Laima Liucija Andrikiene, the signatory of Lithuania’s 11 March 1990 Independence Restoration Act, who has worked nearly four full terms (1990-1992, 1992-1996, 1996 -2000, and 2020-2022) in the Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas, without an exaggeration, is one of the architects of a modern Lithuania. The Baltic Times Magazine sat down with her to reflect on what she calls “tectonic shifts” in the life of her home, Lithuania, over the years since the restoration of independence in 1990. The prominent Lithuanian, who now is a Member of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors, also spoke of fiscal discipline of the European countries and attempted to point out what will be defining moments in 2024.
What has been the most important to you throughout years? I am not talking about the EU and NATO accessions, the pillars of today's Lithuania.
There have been so many important events, such powerful ones – in my nation and in our society that it is not easy to pick out the most important things. After all, for a long time after 11 March 1990, I did not count the calendar year from the 1st of January, but the years of freedom, the years of independence, as if I had lived from 11 March to 11 March. I remember, and I will never forget, how in the first year of our restored independence we counted days, then weeks, then months... And now, in a few months we will celebrate the 34th anniversary of the restoration of our independence. In all the years of our restored statehood, I used to remember that between the two world wars, the Republic of Lithuania had survived for 22 years, from its proclamation on 16 February 1918 to 15 June 1940, when the Soviet army invaded Lithuania. This was followed by almost 50 years of Soviet occupation. Therefore, for me, the most important thing – the essence, the meaning, the source, and the song – was and is freedom. Yes, FREEDOM, in capital letters. Without it there would be nothing, neither our country, nor our lives, nor democracy in all its manifestations. You can call me the guardian and defender of Lithuania’s freedom, because this value is undoubtedly the most important for me. Please do not take this too seriously, but my name obliges me too: I am Laima Liucija Andrikiene, LLA. For belonging to the LLA – the Lithuania‘s Freedom Army (in Lithuanian – Lietuvos Laisves Armija – the abbreviation is LLA), my Dad, who was a Palanga gymnasium student at the time, was captured by NKVD and tried by a Soviet military tribunal (troika), not renouncing his oath as a soldier of the LLA and having no regrets about belonging to this underground organisation, was sentenced to seven years in a Soviet gulag and five years of exile. In the Siberian exile, he also met my mother, then a young exile from Dzukija, a student of French language and literature of the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute and started a family. So, I, the LLA, cannot be different, the desire for freedom is in my genes, I think.
Understandably, our policies and politics are aligned to our EU and NATO memberships and, as a state, we've reaped a lot from the memberships. However, it seems the divisions of our society, as all of those in the West, are deepening and there is much less commonality than ever before. Do you see this happening? Does it worry you?
I’m a graduate of Vilnius University, a cyberneticist, an economist-mathematician, while cybernetics is the science of managing systems – economic, social, and otherwise. As a scientist, I have researched the development of societies, interest groups, and, also, I taught a course on interest groups and lobbying. Research shows that the more sophisticated a society is, the more interests, divisions, and interest groups, including political ones, there are. All of them seek to realize their interests, seek the decisions they need, by influencing those in power and often by seeking power themselves.
Our attention is usually drawn to those who pursue their goals in unusual ways, sometimes in ways that are unacceptable to the majority of society, the so-called 'malcontents', who call themselves fighters against the 'system'.
Of course, there are grounds for dissatisfaction, social exclusion is high and cannot be reduced quickly and significantly. Unemployment, the very different starting positions of the younger generation, anxiety about old age, the recent war in Europe – these and other factors are causing anxiety and anger in society, and unless solutions are found, unless actions are taken in time, there will be no avoidable explosions in society, whether large or small.
All tensions can be and are exploited, including by external enemies, and it is no secret that there are states in our neighbourhood, and further afield, that do not like the liberal, international rules-based world order that emerged after the Second World War, and who do not like the strategic, value-based partnership between the US and the European Union. There are states that seek to change the world order and dominate the world by force, including by military aggression. So, I am observing the developments, I am participating in them, I am noticing the trends, but I am not a prophet, we shall see which of them will remain or dominate in the future.
