Member of European Parliament who did not take the bait and will remain in Brussels

  • 2012-10-17
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Justas Vincas Paleckis, a 70-year-old Lithuanian MEP and a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, could have been on the Lithuanian Social Democrats’ parliamentary election ballot like  other outstanding Lithuanian MEPs. He likely would have won the ballot in an overwhelming victory – he is a well-known and respected  party stalwart he is. But unlike his EP Lithuanian peers he has rejected the proposal to have his name printed on the ballot. “I don’t want my name to serve as  bait,” he said modestly to The Baltic Times correspondent in his Brussels office.

Were there any other reasons besides this not to participate in the elections?
There are other Lithuanian MEPs as well who decided not to take part in the race. I’ve decided to stay in Brussels to avoid the ambiguous situation I’d have been thrown into by taking such an opportunity.  It is quite clear that some of my fellow MEPs will not pursue a legislative stint in the Lithuanian Parliament, but will continue working in Brussels.

So to speak bluntly, they are like  bait for the voter. That seems a bit odd, to say the least. Shouldn’t the European Parliament rule out possibilities for such electoral tricks?
I don’t really think that a piece of legislation is needed here. In fact, MEPs from other Western countries also have their names added onto local ballots. But frankly, I believe it is always better for a voter to know that a candidate on the ballot won’t try to switch sides a year or two later.
When it comes to certain rules in politics, I always admire the example of our party’s stalwart, Ceslovas Jursenas, who had the best chance to win a seat in the Parliament (and make the party list more attractive) but instead  chose a deserved retirement.

Some large EU member states have announced the much-debated initiative of moving the EU along the path of  increased federalism, which is seen as a necessity to tackle the euro crisis. But won’t it lead to a possible EU disintegration instead?
Certainly, there is such a risk. The crisis that makes Europe grow closer in tackling it may definitely lead to a two-tier Europe. That is very possible.
Anti-European sentiment has been quite strong in Europe, and Lithuania is not an exception. In fact, I’d say it has been growing. We just need to flip through some of our media, or listen to some of those pre-electoral campaign speeches.
A good portion of nationalism is quite a good thing, but putting your nation and your national interest above heads of the rest is really a bad thing. And if the European Union moves that way, a very murky future may possibly loom for all of us.
Speaking of a two-or-more tier Europe, I definitely see  budding signs of it. On the one hand, we have a cohort of euro nations, with Estonia being one of them. And there is the group of nations, including Lithuania, still with its own currencies and, therefore, a possibility of riding in a slower EU cart.

But don’t you reckon the nationalistic manifestations could have been a lot stronger during the election year?
Well, indeed, I have to admit that, taking into account the sensitivity of the time, the parties have not gone to the extremes. Probably with an exception of one or two of them.
It’s really a good thing. I am quite convinced that, if we allowed nationalism to overcome the entirety of Europe, it would mean a swift regress to the beginning of the 20th century when he who possessed larger fists and would continuously engage in belligerent behavior, ruled others. No need to say this scenario would mean  deadly danger to a small country like Lithuania.

What position do you reckon Lithuania has taken ahead of a possibly two-tier Europe? And how will it impact our future?
I’ve been closely following the debates, with the presence of our head-of-state, and I believe that Lithuania supports the idea of a closer Europe. I believe that is a right stance the country is likely to take.
Quite frankly, I was quite surprised in the debates by the position of the Labor Party leader, Viktoras Uspaskichas, who, quite bluntly, has expressed his unwavering support for a more federal Europe. I can just assume he’s done that out of his pure business interests.
I may be repeating myself, but more federalism within Europe means also more safety to all small European states.

Can you be a bit more precise on the initiative of a state federation-oriented Europe? What other spheres besides finance would the Federation of European nations  take over from us?
Everything that is really important. Like the approach to foreign policy which has been created as a common one, but has so far failed to date. Like a common energy system which is of utmost importance to us. If the European Union negotiated the prices and supply on our behalf, we’d definitely see a lot more favorable conditions than the ones we have now.
And, sure, being in a more cohesive Europe would greatly benefit us in having more favorable business opportunities, etc.

