials remain silent on it and do not perform their function, do not inform the public,” said the Vilnius University lecturer.
Eastern Europe Studies Centre (RESC) Director Linas Kojala points out that the initiative represented by K. Klimka reflects moods that are fairly strong in a significant portion of European countries.
“Lately free trade has ceased to be an overly positive term in the public context, it is beginning to more often receive criticism for economic inequality, an understanding that neoliberalism, for which free trade is one of the core pursuits, is bad. Currently it is as if a common note is being rung, getting stronger in many countries,” the political scientist commented.
K. Klimka claims that the initiative he represents is not anti-globalist, but in favour of “fair globalisation”.
“We support the idea of just trade, trade which adheres to the interests of society. For example we propose to change how decisions such as CETA are made. First Brussels tried to pass CETA as a question purely within the jurisdiction of Brussels, with no need for any ratification. Failing that it was then decided to have the European Parliament contribute. Finally when public pressure was massive it was decided that all national parliaments have to ratify the agreement, thus Seimas will also have to vote on it,” he explained.
According to K. Klimka this was a great victory for the public because otherwise bureaucrats and lobbyists would have made a decision that influences everyone’s lives and health behind closed doors.
Organising a picket
It is possible to find websites detailing the CETA processes online, Facebook has a page named “Prieš TTIP ir CETA. Europiečių iniciatyva” [“Against TTIP and CETA. Europeans’ initiative”]. That said it is not overly popular with only a thousand followers.
On January 21st members of the group plan to organise a picket in Vilnius street next to the Europe House in order to express dissatisfaction with the CETA agreement.
“We will also direct attention to our government representatives’ neglect, “thank” the negotiators who disregarded our most sensitive interests – healthcare and education. We will also appeal to MEPS so that they would vote against ratifying the agreement in February,” K. Klimka told Delfi.
L. Kojala doubts many will join the picket.
“If a serious movement of protest began in Lithuania, it would be completely out of the blue,” he said, also expressing doubt about the purposefulness of such protest, noting that “The train has gone so far that now the protests appear rather belated.”
Speaking of support or opposition to agreements such as TTIP or CETA there is often a thought that at the same time a choice between moving to the West or the East is made. Thus the actual content of the agreements gets side-lined.
Nevertheless L. Kojala tells Delfi that this aspect is important in the global context.
“If we wish to speak of a unified West, interacting with our allies, it is important,” he said.
Whose interests are represented?
K. Klimka directs the most attention to specifically the content of CETA. He says that Lithuanian negotiators included too few or less important exemptions to be applied to the country.
“If we compare with Finland or Bulgaria, it is clear that Lithuania chose to not protect its most sensitive spheres – healthcare, education, water supply and energy. Our strategic decision is to open these spheres to privatisation,” he states.
According to the CETA agreement, Lithuania chose certain exemptions for free trade in sectors such as companies with a strategic influence on national security; obtaining land rights; lawyers; leadership selection; research; tourist guide services; special importance construction project preparation; transportation of fuel via pipelines; railway transport technical service and maintenance.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs press centre informed Delfi that the common EU or individual member state, for example that of Lithuania, list of restrictions and exemptions was put together taking into account the present legislative regulation of the sphere.
“In the case of Lithuania the creation of the list of exemptions and present legislative regulation was created in cooperation with all government institutions (ministries, Bank of Lithuania and such), which provided specific information based on the areas they cover. The negotiation process was coordinated and information to the European Commission was provided by the Foreign Ministry,” ministry representatives explained.
K. Klimka is, however, of a different opinion.
“I believe it is clear that this is a result of lobbyism. Simply those sphere that have strong lobbyists received exemptions, while all sensitive spheres were left open. And the Foreign Ministry is taking no issue with it because for many years the official position of Lithuania is to privatise everything,” Klimka told Delfi.
In his opinion this is a tasty morsel for Northern American corporations because Lithuanian healthcare is not yet privatised, at least not to the extent of the UK.
Klimka also says that if CETA comes into power there will no longer be international arbitrages such as the one currently ongoing between Veolia which currently owns Vilniaus Energija and Lithuania.
“Currently Lithuania has a bilateral contract and can withdraw from it, but when CETA and perhaps TTIP come into power, Lithuania will no longer have any opportunities to withdraw from such agreements, bar leaving the EU. That is the fundamental difference,” he explained.
The VU lecturer points out that the CETA envisages an investment protection system envisaged which is to work through arbitrage courts and would allow companies to take states to court, if they make unfavourable decisions.
“Furthermore liberalisation is locked and for example Vilnius would no longer be able to recover its heating infrastructure. It is protection of investment because if you are an investor you are interested in your investments being untouchable. These agreements see to this, but it is a grave threat to the public,” says K. Klimka.
L. Kojala concedes that due to the transatlantic agreements state sovereignty would be somewhat diminished.
“Such general agreements do have a certain supranational regulation which would prohibit the national level from raising certain problematic questions or protecting certain social groups which could feel like they are being wronged,” he says.
Nevertheless the political scientist still urged to support CETA because it would allow the creation of a common trade environment and at the same time dictate “trends” in global trade, with these transforming into firm provisions.
Former vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Raimundas Karoblis [now Minister of National Defence] has also expressed support for CETA.
“Lithuania, whose economic growth is strongly linked to export is actively supporting the signing of ambitious, comprehensive and balanced high quality free trade agreements with Canada and the USA. The future and reliability of EU trade policy will depend on CETA. By agreeing on CETA, the EU and Canada would demonstrate clear leadership in seeking trade openness,” he is cited to have said in a report prior to the 2016 signing of the agreement.
After the signing of the agreement, SEB bank president’s advisor Gitanas Nausėda said that CETA would benefit the Lithuanian food sector.
“The Canadian market is opening for consumers. If Canadian products appear in our markets, consumers would have a wider selection of products.
Everything will work both ways – both export and import. Nevertheless such a trade agreement eases the movement of goods between the two markets. The majority of tariffs are abolished.
This automatically causes greater competition for EU producers and in some regards for living and making profits. For example agricultural companies will find it harder, but consumers always win,” news agency BNS quotes G. Nausėda.
Swedbank Chief Economist Nerijus Mačiulis also states that the CETA agreement opens the gates of the Canadian market wider for Lithuanian exporters.
“Currently Lithuania and Canada trade very little, but in the future it will be easier for Lithuanian exporters to access the Canadian market. The main benefit is related not to greater imports from Canada or Canadian produce in Lithuania, but with exports to Canada. Barriers will be removed, thus Lithuanian exporters will find it easier to sell their produce there,” Mačiulis told BNS.
According to Foreign Ministry data 99% of import tariffs will be abolished from the day the agreements come into power. In recent years Lithuanian goods and services export to Canada grew and made up 164 million euro in 2015. Almost all export to Canada is of Lithuanian origin.
The European Parliament will vote on ratifying CETA. If the vote succeeds, it will then have to be ratified by all 28 EU member states. It is believed this may take several years.