Unlike many parliamentarians-turned-ministers, Valentinas Mazuronis, until recently a stalwart of the ruling Order and Justice party, has earned a reputation as a smart, sly and capable leader from his time holding the reins of the Environment Ministry. Mazuronis has been widely praised for, among other things, forging ahead with the renovation of apartment blocks and for toughness in defending the hydrocarbons exploration bid, or cracking down on poachers in the country. Now an MEP, Mazuronis kindly agreed to take a few questions from The Baltic Times.
Have your six months in Brussels been enough to you to get an idea what kind of European Parliament (EP) this is? What are the moods in it?
I can’t perhaps compare this EP with the one that has completed its work, but the change of political forces is pretty obvious in the parliament. Until now, both political right and left in the EP would usually seek help from Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, known as ALDE. But the voters have thumbed down it in the 2014 EP elections – they rank only 4th on the list of number of mandates - therefore, the Conservatives and Social Democrats are compelled to seek allies somewhere else.
Obviously, there are many more so-called euro-skeptics – in all factions, in fact. They just vary by the vociferousness of their rhetoric perhaps.
There’s also this tangible, enhanced feeling that the functioning and the whole body of the European Union needs to be re-structured, revamped in order to get it to be more functional and, what I would call, down-to-earth.
What should be altered in your opinion?
The largest EP factions (the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)-TBT) increasingly agree that there has been too large a gap between the grassroots- ordinary people and the political establishment in Brussels.
In other words, there’s a feeling that Brussels pays too little attention to the needs of member states and their people. The movements for more powers for national governments – the process we observe happening in the UK and Italy, for example - may trigger a bigger number of followers in the entire EU. I reckon the demand to more address the national peculiarities is right and I support it.
I do not think that the sweeping wave of “anti-EU rhetoric” is only about denying what is good about the Union, or, furthermore, repudiating the European Union. The member states, which question its authority, want this - more powers, more opportunities to be allowed to weigh in on domestic issues themselves.
In other words, it is about the eternal question the EU has not answered yet to pursue a confederation or a bigger federation of member states…
Well, that sounds to me like another subject, but, indeed, this question is circling in the chambers of the Parliament. It’s not easy to get a single definite answer on this. But there is this prevailing notion that the EU member states should be speaking with a single voice as far as the issues of security and energy which is the inseparable part of it are concerned. When it comes to Russian sanctions, for example - which is also part of the security - member states have to act unanimously, too.
But other questions, related, for example, to local history and lifestyles, should be left up to the national authorities.
To rephrase the American adage, you were a big pike in the pond of Lithuanian politics, but, now, you are a minnow in the ocean of the European politics. Aren’t you sacrificing your political career in Brussels? Where do you see you can be helpful to Lithuania in the European Parliament?
I really do not see myself the way you put it. I want to position myself as an MEP who can come and help when it is needed. I do think that the major EU power establishments- the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council- have to weigh in immediately when the member states’ core interests are compromised.
To go into the details, I’ve quite recently signed an official inquiry to the Commission – by the way, supported by the most of Baltic MEPs –on new regulation concerning our cargo carriers. Perhaps you heard that some Western EU states, like Germany, are seeking a tighter, more stringent regulations as far as the eastern European cargo haulers’ working conditions are concerned. The Germans, purportedly because of concern about their wellbeing, insist they ought to sleep in Germany and elsewhere at motels, not in their truck cabins, even adjusted for rest. Well, the idea itself is, sure, nice and can be pursued in the future, but now, should the regulation be passed, it would hurt Lithuanian transporters with larger bills. Moreover: it would compromise their competitiveness and maybe push them out of Western markets. Who knows – maybe that is what some of my Western counterparts want? I am not saying I am against the proposals as far as improvement in the truckers’ working conditions is concerned, but trying to enforce the legislation now is just too premature and not in the interest of Lithuania.
The second thing I stood up for is the proposal, coming from the European Commission, concerning release of Klaipeda seaport’s territories. In brief, the Commission does not want investors already working in the seaport to be given entitlement to be the first to get right for re-leasing free industrial lots, which would make common sense in terms of business - especially for companies that have invested heavily in the port’s infrastructure improvements. However, the EC flunkies urge that release in the port territory must be done through competition. Imagine what would happen if it became the law letter? All seaports around would be able to vie for the re-lease rights in Klaipeda Seaport. Needless to say, the biggest rivals, like Rotterdam, for example, could also expect their slice of the cake. That is a crap, that’s how much I can tell about it.
Interestingly, the EC-drawn up proposal has surfaced when Klaipeda Seaport announced record stats in shipment transportation last year.
