This tendency did not disappear anywhere. Even today, Lithuanian society shows exceptional trust in the European Union. This year, according to the Eurobarometer, 66% of the population has expressed trust in the EU – a whole ten percent higher than any other country. These indicators allow Lithuanian politicians to maintain a bold position over questions of European federalization. Even candidates in the European Parliament elections belonging to the biggest and at least declaratively right-wing Lithuanian party (Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats) are openly supporting the idea of deeper European integration and federalization.
Deeper integration is an easily sold political good in Lithuania, as the country lacks a tradition of sovereign self-governance; immense disappointment with the national government only adds to fuelling the wish for Brussels to make decisions for us. This year’s YouGov polls clearly show that Lithuanians are extremely distrustful of their government’s ability to solve economic and other issues. Former chairman of the aforementioned Homeland Union and a candidate for the European Parliament has recently stated that Lithuania should transfer as many of its political decisions to Brussels as possible, since only those areas in which the EU is strictly demanding for reform are where any progress in Lithuania is actually made. Lithuanian politicians themselves are inciting contempt for them as a political class, at the same time cultivating the need for a “better” master among the populace, instead of a goal for authentic self-governance.
All of this works rather differently in the EU’s older member-states – essentially all of Europe to the west from the “Iron Curtain”. Although the pan-European elite has for a long time viewed the EU as an ideological project for European unity and open society, the societies of all countries commonly view the EU as a pragmatic formation. The European Union was created to ensure peace and prosperity. Throughout the years, it developed into an arena of freed trade, in which the four basic freedoms of movement are assured. It is all beneficial and profitable for both the donor states and the benefit-receiving states. As an economic union of free trade, the EU seems to have the support of nearly all of Europe.
Unlike Lithuania, however, the old democracies of Europe aren’t inclined to dismiss their sovereignty as easily. On the contrary, they are suspicious of the increasingly deeper integration proposed by the supranational institutions of the EU. Such suspicions are hardly baseless – although the last few decades of development were marked by new regulations and commonalities, European societies feel that an increasing amount of sovereignty was given away in exchange for a decreasing benefit of additional integration. Making use of economic vocabulary, it could be said that the marginal utility of integration is becoming too small for Europeans to support it any longer.
This was completely apparent in the case of Brexit. It’s been well-known for a long time that the United Kingdom has always been a proponent of the EU as a free trade union, and supported its development, but not that of a federation. The Brits withdrew from it, and the polls show that his sentiment is prevalent across the entire Western Europe. Those who wish for decision powers to be returned from Brussels back to national parliaments outnumber those who seek to relinquish even more sovereignty. Europeans of old are leaning towards “optimizing” the European Union.
Even more so, an increasing number of countries are facing the risk of holding referendums on leaving the union. Based on this year’s data, only 37 percent of Italians rate the perspectives of the EU positively. If Italy was to hold a referendum on stopping its EU membership, 48 percent of participants would vote in support of it. While this is not a majority, there’s no majority for staying in the union, either. The same can be observed elsewhere. Talking on British television, E. Macron himself has stated that if France was to hold a referendum on its EU membership, most of the populace, he believes, would vote for leaving. According to polls, he’s not far from the truth, as only 46 percent of French citizens would vote for staying. If a referendum was held in Sweden, 49 percent would vote for staying; in Finland – 54 percent. Countries whose people are still in support of staying have since become euro-optimists. Support for the EU is no longer an obvious matter.
All of this is easy to understand. Opponents of membership are constantly stressing that their countries have joined a different sort of the EU, and that the current Union has little in common with the one we joined in 2004. The worst thing is, development of new initiatives for deeper integration hasn’t at all slowed. Integration, already being rejected by Western Europeans, and incapable of rationalizing its lack of utility, is still being used by the EU leaders as a supposed panacea for the crises plaguing the Union. In the EU development scenarios he presented, mostly talks of deeper integration. This is supported by both Macron and Merkel, as well. Deeper integration, however, as a short-term solution for, let’s say, the euro crisis, only deepens the fundamental problem of the EU in the long-term – that is, the fact that the states have given away more autonomy than they wished to, or saw any need for relinquishing it.
It’s worth remembering that only the older member-states of the EU are raising the question of whether it’s “worth to” stay in it; meanwhile, the new members, especially the Baltic states, assess the utility of their membership in dualistic categories of existential survival – not by a gradual evaluation, but an “either/or” principle. We’re either in, or we’re not. This means that our patience regarding the mistakes of the EU leaders are nearly limitless, up to the point where the only thing worse to membership is the complete loss of Lithuania.
