VILNIUS - The Social Liberal Union, which left the ruling coalition several weeks ago, announced over the weekend that it is now part of the opposition. The Social Liberals decided to leave the ruling coalition and withdraw its two ministers from the government after Paulauskas was removed from the post of parliamentary chairman in a secret no-confidence vote on April 11. In a statement, the party declared that "removal of (Social Liberals' leader) Arturas Paulauskas from the post of parliamentary chairman indicated the ruling coalition partners' violation of the coalition agreement and causing a government crisis."
The Social Liberals adopted a resolution declaring their adherence to "constructive opposition" on April 29 during the party's congress.
Paulauskas, who is still believed to have presidential ambitions, was elected head of the party for another four years. He was the only candidate proposed by the party.
The Social Liberals now have 11 members in the 141-seat Parliament. Latest public opinion surveys show that the party would fail to cross the required five-percent threshold in elections to win parliamentary mandates.
Speaking at a news conference, Paulauskas told journalists that he did not expect to become opposition leader, a post currently held by Conservative leader Andrius Kubilius. "I believe this is not the issue I should start our work with. I see cooperation not competition for posts," said Paulauskas, who served as interim president after the impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas and is also a former general prosecutor.
Meanwhile, outgoing Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, another top Social Liberal, urged lawmakers to retain the intensity of integration into the European Union and focus efforts on the preparations for joining the Schenghen visa-free zone.
"Lithuania should keep in step with the core of European integration. This, however, requires certain fundamental changes within Lithuania," he said at a May 2 parliamentary session dedicated to the second anniversary of EU membership.
"We now have a unique opportunity to catch up with the EU's average economic level, but this requires not only efficient but also purposeful use of EU assistance. The national strategy needs clear priorities, a clear vision and a clear choice. The negotiated financial perspective for the 2007-2013 period could help us translate the new vision of Lithuania into reality."
The foreign minister said that Lithuania ought to finish its homework on preparing in due time efforts to join the visa-free Schenghen treaty in 2007. In his words, joining the zone would give Lithuania enormous responsibility of guarding about one fifth of the EU's external land border and thus contribute to safety. The decision to lift controls on internal borders will first of all be a sign of European partners' trust in Lithuanian capacity to carry out the task.
"I believe that during the two years Lithuania has been seen as an active member of the European Union and the international community. We've become more open and now formulate the interests of Lithuania with the view of the European and global context. I think there has been a major breakthrough in our foreign policy - we now have a goal to change our environment rather than come passively under its influence," said Valionis. Valionis has headed the Foreign Ministry since 2000.