MEP Rasa Jukneviciene: “Either democracies cope with the big challenges or they fail, which would be disastrous”

  • 2024-01-19
  • Linas Jegelevicius

“Sadly, we’ve entered a very unstable phase in terms of security. I am convinced that security issues are and will remain most urgent for years to come,” Rasa Jukneviciene, Lithuania’s euro-parliamentarian representing the European People’s Party, stated to The Baltic Times Magazine.

Why do powerful intelligences like that of Israel fail in detecting such horrendous terror attacks like that by Hamas on October 6, which led what some say an inadequately cruel response by Israel? As a former Lithuanian Defence minister and Vice-Chair of the EP’s Security and Defence Subcommittee, you must have interesting insights.

I see as part of the dictatorships’ war against the democracies. Today, we can clearly say that Iran stood behind the Hamas attack. Iran and Russia collude on many occasions, also against Ukraine – Iran provided Russia military armoury for its war against Ukraine. So, I think we need to see the big picture – the Hamas attack is not only against Israel but (it is) on all of us who stand for democratic values. I am afraid the war zone (the interview took place in mid-October – L. J.) can spill over the borders of Gaza and Israel. And, on top of that, we see brewing conflicts in the Balkans, specifically in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Besides, tension around Taiwan can burst into another potential military conflict. In a nutshell, we are in very uneasy times. 

You’re also the EP’s Vice-Chair of the South Caucasus Delegation, Vice-Chair of the EPP group and Chair of the EPP Working Group on External Policies in the European Parliament. I got impression that the European Union watched helplessly how ethnical cleansing was executed in Nagorny Karabakh. Why the EU’s impact on the region policies is very limited?

 I’d make a difference when speaking about Nagorny Karabakh and the South Caucasus. Currently, we ought to focus not on what happened in the past, but help Armenia set itself free from Nagorny Karabakh which, speaking illustratively, was like a millstone under Armenia’s neck – for centuries. The situation played into Russia’s hand and, now, with Armenia getting rid of the Russian influence – slowly but assuredly, with Nagorny Karabakh not being the millstone anymore, the country (Armenia) can make a speedier shift towards Europe. 

I believe the previous Armenian governments had neither will nor plan as to how to address the issue of Nagorny Karabakh. Said that, I want to stress that what Azerbaijan did there was horrible. Sooner or later, the Caucasian states will leave Russia’s orbit and war in Ukraine will speed up the inevitable.

Ukraine is firmly on the path to the European Union and some other countries in the Balkans are knocking soon at the door of the bloc. This must be a win not only for the aspiring countries but the EU leadership too?

Indeed, it is. It is a big personal win for Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, the current president of the European Commission, who perceives the expansion as her mission in the position. I hope she will be able to continue it after the election of the European Parliament in May. She’s the one who clearly understands the geopolitical importance of the expansion, which, in terms of security, is very important for the Baltic States. Having a strong European Union is essential in keeping away Russia and China in the countries which ties with the European Union are rather weak.

The expansion of the European Union is inevitable, as it is the guarantor of European security and well beyond.

Speaking of Sakartvelo, I do not think the country deserves an invitation to the bloc because of its pro-Russian government.

With year of 2023 winding down, Ukraine finds itself in a precarious situation with the lifeline support stalling. Is it a bad omen for the country and its supporters? Can you speak of any mistakes made by Ukraine itself over the nearly two years of war?

I’ve said many times and I want to repeat it again: the Baltics, and Europe, can be safe if Ukraine wins war. 

If not for the support of the West, Ukraine could have probably been wiped out from the map by Russia now. The West has done incredibly a lot in assisting Ukraine, but I am saddened that the promise it has given – to stay with Ukraine as long as it takes – might not be fulfilled. If this were the case, Russia will be emboldened, and the result can be disastrous.

Looking backwards, I think the expectations we had after Ukraine’s victorious moments in Kharkiv and Kherson were too high – Russia has entrenched on the frontlines and ramped up the positions while the Western countries squabbled on the volume of aid, the tactics and so on.

In the large picture, I still struggle to understand if the West, even now, with war in Ukraine continuing, has a clear position towards Russia. Especially the United States. On one hand, the States has helped Ukraine most significantly (by December 1, 2023, EU support to Ukraine since the start of the war amounted to a little bit over $91 billion in financial, military, humanitarian, and refugee assistance, meanwhile aid of US was at approximately $113 billion as of mid-December 2023 – TBT), yet it seems to me it is afraid of a collapse of Russia and the Putin regime, which ostensibly could lead to a break-up of Russia itself and its nuclear weaponry ending in bad hands. By the way, we heard the same argument when the Soviet Union was breaking apart. Thence, the dripping support for Ukraine – without a consistency and the commitments being fulfilled.

Does the European Union have a good plan to tackle the new wave of undocumented migrants?

Altogether, regulated migration is inevitable – we do need workforce, which is on a lower end not only in Lithuania but in many other EU states too, but it has to be under control, regulated, abiding by law. Not that one we saw on our borders in 2021, when thousands of migrants turned up on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, an ill plan orchestrated by Alexander Lukashenko (the president of Belarus – TBT) and Putin nodding behind him, with the aim to bring about chaos at the border.

In fact, Hamas used the similar pattern – they broke in the Israeli territory tearing down the border fortifications before killing the people.

To prevent such cases from occurring ever again and closing the gaps in the EU migration legislation, Lithuania proposed to include migration instrumentalization, where a third country or hostile non-state actor encourages or facilitates the movement of third country nationals and stateless persons to the external borders or to a Member State, with the aim of destabilising the Union or a Member State, in the EU law.

In order to have the Schengen Border Code amended the way Lithuania proposed, all the three European institutions – the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Europe – had to endorse it, but, in autumn, the European Parliament’s Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), voted in a EP committee against its inclusion in the Schengen Border Code.

However, at the end of December 2023, the trilogue (trilogues are informal tripartite meetings on legislative proposals between representatives of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission – TBT) agreed on the final form of five separate EU regulations, establishing how to share the management of asylum and migration flows among member states and what to do in cases of sudden migratory crisis. 

Thanks to EPP, the new regulation provides for the establishment of a mandatory border procedure for cases of misleading, various security risks or low recognition rate (20%). The new border procedure will be used to examine admissibility or the merits of asylum applications with low chances of receiving protection, prior to a decision on entry of the applicant. Border procedures will create a seamless link between a negative asylum decision and the corresponding return decision to address the congestion of asylum systems and years of legal uncertainty for third country nationals awaiting a final decision. Finally, there will be an EU adequate capacity of 30.000 as the maximum number of applications that the EU as a whole is required to examine in the Border Procedure.

The crisis regulation includes now a clear definition of situations of instrumentalization.

When it comes to migrants’ screening, the EPP successfully managed to achieve a harmonized and uniform screening procedure at the external borders of the Union – the establishment of mandatory security checks to prevent any threats to internal security. 

Despite the difficult negotiations, the EPP managed to include the addition of security flags in Eurodac, a Justice and Home Affairs database in which Member States are required to enter the biometric data of asylum applicants, illegally staying third-country nationals or stateless persons in order to identify where they entered the European Union.

The new regulation also requires that Member States will have to adopt effective national measures to ensure that third-country nationals concerned comply with the obligation to provide biometric data. These measures may include the possibility to use means of coercion as a last resort. Finally, the EPP managed to achieve the inclusion of beneficiaries of the Temporary Protection Directive as a part of the regulation.