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MEP Laima Andrikiene, a stalwart of Lithuania’s Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD) and a member of the European Parliament’s Christian Democrats Faction, is in her 9th year in the European legislative chamber. But now, she says, time has come for change. “I’m just at the point where I see myself already doing something different, perhaps plowing executive furrows of work on behalf of Lithuanian government instead of continuing with legislation. Not sure yet to what kind of waters, and where, this new quest can bring me to, but I’m ready for new challenges,” admitted the seasoned euro-parliamentarian to The Baltic Times correspondent, whom she met during a busy EP plenary session in Strasbourg.
Is there anything extraordinary happening nowadays in the European Parliament?
Well, there’re a lot of journalists coming from all over to every plenary session of the European Parliament. And if there are euro-parliamentarians seeking closer contacts with journalists, the efforts should be welcome. I’ve known you for some time already, so this was my main reason to invite you for a chat.
I understand you are hinting at the upcoming election of the European Parliament to be held at the end of May, and you’re definitely right. Indeed, it is felt all over the legislative chambers. There is certainly more of all kinds of action, initiatives, events and, sure, more contacts with media.
Are you also already gearing up for the election?
Let me answer you this way… If nothing more interesting comes along, perhaps some nice surprise I could expect, then, sure, I’ll run again for a MEP seat.
What kind of surprise are you talking about?
Well, when I speak of European work, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a stint at the European Parliament. There are certainly lots of other activities - not necessarily EP legislation - which I would perhaps like to try out. Perhaps some job on a governmental executive level that Lithuania could entrust me with in the EU institutions, having assessed my Brussels experience.
You’ve spent nearly two tenures in the European Parliament. How has it changed over the years?
Indeed, I’ve been here for quite some time. And to answer your question, I’ve developed and sharpened my intuition to an extent where I can unmistakably tell about what my colleague will talk about once he or she stands up. Perhaps it may sound as not such a big deal, but over the years I’ve worked out my own network of EP connections. Therefore when there is a need to react, I know where to head and what to do, which all takes quite some time to learn here. Going into the specifics, amid the disapproval of some of the colleagues, I had to exercise much resolve and resilience in drawing up an appropriate EP resolution aimed at lifting the Russia-set constraints for Lithuanian truckers on the Lithuanian and Russian border. And, in fact, I managed to get it, along with some help from other MEPs, into the EP agenda and pass later a resolution urging to lift the constraints that would bring our truckers around 2 million euros in loss daily.
How will the HU-LCD sift out the right candidates for the European Parliament election?
Actually, the process has already started and is ongoing, with the party’s divisions in the country raising their candidates for the election. I can’t tell yet if I’ve secured my slot on the final list, but I’m really grateful to a number of the party’s divisions that have already enrolled me on the list.
You dared to throw the gauntlet down for the party’s chairman seat against the long-lasting party chairman Andrius Kubilius. Why did you decide to drop the race, having secured the support of some of the rank-and-file? Perhaps back then you’d sent a clear message that you want to leave the EP?
Well, if you really want to wind it back, frankly, it is not even as important for me where I am and what kind of work I do for the interests of Lithuania. As far as I remember, I have explained the reasons for the withdrawal, among which the main one was the appearance in the primary of the party’s true stalwart, Vytautas Landsbergis. I was really set to challenge all others on the list, but I just did not feel it was right to compete with Landsbergis.
Why, being a very influential party with many top-caliber politicians, has HU-LCD decided for the upcoming presidential election to support the candidacy of incumbent President Dalia Grybauskaite instead of coming up with its own candidate?
Grybauskaite seems to be the best candidate for the party, like five years ago. The party’s top-echelon has not changed its opinion on her over the years, giving, obviously, her credit for the work she’s done.
But does it not purport that the HU-LCD does not have its own leaders capable of grappling with her?
Logically, the conclusion should be exactly this.
The incumbent Lithuanian Prime Minister and chairman of the Social Democratic Party Algirdas Butkevicius is unfazed whether your colleague in the European Parliament, MEP Zigmantas Balcytis, lands the party’s nomination as the presidential primary’s candidate.
