- September 17, 2012
Radczenko: Splendeurs et misères of the EAPL’s electoral program
It is an open secret that the majority of the party manifestos are written in accordance with an old Vilnius rule: ‘the wise one writes for fun, the silly one reads, because it’s interesting’. Unfortunately, except for those electoral programs, we have no other chance to at least roughly imagine the fate that politicians have in store for us after the elections.
And that’s why – even though politicians approach to their promises made in the heat of the pre-election battle from a distance – it’s worth to take a look at the manifestos before casting one’s vote. The electoral campaign will reach its peak soon, so it’s the high time to look at pros and cons, at splendeurs et misères of the EAPL’s electoral program.
The first thing that strikes the eye after reviewing the electoral program of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, published on the webpage www.awpl.lt, is its quite a big volume – nearly fifteen standard typewritten pages divided into seventeen chapters presenting the party’s point of view on most Lithuanian problems, not only on the problems of national minorities. The second thing is – its sloppiness.
The first person point of view occurs commonly: ‘I’m sure’, ‘I believe that we will succeed’. Apparently, the party leader’s speech was taken as the basis for the manifesto and nobody even bothered to edit it properly. There are no mistakes of this kind in Lithuanian version of the text. But, lastly, an electoral program is not a romantic novel, so we don’t read it for style.
First of all, the EAPL, as one of the few parties in Lithuania, raises the problems of national minorities; besides the EAPL, the only party that not only noted the existence of the problems of ethnic minorities in its policy documents, but also presented – dedicating a separate chapter to them – their own ideas for their solution, is the Social Democratic Party.
One should admit that the ideas of the Social Democrats are more specific than the EAPL’s proposals that have basically come down to the saying that the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe should be followed. It’s known that the problem lies in the fact that these standards are treated differently in different countries, and the Convention itself usually weakens them with statements like: ‘Wherever it is possible’ or ‘when appropriate’. On the other hand, such a formulation of party’s position on the rights of national minorities allows for greater flexibility of this party’s actions before and after the elections.
The EAPL’s ideals in the field of education are equally vague: “We must do everything to prevent the destruction of the well-functioning education system in Lithuania; we need to keep secondary schools, schools in rural areas, and the traditional model of education of national minorities that was efficient during all 22 years of the independence of the Republic of Lithuania. […] We have to oppose the quasi-reforms carried out by the present ministry and keep the existing, well-functioning education system’.
This means probably that the damages caused by the ill amendment of the Education Act should be compensated, but there’s no such declaration in the electoral program. The only specific declaration is the demand to give up the funding of schools through the common principle of the ‘pupil’s basket’ (however, there’s no further specification on how the education system should be financed).
The EAPL is more specific regarding the reimbursement of property nationalized by the Soviets: ‘To somehow save the situation, we should implement the Latvian law and just return the land to their former owners’.
The EAPL has a number of other interesting proposals. The party rightly points out that ‘we have too few councilors in the local government who are elected in general elections (1526 councilors). In some municipalities, e.g. in Vilnius, 1 councilor represents over ten thousand citizens. It differs significantly from the standards and indicators accepted in the countries of Western democracy’. They propose a second-level government – local governments, with their own budgets, powers and elected municipal councils. It’s hard to defend the statement that ‘it would not require any additional expenditure’, but the cost of such a reform would probably be small when compared with the benefits of bringing the local government closer to the people.
The EAPL proposes to establish clear priorities for economic development, and two of them are indisputable – the development of transit and transport and tourism (even though the idea of building the Shrine of Merciful Christ in Vilnius sounds rather exotic and maybe not so attractive as the initiators seem to think; Vilnius has already another worldwide famous place of worship – the Gate of Dawn, but we failed so far to take full advantage of it).
The third priority – biofuels – is more controversial. There is no doubt that biofuels have certain advantages (they’re more environmentally friendly and guarantee the independence from the price of gas and oil), but there are also disadvantages (e.g. components, of which biofuels are produced, require huge tracts of land; therefore, the introduction of biofuels leads to sudden reduction of the world’s food. Moreover, biofuels are cheaper than traditional energy sources only when their production is subsidized by the state, and the production of biofuels has a negative impact on the world’s water resources).
What’s more, these 800.000 hectares where the EAPL would like to sow rape, lie fallow not because their owners don’t know what to sow there (today, when the economies and societies of China and India are developing faster, sowing food crops – and not rape – seems to be more forward-looking and also more profitable due to the EU subsidies), but because of more ordinary reasons – in fact, they belong either to small farmers, who cannot afford anything more than running a natural economy (so that they wouldn’t be able to afford the huge investments in the production of biofuels), or to all kinds of speculators, just waiting for a better economic situation to sell the land at a profit.
However, the idea of the “Sunrise and Sunset” seems to be interesting and worthy of attention (even though its code name is usually understood in Lithuania as the program of the development of information technology and fighting with the bureaucracy), which, according to the EAPL, is the organization of care for the elderly, but not limited to opening centers of care, but also promoting the development of a comprehensive chain of services for older people.
In foreign affairs, the EAPL will aim to strengthen the integration of Lithuania with Euro-Atlantic structures, the European Union and NATO, and to develop good relations with all the neighbours. And, in the sphere of defense – they would continue to professionalize the Lithuanian Armed Force (so there will be no return to a conscript army that has been postulated by the Conservatives; at the same, the EAPL draws attention to the need for existence of reserve forces, though they exist now as well – SKAT).
