On Friday, with the leader of the most powerful country in Europe visiting Lithuania, we have the opportunity to choose – dare to take one of the most important political exams of recent times, daringly expressing our national interests and solidarity or limit ourselves to the latter.
This is exactly the dilemma our state leaders will have to resolve. Though a question likely arises on how effectively we will make use of the domestic and foreign policy opportunity.
A. Merkel‘s government is facing difficult times back home and an entire 74% of German citizens express disappointment in her. However, despite the domestic politics crisis, the chancellor remains the most important ally of Lithuania on the European Union map. Her values of freedom and social justice, belief in a unified, secure and competitive Europe match our national interests.
A gesture of respect to A. Merkel
When I represented the European Union in Moscow for the most difficult four diplomatic years, where we formed decisions over sanctions to the Kremlin, it was specifically the principled position of the German government, its diplomats and Angela Merkel personally that encouraged Europe to come to terms on sanctions applied to the Russian elite, responsible individuals or those profiteering on the illegal annexation of Crimea and war in East Ukraine. If not for German resolve to respond to Russia, these sanctions would likely never have been implemented and would definitely not have lasted to this day. This leadership is worthy of more than just common respect and we have an excellent opportunity to express it.
Also, we have to be personally thankful to A. Merkel because when asked by US President Barack Obama, she did not doubt and directed Bundeswehr generals to quickly prepare plans for German troop deployment in Lithuania. This way, for the first time since the Second World War, German troops have been deployed in a country bordering Russia. This is a sign of exceptional respect and valuation of us. Especially remembering German – Russian relations, which are covered by a shadow of tragedy and crimes against humanity.
It is incredibly important for Lithuania for Germany to continue to invest in its own and by extension – our defence. And German political leaders must hear, what their neighbours are thinking. Especially those, who have suffered from Russian and German invasions. Thus, our message must be firm: we trust and unambiguously support greater German contributions to European security.
Among other things, we can celebrate increasing trade, investment flows. That Germany is the largest arriving tourist market for Lithuania. Most important is that these trends would expand. Thus, A. Merkel must also directly hear, what country we wish to be in 10-20 years. So that she would bring back this message to German industry. It is specifically now, when it is a favourable time for investment from Germany and markets are overflowing with capital. Germany desires new success stories, which would inspire confidence and solidarity in Europe.
And Lithuania, which has to chase the welfare standards of the EU, but lives on European moods, has the opportunity to become just such an example.
While all this allows strengthening links and solidarity with our most important European strategic partner, for negotiations with A. Merkel, the agenda must include an open and principled discussion on two matters of particular importance to us: the EU budget and Nord Stream 2.
The proposed Cohesion Fund financing for Lithuania is declining 1.8 billion euro from 2020. Rural Development Fund support – another 430 million euro. Based on proposed plans, Lithuania will lose 2.5 billion euro in total and another 1.2 billion euro will have to be found for further project financing. These are the largest losses of all EU countries. At the same time, the budgets of countries such as Italy, Spain, Finland, Cyprus, Greece Romania and Bulgaria are rising.
And here we must see a principled position from Lithuanian leaders, who must take political responsibility for correct and equally proportionate aid. Lithuanian leaders can convince A. Merkel regarding continued support if a cohesive and coordinated plan is prepared, so that EU support would be directed to encouraging economic breakthrough, better paid jobs being created and developing innovation. We truly have the opportunity to prove that we are in favour of a competitive economy and equal opportunities for Lithuanian, German and French farmers to compete.
Another question, where we must be focused and principled is the largest Achilles’ Heel of the EU and Germany – Nord Stream 2.
For a long time, the chancellor, influenced by German industrial lobbying, has stated that this is not a political, but a commercial project. Only after threats from the Donald Trump administration to place sanctions on companies and part of German right wing politicians, as well as criticism from the expert community, has the chancellor begun to doubt the economic and political benefits of Nord Stream 2.
In this, I am certain, Lithuanian leaders have moral authority and a political basis to remind A. Merkel that the Orwellian “some are more equal than others” cannot be applied in the European Union. Especially when it comes to the largest economy of the continent.
From it, we would most expect such decisions, which match the EU’s letter of its decisions and its spirit. Nord Stream 2 will increase the dependence of Europe on Gazprom and will jam a wedge between its members. It will make Ukraine more vulnerable and can open the way for Russia to more actively escalate the war.
Prospects for Lithuania
Finally, A. Merkel’s visit is a strong opportunity to express public support for deeper EU integration and for Lithuania to express itself clearly in the core of integration processes alongside countries such as France and Germany. Understanding the most important Lithuanian national interests – increasing geopolitical security, the capacity of Lithuanian citizens to live with dignity in their own country and a far more rapid increase in socio-economic welfare, we must formulate principled proposals over the future of the EU.
Having regained independence, Lithuania implemented most of its positive changes in those economic, social and security spheres, where it walked in step with clear European standards. We must agree to EU policy development into such areas as social policy, healthcare and education, where we have the most unresolved issues so far.
A second step must be made at the same time – our support for the multi-year perspective to outline a link between structural support provided to a country and a country’s capacity to implement reforms, which are proposed in the EU’s annual recommendations. Lithuania also cannot miss the opportunity to speak up on EU development policy. The current expansion into the West Balkans and in perspective – toward the Eastern Partnership states implementing reforms, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova is a necessary condition so that these regions would become stable and would expand the common security area.
And another matter. A. Merkel’s visit creates a rare opportunity for Prime Minister S. Skvernelis in foreign policy leadership and solidarity with the president. Meeting face to face with the chancellor, the prime minister must express backing and earnest support for D. Grybauskaitė. New EU management will be formed in summer 2019, where the president is aiming for the highest office in the EU. Thus, such a step by the prime minister would express solidarity, would be mature, just and would show that in the name of Lithuanian interests, we are capable of leaving behind internal disputes and ambitions.