Speaking of the Social Democratic supposed candidates, I don’t deem them as top-notch listers yet. Taking into account all the names the party has already come up with, it seems to me for now to be a part of the public relations and weighing the possible candidates. The tactics do play out well in acquainting the public with the less-known names, or pulling up the ratings of those already well-known. But as I am sure that the ever-changing list is their part of the PR tactics, I am convinced the most of the names mentioned for the presidential race we’ll see ending up on the Social Democrats’ EP candidate list.
Since we’re talking in the midst of the EP plenary session, which of the decisions do you believe will be the most important for all of us in Lithuania?
Certainly, the new EU budget - a new financial period for 2014-2020 - comes on top of all. I want to remind [you] that before the Lithuanian EU Council Presidency there had been many skeptics who doubted our ability to approve the EU budget during our stint, hinting that due to the ramifications of the economic crunch the duty should perhaps have been handed over to the next holder of the presidency, Greece. I’m proud of Lithuania, that we’ve coped with the task very well, passing the budget with spending by the EU for the seven-year period, capped at 908 billion euros and commitments at 960 billion euros.
We’ve aimed the numbers to be in the range of one trillion euros, but, on the other hand, we’ve managed to cope well with the EU member states’ debts for 2013, seeing them in decline. Lithuania has held on to the request to funnel as much as 2.5 billion euros for ERASMUS programs and wide-range scientific research across the continent.
What can Lithuania expect from the new EU financial perspective?
We’ve done well and secured a 10 percent larger EU budget allocation, compared to the previous financial period.
Whose merit is it? The former European Commission Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite’s?
(Grins) I really would not like to attribute it to a single person as it never can be the result of a single person’s effort. I came across today some comments on the Internet that, ostensibly, Laima Andrikiene is poised to chalk up the achievement as hers. God forbid that’s not true! Certainly, as a member of the EP Budget Committee, I’m happy we’ve succeeded in overcoming all the obstacles and [reached] accord on the issue of the EU budget.
What does your trained EP sixth sense tell you of the make-up of the European Parliament past the May election? Is there not a risk it will see a lot larger presence of euro skeptics?
Indeed, there is anticipation of a larger number of EU-skeptically-poised MEPs, particularly those from the UK, and perhaps some other countries. But the bottom line is whether they will have the status of the largest EP faction, which entitles it then to some core posts in Brussels, like president of the European Parliament and president of the European Commission. Certainly, the European Social Democrats and Christian Democrats that have been tightly holding the grips of power in the biggest part of the continent should be concerned the most now. I want to be a poor harbinger on that, but I am afraid the traditional parties may lose part of their prevalence in the new make-up of the European Parliament.
How upsetting for you will be the failure of getting Ukraine to the Vilnius Summit table for signing the EU Eastern Partnership Agreement?
Believe me, the issue of Ukraine has been number 1 or 2 on my work agenda for the past half-year. As a member of the EP International Trade Committee, with the focus on the Caucasian issues, my primary duty was also monitoring the developments in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus. Certainly, in this context, the developments in Ukraine have been very important to me. Even though the issues are not on the agenda of the last EP plenary session, outside the chambers all are buzzing on what is going on, with a few days till the Summit left. [Ukraine has already bowed out from signing the agreement, though the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich, has arrived in Vilnius for the summit this week].
Don’t you think that the other candidates for the EU Eastern Partnership Program, Moldova and Georgia, have been left in the shadows amid the focus on Ukraine?
By now we’ve obtained all assurances from Georgia that is ready to make the move. I’ve personally been assured by the Georgian Parliament chairman that the country is ready for signing. Just to make sure, Georgia will initial the agreement, not sign it, in Vilnius. Signing will be other step.
What could be the immediate aftermath of Ukraine’s non-initializing the agreement to those other candidates that opt in?
Speaking illustratively, if Ukraine bows out, other candidates, likely Georgia and Moldova, will remain ‘opened,’ not covered in the bid by a stronger and more influential Ukraine. I remember when, yet before any intentions of inviting the countries for the EU Partnership talks, I saw the paperwork, I said: ‘Gee, the countries face an insurmountable task! It’s amazing how much they’ve done by now, with just a step to the coveted prize left!’ Now the entire world sees that the task has been feasible, and this is very rewarding.