- November 19, 2012
Dudzińska: Will the new Lithuanian government manage to go beyond the language of declarations?
The result achieved by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania in recent elections is definitely a success, but it does not guarantee a diametrical change in the situation of the Polish minority, as Kinga Dudzińska, an analyst of the Polish Institute of International Affairs who specializes in the Baltic states, says to PL DELFI. The president of Lithuania can secure her political position perfectly well. Thus, she will surely veto all governmental proposals to which she will not agree, claims the analyst.
At the end of October the Polish Institute of International Affairs, together with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Embassy of Lithuania, organized a conference devoted to the Eastern Partnership. What conclusions can be drawn from the seminar? Will the Eastern Partnership really become a priority for Lithuania, or will Lithuania concentrate on its domestic policy?
Taking into account the declarations of Lithuanian authorities made in Autumn 2011, the Partnership should have high status among the priorities of the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of the EU, which falls in the second half of 2013. All serious political parties have signed a special declaration that places the Eastern Partnership among the most important issues, together with the financial policy of the EU and a common energetic policy. We will see if after the elections the priorities will stay the same. I suppose that as slogans, they definitely will. However, at the moment it is still difficult to go into details. Nonetheless, I assume that although after the victory of the opposition parties the Partnership will probably remain a priority, we cannot predict whether the parties will be consistent in their declarations. In spite of the fact that Lithuania has once supported the rule of “more for more, less for less” with respect to Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the Caucasian countries, it may be more skeptical with regard to economic sanctions imposed on Belarus. However, the period of Lithuanian presidency will surely be a good occasion to direct the European Union’s attention to the matters of the Eastern Partnership, as recently, due to occurrence the Arab Spring, they have been slightly neglected.
Which regions of “the Eastern six” will be the apple of Lithuania’s eye? Geographically speaking, the closest one is Belarus…
Because the main objective of the Partnership is to democratize the Eastern edges of Europe and to carry out all necessary reforms connected with that process, Moldova and Georgia will be probably treated preferentially, as they have gone the farthest on the way to democratization. In addition, Lithuania may focus on the two countries in order to trumpet a success at the end of the presidential term. Still, it is worth remembering that the members of the Eastern Partnership are not equally interested in cooperation with the EU since they also have other, less demanding options of integration, such as Russian projects conducted in the post-Soviet area.
Let us now move to the theme of the parliamentary elections. We have already got the exact results and the lists of the members of the new Seimas are complete. What is the greatest surprise to you: the fact that Uspaskich has defeated social-democrats in the first round, quite a good result of the conservative-liberal coalition, or the fact that the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania has entered the parliament?
Each of these events is a bit surprising. When the elections were coming, some scenarios seemed more probable, and some less. A year before it would have been really hard to predict the actual results of the conservatives. The final opinion polls indicated that they might not be beaten as thoroughly as they had been expected to. At the same time the result of the Labour Party is not surprising if we take into account their structures, money, populist program, or the way they conducted the election campaign. Speaking of the result of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, it was predicted by the party itself long before the election, especially at the time of the local elections of 2011. If the EAPL had not managed to pass the 5% threshold, it could be marginalized as a local/regional party, centered around the Polish minority. Now the party can ask for more, all the more so because they are going to enter the ruling coalition and to receive one ministry of the newly-formed government.
The probable make-up of the ruling coalition, i.e. social-democrats, the Labour Party, and the Order and Justice Party, has been known to the public before the elections. How stable will the composition be? Will it not disintegrate like the coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, the New Union, and the Labour Party, active in years 2004-2006?
The trilateral agreement was indeed formed before the elections, but it was broken during voting over the project of the nuclear power plant in Visaginas. This example, at least partly, shows how problematic the coalition may be. The situation will be clear when the actual ministers are appointed. For the time being, the idea of forming a coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, the Labour Party, the Order and Justice Party, and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, is put into practice. Leaders of the winning parties are experienced in governing, so they should be interested in sustaining the coalition, especially in the context of the parliament which has the constitutional majority. However, I still have doubts whether the new government will survive till the end of the term and will not disintegrate like the cabinet of Kubilius. In addition, the situation of the new government has been complicated by the decision of the Constitutional Court, which, for example, pointed out several misuses of the Labour Party MPs. Plus, the figure of Uspaskich is rather controversial, too.
In this case we deal not only with contradictory intentions and views, but also with different tempers of the leaders.