With Russia's war in Ukraine reaching the second-year mark, the West's eyes are on the Middle East, Israel and Gaza, not Ukraine, and Ukraine war fatigue is clear, which means an uncertainty for the country. Does this worry you? Do you believe Ukraine can still win the war and regain all of its occupied territories, including the Crimea?
Personally, I believe the push for Ukraine to start talks with Russia will grow stronger in 2024. Everything that happens in the world affects us, Lithuanians, wherever we live – in Lithuania or Luxembourg or across the Atlantic.
The world has become a very small place, and national borders and the armies that protect them no longer play the role they did in the last century. Wars in our traditional sense of the term, where the militaries of the belligerent countries clash, have long since been supplemented by information wars, which have reached unprecedented levels with the help of high technology. We are witnessing hybrid wars, not only in our neighbourhood but also against us. All of this is changing our coexistence and our security situation very rapidly, and requires new, non-standard solutions.
I believe that the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel in the context of Russia's war against Ukraine is not an accidental action, but rather part of the same plan to change the liberal world order based on rules. The war in the Middle East is the real smokescreen for Vladimir Putin, for the crimes committed by his army in Ukraine. Russia's imperialist policy, Russia's and China's ambitions to dominate the world are obvious. Democracies must – must! – stand up, defend themselves, act together much more effectively.
The future of Ukraine is in our hands, not just the Ukrainians.’ Ukraine is also a test for the world's democracies as to what we are worth, where our ‘red lines’ are and where they must not be crossed. That is why I tend to think and talk not about what I believe or do not believe, but above all about what I can and must do to ensure that the war ends with a Ukrainian victory and that those responsible for this war crime receive the punishment they deserve.
You've been a Member of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors since the autumn of 2022, which allows you, a former Europarliamentarian, see the EU member states' fiscal situation firsthand. Is there anything that you, the auditor, want to recommend to the European Parliament and the European Commission with regard how the EU money is allocated and then how its use is supervised?
At the Court of Auditors, our primary responsibility is to examine and audit the EU's finances to ensure that they are properly managed, transparent, and used efficiently and effectively. Based on my observations and expertise, my recommendations would be the following: first, strengthen transparency and accountability throughout the entire budgetary cycle.
Second, allocate funds where they are most likely to be efficiently used and with the least potential for financial irregularities.
Third, ensure effective supervision of EU funds, invest in strengthening controls and auditing capacities. This includes reinforcing audit functions at national levels, implementing early detection systems for financial irregularities, etc.
Fourth, encourage cooperation and the exchange of best practices between member states which is vital for improving the handling of EU funds. The European Parliament and the European Commission should facilitate platforms and initiatives for information sharing and networking among member states.
Fifth, simplify procedures, reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, and streamline reporting requirements which would increase the efficiency of fund allocation and encourage proper and timely use of funds. Sixth, improve the evaluation frameworks, establish mechanisms to assess the long-term impact of funded projects, and incorporate lessons learned into future funding programs. By implementing these and other measures, we can ensure that financial resources are well-managed and deliver the intended benefits to all EU member states and their citizens.
By the way, in my first year at the European Court of Auditors, I was responsible for two audits/reviews, which are very important in this context, and preparations for another one are under way under my leadership. The first two are the digitalization of the management of EU funds, Commission’s rule of law reporting, and the third is the audit of the EU's anti-fraud strategy.
As we work on these, it is clear what the EU institutions you mention need to do: first, the European Commission's ambition to become truly digital must become a reality, and delays in this area are unacceptable, they already have and will continue to have negative consequences. Second, the implementation of the EU anti-fraud strategy requires much better coordination between the EU institutions – the European Commission and its European Anti-Fraud Office, the EPPO, the European Court of Auditors, Eurojust, Europol – as well as much better coordination with the EU Member States.
In terms of fiscal discipline, which EU member states are the most disciplined and responsible? And which are not? Where do the Baltic States stand?