To go back to your comparison about pikes and minnows, I want to calm down everyone who worries about me: I’ll stay here (in Brussels) for a while and come back. The experience I’m getting in the EP is worth gold nuggets, but the bottom line is I’m not disappearing anywhere.
But with your public spat over a range of things with the chairman of Order and Justice Party, Rolandas Paksas, who is also your EP counterpart, your political prospects in the party, you have to agree, are in question. How do you see your political future?
Well, all kinds of turns and twists happen in politics. You know it. Though I lost my post as the first party deputy chairman and became an ordinary member of it after the December, 2014 party convention, I do not feel like slamming the door and wringing the laundry in public. Whatever the future holds for me I can tell that I will remain in the political life and I won’t be a mere observer. In fact, I’ll be a very active politician, a whole lot more exuberant than until now.
You’ve been known for your genuine approach on many things. What is your take on more stringent sanctions against Russia? Can they hold up Russia?
Indeed, there are many various opinions as to how to deal with the belligerent Russia. Sometimes drastically different, to tell the truth. It’s a little secret that some MEPs, even from Latvia, do defend Russia and its policies. And the more south states are the more friendly they tend to be to Russia, an unwritten rule.
I want to underscore this: exercising new sanctions against Russia is not the ultimate goal. But on the other hand, besides them, the European Union does not have many other options in its hands. The bottom line is the Crimea is still occupied by Russia and the pro-Russian military forces ravage Ukrainian territories in the East. I’ve met Ukrainian ambassador in the European Union - he told me if not for the Russian involvement, the conflict would have been stifled by now by the Ukrainian military. But as long as the situation is escalating, I stand for the firm and hard position against Russia.
The Lithuanian ruling coalition has entered into its third year despite the shake-ups stemming from the graft charges against Order and Justice Party and the prolonged black bookkeeping saga with the Labor Party. What does besides hunger for power cement the otherwise motley coalition?
I do not think the coalition is very much different from any ruling coalition, and particularly that one led by former premier Andrius Kubilius, the leader of the Conservatives. The inner pressure of coalition partners within a coalition is not something extraordinary; in fact, it is a usual think in the politics. I disagree with you that hunger for power keeps it together. I’d rather say the comprehension that it can achieve at least part of the things it had set out is the driving force and the cementing material.
Remember, some of the rows have been about something that parties should always find accord, like raising the minimum wage. It such a social democratic thing, I’d say, but namely the Social Democrats have bristled most against it, though gave in later.
The ongoing criminal probe into the Order and Justice Party’s some financial documents, as well as the heated row between your and the party chairman lately must could significantly dent any other party’s election hopes, though your party, historically, takes bruises very well. What is the reason for the tenacity?
Undeniably, there have been some major disagreements with the party chairman – over the adoption of litas, hydrocarbons exploration and mining, which I have always supported and, you know, namely over the latter we’ve have had the heated exchange most lately- but yet I’d not like media to be portraying it in the light it does it now. But, definitely, it would be hard for me to repudiate the harsh words that I addressed to the party chairman - over the party’s interior matters, like constructing everything around the chairman, listing him automatically on top of an electoral list and et cetera. I do believe that the latter is makes harm to the party and healthy dialogue within its ranks. Therefore, it was one of the main reasons why I spoke out against that in our party congress last November and why, having not found support, resigned from the post of the party’s first deputy chairman.
I cannot tell how it will impact the election results, but needless to say these kinds of things do not help, to put it softly. Though I still remain a member of Order and Justice Party, but I’ve made up my mind to leave it when right time comes. It’s too early though to tell where I will be heading next, but I see myself in active politics.
Voicing concerns that it might be a wrong time now to go ahead with a repeated shale gas exploration and extraction tender in Lithuania Paksas has proposed to delay it five years. Among the motifs are tumbling oil and gas prices, Chevron’s pullout from Ukraine and even the bankruptcy of the first US hydrocarbons miner. Is not that enough to give a thought on putting off the new procurement for later?
Well, sticking to the pattern of thinking, we should then perhaps to put off implementation of all projects out there and let them collect dust in the drawers. But no business works like that, the shale gas thing, too. Let’s have in mind that the actual drilling would start only in five or six years from the completion of procurement procedures.
Who on earth can tell how the oil and gas prices will look like then? Importantly, the exploration would forever end the speculations whether we have something worthy in our soil and, if yes, what the volume of the resources is. Any self-respecting state would want to learn it, except Lithuania. That makes me sad. There’s something wrong with our mentality. We, Lithuanians, should stop being suspicious about foreign investments coming to Lithuania. Lithuania will never see a booming economy if we keep snuffling at every investor. I hope this will change over the time, as it has changed in other countries.