For this reason, European federalists, who dream of a deeper EU integration and the United States of Europe, have for a long time been – and still are – able to profess their plans to the Middle-Eastern European societies with relative ease. Where Western Europeans are saying “stop this”, people of our region are still staying “yes, please”. It seems, however, that the latest initiative of the European federalists is aimed at stirring this bastion as well. They have so far been successful in this endeavour by developing the idea of a joint European armed force.
This idea of a „true European army”, as Emanuel Macron calls it, has been floating around Europe for quite a while now. It has also been long understood that such a military force would duplicate the functions of NATO, and in this sense would handicap NATO activities on our continent. Macron has recently stated that the European army would be devoted to defending against Russia and China as much as against the USA. Although it was a scandalous remark, Merkel expressed support for it. Ever since Donald Trump’s election, the EU leaders have been showing much animosity towards the US and their policies. The postmodern leaders of a pacifist Europe were especially hurt by the reminder to uphold their NATO obligations and dedicate 2 percent of their GDP for national defence. To countries of our region, this budding conflict is simply disastrous. Through it, European federalists, attempting to create a joint European armed force, are pushing Lithuania towards a painful decision between Berlin and Brussels on one hand, and Warsaw and Washington on the other. With EU presenting itself as an alternative to NATO, and with NATO being the only feasible guarantor of foreign security, Lithuania is being forced to choose. The smart choice would be to remain on the side of NATO and the USA. Sadly, Lithuania tends to lack reason when deciding on matters of that sort. We’ve been seeing our foreign policy makers confronting the US with an increasing frequency. They should be doing the opposite, and try to stand in unity with our most important ally. In case of Russian aggression, free trade and the euro won’t save Lithuania.
Lastly, we need to acknowledge the fact that there is an entire line-up of opportunists, seeking to use these tensions for purely pragmatic goals. Society of Lithuania, as well as those of other European countries, are living in an environment of information warfare. Russia is making a huge effort to present itself as a defender of Christian values and the principle of nation states in a Western world eroded by postmodern deconstruction. Christianity in Russia, a country known for its high rate of divorces and abortions performed, can perhaps be observed only in its lingering post-Soviet hate for homosexuals. Meanwhile, Russia’s respect for the principle of nation states, the expression of which required the invention of the term “sovereign democracy”, is absolutely fictitious. This is most clearly shown by the country’s actions in regards to its sovereign neighbours – nation states of Georgians, Belarusians, Moldovans, as well as others, are being attacked, their territories occupied, their regimes intruded and destabilized. All of that runs contrary to nationalism. The greatest example of this is the occupation of Crimea, tolerated to this day. Despite all that, our region receives a lot of information regarding the naive flirtations between Western euro-sceptics and Kremlin, the clichés of propaganda spouted in this information war in exchange for Kremlin’s financial aid, and even support for the Crimean occupation by Russia. As far as they prove to be true, they bring great shame to opponents of federalism in Europe. Justification of Russian aggression in Crimea and elsewhere is a betrayal of the fundamental principle of nationalism – that of the right of self-determination.
At the same time, another Western front of this information war has been opened, aimed against conservative and Christian countries of our region. It’s an invisible front. Its main function is to continuously project an image of Europe, to which we’ve been trying so hard to return, as an irredeemably leftist society, one that has given in to the demands of sexual minorities, and characterized by tendentious laicism, islamization and loss of identity. It is often heard repeated in Lithuania that openness to the Other, tolerance of sin, and moral relativism compose the new content of European-ness. Supposedly, we must accept it, if we want to be true Europeans. Otherwise, left with our own values, we are denounced as defenders of Kremlin’s values.
Both of these narratives – concerning the pro-Kremlin right-wingers in the West, and the supposed universally leftist and degraded values of Western societies – form a schizophrenic consciousness in the minds of anyone daring to contemplate the future of Europe and its problems. They force one to think that the West has truly degenerated, and there are no supporters of nation states and Christian morality remaining there – and if there are, they’re pro-Russian, therefore hostile to Lithuania. By giving in to such narratives, those who seek to preserve a united Europe as an economic union, are left with no choice but to accept the agenda pushed by the federalists. This is a forced – and thus false – choice: either we’re all in support of a federation, or we’ve no interest in a united Europe at all.
Remaining trapped in such patterns of thought will determine that Lithuanian and other Baltic countries will most likely, just as they are now, remain exceptionally passive in deciding the future of the European Union. However, regardless if we participate or not, this question is bound to solve itself during the coming decade. By having the elites blindly propagating further integration, already being rejected by European societies, the EU is set on a path towards destruction. This would be the worst case scenario for Lithuania. In order to avoid such fate, we must try our best to hold a stance against further federalization of Europe and for optimization of the EU – a return to an economic, not political European Union.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not represent those of the Lithuania Tribune or its staff.