True. Both Order and Justice and the Labour Party are centered around their formal or informal leaders. However, as far as the durability of the coalition is concerned, a lot will depend on the division of the departments. Some clashes between the future members of the coalition may occur during taking decisions related to economy or energetics. Conflicts may also appear in the field of public finances. Although the GDP of Lithuania is rising, salaries are getting lower and the costs of living remain high. At present it will be rational to reduce expenditure and to continue the restrictive financial policy, which is still contradictory to the previous promises and declarations, such as the unreal rise of the minimum wage.
Are there any other areas in which there may be clashes in the future ruling coalition? What about foreign policy?
The fields of defense and foreign policy, which will be taken care of by social-democrats, will not be problematic for sure. Uspaskich, who himself will probably be outside the government, is not interested in foreign policy and so is not the Labour Party. However, he speaks about the need of “economization of foreign policy,” which only stresses that to him economy, trade, and foreign investments are priorities.
Tensions in the coalition, together with the lack of a definite statement who is the strongest member: social-democrats or the Labour Party, automatically increases the role of the president. What is the actual position of Madam President with regard to the coalition?
We have already had a foretaste of Dalia Grybauskaitė’s view, as she has said that she does not agree to Uspaskich’s becoming one of the ministers. There will definitely be a tug-of-war between the government and the president. Dalia Grybauskaitė will obviously wish to influence foreign policy to a great extent. Besides, she is perfectly able to protect her political position. She will surely veto all governmental decisions with which she may disagree.
If the coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, the Labour Party, and the Order and Justice Party disintegrated, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania could enter the game. What about Waldemar Tomaszewski’s party? Will it really manage to win any concessions to the Polish minority, or will the social-democrats only make some small gestures or corrections? Today we have heard the future prime minister say that the Poles may gain one ministry, which looks like a bucket of cold water thrown in our face…
The result that the EAPL has achieved in the elections is undoubtedly a success, but it does not guarantee a dramatic change in the situation of the Polish minority. Still, the fact that the Poles have entered the government obliges Lithuanian parties to take some steps to improve the condition of Lithuanian Poles. It must be stressed that social-democrats are the only party which has addressed the issue of national minorities. However, it also needs to be remembered that the projects of all bills have to be voted through in the parliament. But as regards the Labour Party or the Order and Justice Party, they are not pro-minority oriented, needless to recall Uspaskich’s utterance that the minorities of Lithuania do not have any serious problems.
Now that we have talked about the internal affairs of Lithuania, let us move to the country’s foreign policy. The cabinets in Riga and in Tallinn are currently centre-right. How is it going to influence the relations of Latvia and Estonia with the leftist-populist government of Lithuania? What about the common Baltic projects related to transport and energetics?
Lithuania’s relations with Riga and Tallinn may be hindered. Although the central-liberal cabinets of Latvia and Estonia either support the integration of their countries with the eurozone or they have already carried it out, in Lithuania we should expect a departure from the idea of euroization, at least for the time being. The cabinet of Kubilius, similarly to the ones of Ansip and Dombrovskis, openly advocated the maintenance of the financial discipline, whereas the social-democrats speak about possible corrections of Lithuania’s financial policy. The question of building a nuclear power plant in Visaginas also remains open. The Lithuanian left-wing parties object to the enterprise, or at least they are not enthusiastic about it and they suggest a recalculation of the costs of the project. Besides, Estonians will continue their pro-Finnish and pro-Scandinavian orientation, and so will Latvians. Lithuanians will most probably focus on their internal affairs, all the more so if being active on the Baltic front seems too demanding. Still, President Dalia Grybauskaitė will surely be for some cooperation between the Baltic states.
I would like to ask about the relations of Poland and Lithuania. Shall we expect a breakthrough in solving the specific Polish-Lithuanian problems, or will the new government go in for a policy of gestures? What stand will the Polish government take?
I do not expect any radical steps from the government of the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, although the left wing promises to improve the relations with the neighbouring countries, including Poland. However, a question remains if the new government of Lithuania will manage to go beyond the language of promises and declarations. It seems that certain steps have already been taken, but I do not expect improvements in all problematic areas, ranging from the spelling of Polish names to land reimbursement or changes in the schooling law. On the Polish side there is an atmosphere of anticipating a “gesture.” Nonetheless, the Lithuanian government may announce the willingness to change some laws, e.g. the ones regarding the spelling of names, but for the time being it still lies in the realm of declarations.
Kinga Dudzińska is a graduate of political science at Mikołaj Kopernik University in Toruń (UMK) and of Baltic studies at the University of Warsaw. Since 2012 she has been an analyst of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, where she specializes in the Baltic states. She is currently teaching political science and international relations at UMK, and pursuing a PhD in political science.
Tłumaczenie Natalia Błędowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Natalia Błędowska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.