Rasa Jukneviciene, a Lithuanian MEP and a member of the European Peoples Party (Christian Democrats) fraction is convinced that when looking at the future, Lithuania's choice of values in relations with Belarus is the most important: “The most important thing for us is a democratic and predictable Belarus. While our long-term goal is that our nations would not be kept apart divided by nearly an iron curtain. We have a common history and I believe a common future,” Jukneviciene told The Baltic Times Magazine.
When looking from a wider perspective, do you think the European Union will come out of the coronavirus pandemic stronger or weaker?
We may say that the European Union from its very founding has been facing crises and some of them are permanent. Usually, after most of the crises it comes out stronger. Let’s remember the year 2015, when thousands of refugees were flooding into the European Union. It was a large-scale crisis when the management thereof was delegated to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency - Frontex (it was established in 2001 in order to help the EU member-states and Schengen Associated Countries to protect external borders of the free movement area).
The dictator of Belarus, Lukashenko, is trying to provoke a refugee crisis, using migrants as a part of hybrid war against Lithuania, however, the European Union is much better prepared to fight such crises.
The coronavirus pandemic delivered a blow to the whole world, it was and still remains a big challenge for the European Union and its member-states. According to the European Union agreement with its member-states, its healthcare system is not subject to competence of the European Union’s central structures. It is subject to the competence of the Member–States.
In a short period of time the European Union had to act very quickly. Again, the European Union, during a short period of time, found the necessary instrument to control the pandemic. We should be thankful to the European Union (which, when cooperating with well-respected vaccine producers in the world, could and can supply the vaccines for its member states) for the fact that now (we were talking at the beginning of June) more than a third of the residents of Lithuania have been vaccinated. We know that a larger part of the world has not yet started vaccination at all or barely launched the vaccination.
Will the pandemic deepen inequality not only among different countries of the world but also among whole continents? Can those countries and continents become more prone to influence from super–states vaccine donors?
In the European Parliament I work at the Development (DEVE) committee in which, figuratively speaking, we examine and model the whole post-pandemic world. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic is high on our agenda: the virus defies state borders and it does not pay any attention to social status nor the states’ ranking in the welfare index. Vaccine availability is a big problem. It is natural that big developed countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom or the European Union vaccinate their citizens first. Indeed, we see that some of the countries with autocratic regimes – including the ones you mentioned before, use vaccination for their own goals, however, we should not allow, clearly speaking, to exchange our values for cargoes or vaccines of those countries.
You have mentioned Belarus. Do you think that worsening of the situation may just continue swelling up the wave of migrants from Belarus to Lithuania? Is that not what we are seeing now in Lithuania?
I think with help of the European Union we will cope with that, however, to tell the truth, it is a problem. Some of our possibilities, for instance drawing on our army’s help, have not yet been used. The most important thing is that our society should put trust in our government. Namely destabilization of our state and the government is the aim of Belarus and Russia. There will be no tensions because of several hundreds of refugees, however thousands of them means trouble.
Does the European Union have leverage to punish the autocratic regime of Belarus? What would be your answer to fears that Lithuania may lose Belarusian cargoes which, in Klaipeda Sea Port amount to almost thirty percent?
I think that a choice of values is the most important for Lithuania. Our long-term goal is that our two nations would not be separated by nearly an iron curtain. We share a lot of common history and, I believe, a common future. The one who is communicating and doing business with the autocratic regime, as it is in Belarus, first of all, is causing a problem for itself.
When talking about sanctions against Belarus, I would think we are focusing on them too much. We will always find them, especially when for certain sectors, for instance oil products transportation, the sanctions have been applied to a small degree or have not been applied at all. But, please agree, we cannot put up with almost a military junta in the Center of Europe.
In the European Union an idea of establishing a military tribunal for such dictators as the one in Belarus is being considered. An example of such a tribunal – trials of leaders of ex-Yugoslavia for genocide on ethnic grounds. There is a commission already established in the European Union, which will consider establishing a military tribunal against the dictator of Belarus (Aleksandr Lukashenko) too.
You are a member of the Euronest parliamentary assembly, which unites members of the European Parliament and parliamentarians from the Eastern Partnership countries, like Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan (Belarus’ membership has been suspended) to promote dialog and exchange. Do you expect a speedier europeanization in these countries, which are very different?
Indeed, as you have rightly said: they are all very different. Due to this even conditional categorization occurred: the first trio – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – are more pronounced in seeking membership in the European Union.
However, in terms of europeanization Georgia is a clear leader in the region, even though its path is not easy. To my belief Georgia has complied with all requirements for negotiations on becoming a NATO member. Especially bearing in mind that Montenegro has already been invited to join NATO.
When talking about Ukraine, I believe Ukraine will speed up its pro-European reforms and will become an EU member – sooner or later.
Armenia, prior to the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, was also an active EU-EPC dialog member, however, after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh it became especially dependent on Russia.
I am particularly pleased with the events in Moldova, where in the autumn the pro-European Maia Sandu became president and Moldova’s parliamentary elections in July produced a clearly pro-U parliament. It is very exciting and encouraging.
You are a member of the European Parliament and a member of the European Peoples Party (Christian Democrats) fraction. Most probably such discussions, as recent ones in Lithuania on a gender-neutral partnership law or the Istanbul Convention, can hardly be understood in your political group?
I will not withhold my opinion: I received angry mail too, however, I am very pleased about the mail I received this morning, in which a person expressed thanks for the support of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats in favor of the partnership law. I have received and still receive a lot of thanks from people of the younger generation.
To tell you the truth, the attitude of the European Peoples Party (Christian Democrats) political group members in respect of partnerships, especially those encompassing homosexual couples and LGBT issues is far from uniform. But this is natural: the political group unites representatives of both the old and the new Eastern and Central European democracies.
I will remind you that family issues, including the one mentioned above, is the competence of the EU member-states. Of course, as long as they do not violate human rights. When, say, certain law-making initiatives on declaring LGBT–free zones emerge in some municipalities in Poland, it is an obvious collision with the EU human rights protection packages. When joining the European Union, all states undertake to comply with them.
By the way, about the Istanbul Convention you mentioned, so much untruth has been said about it, often it was done consciously which makes me cower. Probably, some members in our societies have already forgotten about the fact that relatively recently women, including those in Europe, did not have voting rights.
Violence against women is still a problem and the Istanbul Convention helps to address it.
By the way, the title of that convention is not precise. Its full title is as follows: The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which was adopted in the city of Istanbul.