Management favors EU membership

  • 1999-03-25
  • Daniel Silva
VILNIUS - Executives from Lithuania's largest companies are eager to join the European Union despite a drop in support for membership among the general public.

Nearly half, 48 percent, of businessmen surveyed by New Marketing Systems said they believe Lithuania's integration into the 15 nation trading bloc will bring greater opportunities for business development.

"They could identify some opportunities of joining the common market, and those opportunities seem to be more important than any threats," said Edmundas Piesarskas, one of the partners at the polling company.

Cheaper goods, subsidies for exports, better technical equipment and access to a large common market were the benefits of EU membership cited most often by the executives who took part in the survey.

The study also revealed the country's largest companies already have strong ties to the Union. Two-thirds of the companies surveyed export their goods and services to the EU. Almost all respondents, 90 percent, said they had business relations with EU member states.

The EU has become Lithuania's main trading partner. Nearly half of the country's imports came from member states last year, according to figures from the State Statistic Department. And one-third of all exports went to the EU.

But while both imports and exports have risen since 1994, the volume of imports from member states has risen much more than exports to the EU.

The result is a growing trade imbalance. In 1994, the difference between imports from the EU and Lithuanian exports to the EU stood at $98 million. By 1997 it had ballooned to $1.4 billion.

Concern over this competition from abroad was one of the most common reasons given by the 38 percent of executives who said they felt EU membership would not be good for their businesses.

Difficulty meeting EU requirements and the negative impact on the agricultural sector were other common reasons given for objecting to Union membership.

"The sample is too small to analyze differences in sectors, in industries or in geographical locations," Piesarskas said.

The 100 largest companies in Lithuania were contacted by New Marketing Systems and 52 agreed to participate in the study.

New Marketing Systems conducted the opinion poll at the beginning of November but the results were just published in "Integracijos Zinios", a magazine issued by the European Committee of the Lithuanian government.

Support for EU membership among the general public has declined steadily since last fall. One in two Lithuanians told the Vilmorus Social Research Firm last October they would vote for EU membership if the question were put to them in a referendum. In January, only 38 percent of the population voiced the same opinion.