Probably the majority of my fellow-lawyers will not shake my hand since this day, but I like the other demand of the Electoral Action – the ‘introduction of the jury to the Lithuanian legal system’. Obviously, it’s a radical solution, but it’s still a hundred times better than the idea of introducing lay judges to court proposed by the most of the Lithuanian parties. Moreover, the EAPL promises to fight corruption ‘not with words but with concrete actions’. There are only a few of these specific actions included in the program: the use of the most stringent punitive measures for corrupt officials and the elimination of the causes of corruption. I don’t believe in the effectiveness of these severe penalties if they are to be used as they are used now, I mean – selectively and rarely, but I can only applaud the elimination of the causes. Of course, I hope that the creators of the program are aware that the main cause of corruption is the state, or too large range of function concentrated in the hands of the state. The more areas of social and economic life are regulated by the state, the greater the risk of corruption is. Thus, the fight against corruption should rely on deregulation.
The main disadvantages of the EAPL’s electoral program are: very frequent lack of specifics and populism. Much of the proposed ideas are just generalities like “state institution should provide special care for the most vulnerable citizens”, “special attention will be paid to the support of national culture”, “we will provide better economic and legal conditions for the development of e-business”, “we will promote and support recycling of the waste and its use for the production of energy”, “support low-income families, families with many children and families with dependent and disabled children shall be a priority” and so on. Every of those (and many other) demands are of course correct; the problem is that it remains unknown what exactly the party suggests in this or that case.
However, the EAPL makes some concrete proposals – e.g. the widespread transition to a biofuel economy (according to the calculations of the party experts, the implementation of this idea requires 4 billion litas), a minimum wage of not less than 1200 litas, a pension of not less than 50% of the average salary, and lowering of the retirement age of women with every child born – but there are problems with the sources of funding of these ideas.
Especially since the EAPL suggests a lot of tax benefits: they want to reduce the excise duty on fuel, reduce VAT on public transport and hotel services, introduce the VAT relief for necessities (processed food, bread, cereals, meat products, dairy products and unprocessed agricultural products including meat, vegetables, fruits and eggs). ‘In addition, we propose the introduction of the VAT relief on other priority industries: books, specialized magazines, eco-friendly products’, say the leaders of the party. To meet all of those campaign promises they will need several billion, and probably more than ten billion litas (especially given the fact that VAT is the main source of income in the budget). When the annual budget of the Republic of Lithuania (together with SoDra and EU funds) reaches 30-33 billion litas, these amounts are unimaginable. The EAPL’s program doesn’t show virtually any source that would allow for the financing of new government spending. There are no proposals of the budget cuts in other areas, and a new bank tax is indicated as the only additional source of income.
‘There is nothing better than proven income tax and VAT that were invented long ago. All other charges are less effective’, says Polish journalist and economist Marcin Kaczmarczyk. And he’s right. Hungarians already learned that the bank tax is not a panacea when they introduced it in 2010 – the revenues from this tax are almost in 2/3 smaller than expected. This year, instead of the planned 1.5 billion litas, gathered only 500 million for the bank tax. Taking into account the size of Hungary and their banking system, and comparing them with Lithuania, one can easily calculate that the bank tax won’t cover even a few percent of the allowances, subsidies, benefits and costs of other reforms proposed by the EAPL. And the banks are likely to include this tax in their services anyway, so that the bank tax will actually mean more expensive loans, lower interest rate on bank deposits and more expensive banking services.
One should pay attention to the idea of parliamentary reform. The EAPL suggests reducing the number of MPs from 141 to 101. It’s not a bad idea actually, although virtually all the parties talk about a reduction in the number of MPs for at least 8-12 years and perhaps they will say the same for another twelve years, because as soon as one of the politician wins a seat in the Parliament, he immediately forgets that he intended to eliminate the chair he’s currently sitting on. But the EAPL notices the poor quality of work of our parliamentarians and offers a radical step: “Candidates for deputies should be elected at least once in the past for local councils, or they should candidate in the local elections at least twice”. Frankly, I doubt it could essentially improve the quality of work of our Parliament (especially taking into account the “nitwits” who sometimes sit in the local councils).
Today, many of the MPs rub their pants against the parliamentary benches for more than a few terms of office, the rest of them is involved in political activities (except a few individual representatives of various bizarre parties of clowns that emerge here like mushrooms after the rain right before every election), but the quality of parliamentary work is only getting worse (e.g. when compared with years 1990-92, when the majority of MPs were absolute beginners in politics), and if one listen to the nonsense of some “eternal” Members… Therefore, I doubt that a formal requirement to run for municipal councils could heal this situation.
Similarly, I doubt very much that the compulsory teaching of religion in schools and compulsory examination in this subject that is postulated by the EAPL could heal the ethical and moral situation in our society. The faith and moral convictions are, of course, the inner strength of a man and it’s good that the party draws attention to the need for the spiritual development of the society, but I doubt that you can instill these values using batons in the form of a compulsory exam…
Many people, after the EAPL’s leader’s announcement that the EAPL is no longer the party of national minorities or regional one, but a nationwide one, expected some revolutionary changes in the program. However, the current electoral program of the EAPL is more of an evolution than revolution. Most of the slogans and demands included in it have been known for years (biofuels, tourism, education, and spiritual rebirth), a number of new aspects occurred (the bank tax) and the accents were placed differently (less emphasis on the problems of national minorities). If it’s enough to cross the electoral threshold – we will see soon.
Tłumaczenie Ewelina Zarembska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Ewelina Zarembska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.