AND THE WINNER IS… LITHUANIA!: (from left to right) Luc Van den Brande, president of the RegioStars jury, Danguole Micheleviciene, manager of the award-winning Lithuanian project, Ramunas Dilba, deputy director of EU Structural Assistance Management Department of the Lithuanian Finance Ministry, and EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn at the RegioStars awards ceremony of Jan. 31.
BRUSSELS - Lithuania keeps showing its excellence in its use of the money received from the EU’s budget (mostly via EU regional policy-related funds), which make up some one-third of the Lithuanian state budget. On Jan. 31, the three-year project titled Towards Work, which was launched in Lithuania in 2009, was awarded at the posh Oscar-style RegioStars ceremony in in the heart of Brussels’ Center for Fine Arts (aka Bozar), a palace of the arts created in 1928 by Victor Horta, Europe’s most famous Art Nouveau architect.
RegioStars are the prestigious annual awards for innovative business projects implemented with EU funding. The RegioStars Awards have been organized by the European Commission since 2008. “In the last five years, the greatest numbers of applications have been received from Austria, Belgium, the Baltic countries and Wales,” reads the European Commission’s RegioStars 2013 press release. Lithuania usually has been among the winners or finalists of RegioStars. Shirin Wheeler, former expert on EU affairs for the BBC, and sister-in-law of London Mayor Boris Johnson and now the spokesperson for EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn, said that 149 applications from all the 27 EU member states were submitted for the competition.
The ceremony was Oscar-style indeed: after the presentation of the five finalists in each of the five categories of the competition, the winner was announced and went on stage to receive their award from Belgian Luc Van den Brande, president of the RegioStars jury, and Hahn, EU commissioner for regional policy. As usual during such type of ceremonies, there were some jokes made on stage. Hahn, addressing Van den Brande, expressed surprise that Van den Brande, who, according to Hahn, is “known as womanizer,” presided over a jury dominated by men. Flemish politician Van den Brande, answering Hahn, said that, although, according to Belgian laws such personalities as the Belgian PM should be “asexual,” he could not describe himself with such a term and expressed hope about the inclusion of more women in the RegioStars 2014 jury.
The Lithuanian three-year project titled Towards Work was the only entry from the Baltic States among the finalists this year. Mostly projects creating employment opportunities were awarded at RegioStars 2013. Innovation projects from Portugal, the North West of England, Poland, Berlin and Lithuania have this year been honored with awards. Lithuania won in the category “Informing the public.”
The project Towards Work was implemented by Lithuania’s Republican Rehabilitation Center for the Deaf. A series of short video clips have been produced for broadcast on Lithuanian national TV channels promoting the employment of deaf people in Lithuania. The videos target employers to encourage them to discover the employment potential of people with hearing disabilities. During the project, specially trained recruitment agents working in a job centers helped hearing-impaired people to find work opportunities. Of 660 people with hearing disabilities actively involved in the project activities, 445 were successfully employed. The project’s cost of 891,100 euros, was covered in total from the European Social Fund.
“They were mostly employed for work which does not require high qualifications, such as jobs in supermarkets, kitchens and laundries,” Danguole Micheleviciene, manager of the awarded Lithuanian project, told The Baltic Times.
“Some employers, after they watched the videos on TV, called and said: ‘I have a job for such people.’ There were 21 job coaches all over Lithuania helping to find a job for the deaf during the project. It is easy to find a job in Vilnius, but it is much more difficult in the countryside,” Svetlana Litvinaite, vice president of the Lithuanian Association of the Deaf, said during the press conference in Bozar, adding that she was especially happy about finding some jobs for the deaf people living in the Lithuanian countryside.