Would you see any threats to our national security if Lithuania were put in the boat of the second-speed Europe?
Yes, indeed, we’d face certain risks if this happened. But the question is whether we are able now financially and economically to join the first-tier Europe’s boat.
I’ve just received some recent data on emigration, and they, quite honestly, look quite scary to me: Lithuania is losing its young labor force at  a frenetic speed.
Decampment of our young people can have very adverse ill-effects on our country now and in the near future. A big economic catastrophe.
For example, in 2010, a whopping 77 thousand people left Lithuania, an indicator that puts us on the very bottom of the EU statistics. In comparison, only eight thousand people left Latvia that year.  Meanwhile, some other countries, like Italy and the UK, saw a significant increase in population growth in 2010. In that light, Lithuania looks very miserable.
What makes me very sad is that nowadays our best young people, educated and very creative, leave for abroad.

But the Conservative-led Government has on numerous occasions underscored the economic profit that Lithuania gains from  temporary or permanent emigres, the billions of hard currency being pumped into their Lithuanian relatives’ bank accounts.

As far as I know, the official statistics on that is some four or five billion litas yearly.  A really huge amount. But what happens when the expats  complete their naturalization, or when their old family members that they now send money to  pass away some day?
They will stop sending the money to Lithuania. That’s it.
When the expats’ children start attending English schools and speaking more English than Lithuanian, this is the sign that the roots with the native Motherland have become very weak and are about to be cut off.

The EU 2014-2020 financial framework foresees a 15-20 percent cut in financing for Lithuania. What is to blame for the reduction?
When it comes to financing our agricultural needs, the three Baltic States have traditionally been allocated lesser funding than the rest of the EU.
Nevertheless, I remain optimistic and I believe we’ll succeed in being allotted more funding for that purpose.
The new methodology linking  payouts to  national GDP is partly to blame for the reduction. The Baltic MEPs have taken a number of measures to overturn it. It is really very adverse to the Baltics which has seen a steep plunge in  GDPs.

But some say that the EU financing decrease is related to Croatia’s EU accession. Don’t you see the relation between the EU payouts and the larger number of new EU member states?
Croatia is nearly the size of Lithuania, so I don’t think that the funding for it could put a larger strain on the EU budget. That is not the case.
In the long term, with the EU memberships given to larger states in the latitude, yes, it may put a bigger strain on the EU, but that won’t happen in a while, as the EU has put  expansion on halt.

Perhaps only Iceland will be embraced by the EU soon. But it will be a donor country, not a recipient.
Since we’re talking just ahead of the parliamentary elections in Lithuania, I can hardly stop here without asking a couple of questions about them. Do you reckon the election to be surprise-free?
The biggest surprise, if I can call it that way, will be the larger number of votes by the Drasos Kelias Party (founded on the double-homicide-pedophilia saga that took place in the settlement of Garliava, in the proximity of Kaunas-TBT).
However, its ascent will show our political immaturity that you won’t see anywhere in the old Europe where new parties have first to gain some ground on the municipal level.
Even Estonia has progressed more in that sense as new-formed parties are not embraced there like in Lithuania.
Entrusting a new party with making decisions for a country is like allowing an inexperienced driver to get you up mountains on a slippery and precarious mountain path.

As you know, the voter turnout in Lithuania usually hovers around 50 percent. What would boost the showing at  ballots in the future?
Probably you’re hinting at an e-voting system. In fact, I support it. But, on the other hand, Lithuanians can be very sly in finding ways to get around something new, therefore, the national system may be more vulnerable to scammers’ or other e-nerds’ hackings than elsewhere. That is what concerns not only me but also all e-voting supporters.
By the way, only Estonia has embraced the e-voting system.  Without going into details, it is clear that there are certain e-voting drawbacks that keep such progressive countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK from introducing it. But, certainly, the Estonian way is likely to be followed by others in the future. By us as well.