Fiscal discipline refers to the ability and commitment of a country to manage its public finances responsibly and sustainably. Evaluating and comparing the fiscal discipline of different EU member states can be subjective, but certain measures can indicate their relative levels of discipline. Among the EU member states, Germany has often been regarded as one of the most fiscally disciplined countries. It has maintained relatively low levels of public debt and pursued policies aimed at balanced budgets and fiscal prudence.
Other countries known for their fiscal discipline include the Netherlands, Finland, and Austria, which have also maintained low debt levels and followed responsible fiscal policies. On the other hand, some EU member states have faced challenges regarding fiscal discipline. Countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain have struggled with high levels of public debt, budget deficits, and unsustainable fiscal policies in the past. However, it is worth noting that these countries have made efforts to address their fiscal weaknesses in recent years. When it comes to the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), they have generally been considered as examples of fiscal discipline in the EU.
Following the global financial crisis in 2008, the Baltic States implemented substantial fiscal reforms and austerity measures, leading to considerable improvements in their fiscal positions. They have reduced their budget deficits, implemented structural reforms, and maintained moderate public debt levels. As a result, they have gained a reputation for responsible fiscal policies and achieved economic stability. However, it is essential to acknowledge that fiscal discipline can shift over time, and it is necessary to monitor ongoing developments and policies to have an accurate assessment of a country's fiscal responsibility.
Your fellow Homeland Union-LCD members, who in early November voted in your party's "Fest of Democracy" selecting the candidates to participate in the European Parliament election next year, picked you as well. Would you prefer to go back to Brussels and work as MEP again?
True, the list of 49 potential candidates was ranked by both party members and Lithuanian citizens who do not belong to any party and who wanted to take part in the Fest of Democracy. Based on the results of the ranking, I could run for the European Parliament. I would like to remind you that I have been elected to the European Parliament three times since the beginning of Lithuania's membership of the EU, having served in the European Parliament in 2004-2014 and 2016-2019. I have really enjoyed my work there and I would be happy to continue it. However, I had a difficult decision which is already behind me – I still have an important job to do as the Lithuania-delegated Member of the European Court of Auditors.
My term of office is six years, and I am in my second year in this EU institution, so I stay and will be continuing my mission in the European Court of Auditors.
What will be the defining moments for the world, and Lithuania, in 2024?
Witnessing all that is happening in the world this year, it is very difficult to identify the events that will shape the world. Today there are more unknowns than answers. It now seems that the most important, decisive events will be: first, Russia's war against Ukraine. I wish that next year it will come to an end and end with a Ukrainian victory. Accession negotiations with the EU will be an important factor. Second, the US presidential elections, due to take place on 5 November 2024.
The outcome of this election is a particularly important element in predicting the world situation. Third, the European Parliament elections to be held on 6-9 June 2024. Fourth, China's (People's Republic of China) actions in the region and the world. Fifth, in the case of Lithuania, the presidential and parliamentary elections. The country's Parliament (Seimas), elected for a four-year term, and the President, elected for a five-year term, are the two most important institutions of the state, and the importance of these elections cannot be overstated. However, today we do not know whether we will not face new challenges, new bonfires of war in Europe and in other regions of the world, not least in the Middle East.
In the photos:
Laima Liucija Andrikiene is the signatory of Lithuania's 11 March 1990 Independence Restoration Act, now is a Member of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors (Photo by ECA / Sophie Margue)
Annual visit of the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee delegation to the European Court of Auditors on 30 October 2023 in Luxembourg. From left to right: ECA members Bettina Jakobsen, Mihails Kozlovs and Laima Andrikiene, MEP Petri Sarvamaa, ECA member Joelle Elvinger, MEPs Charles Goerens and Caterina Chinnici, CONT chairwoman Monika Hohlmeier, ECA president Tony Murphy, ECA members Annemie Turtelboom, Katarina Kaszasova, Helga Berger, Jan Gregor and Ivana Maletic (Photo by ECA)