Brazauskas presents his program

  • 2001-07-19
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - On July 12 the Lithuanian Parliament voted to approve the new Cabinet of Ministers' governmental program, giving the new Cabinet of Social Democrat leader Algirdas Brazauskas a mandate to operate. MPs voted 81-36 with six abstentions to approve the program. MPs of the Social Democrat, the Social Liberal and the New Democracy parties predictably voted in favor of the program.

A ceremony of government members' oaths was held after the vote.

Presenting his center-left government's program before the Parliament on July 9, Algirdas Brazauskas committed himself to continue Lithuania's policy of Euro-Atlantic integration. This program was revealed to be far more right-wing than the Social Democrat program released during last October's parliamentary election campaign.

Brazauskas said that predictions by right-wingers about the new Cabinet's lack of modernity and Western orientation were nonsense.

"Despite doubts from the right-wing opposition, we will firmly continue the present integration policy formed by all main Lithuanian parties. We will seek the country's strategic foreign policy aims by accelerating and deepening negotiations with the European Union and preparing for NATO membership. The government will do everything it has in its power to ensure Lithuania is invited to NATO during the 2002 summit in Prague," Brazauskas said.

"It's also not true to say that we are going to pull the reins 'back to the left' or just to the east. The left, the right, our neighbors, Moscow, Brussels - they are not ideological barriers for us. We will turn state policy toward the Lithuanian person, his everyday worries and interests. Euro-Atlantic integration, security and pure economics are only a means to create the well-being of our citizens," Brazauskas said in an address to the MPs.

"We will seek to channel Lithuania's progress and growth toward a socially oriented market," he said, adding that the majority of EU member-states are ruled by fellow leftists and have the same interior policy.

The new Cabinet retains half of the former liberal-social liberal coalition government's Cabinet, with ministers responsible for EU and NATO integration, plus respected Foreign Minister Valionis and Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, still in place. There are six new ministers in the 13-minister government.

Brazauskas made a point of mentioning there are three women in the Cabinet.

He promised "no revolutions" and said that all Conservative or Liberal or non-party vice ministers and government advisers can keep their jobs.

Brazauskas' government rejected a plank of the Social Democrat election program to reserve for the state 51 percent of shares in large "strategic" companies. Now Brazauskas talks only about 34 percent of shares under state control in such companies.

Lithuania's new prime minister said his governmental program intentionally gave priority to the most urgent social problems: unemployment, poverty and support for families and the young. However, Brazauskas will not introduce progressive taxation. During the parliamentary elections the Social Democrats promoted this idea, pointing out that such a tax system (when people pay based on income) exists in the United States and most EU countries.

"Based also on the ideas of the Liberal Rolandas Paksas government's employment program we will seek to solve this pressing problem with all economic, fiscal, monetary, educational, business climate improvement, labor market expansion, and regional and rural development measures," he said.

Brazauskas said that he wants Lithuania's social and economic system to be the same as "in Germany, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands" where socially-oriented market economies function.

Brazauskas said the government's tax policy will take on a social aspect, with gradual reductions in income tax on the lowest earners and a rise in the base threshold for taxable income. He said the new government pledges in its program to continue pension reforms. Brazauskas promised to ensure higher education for everyone.

Brazauskas also said "one of the main priorities" is information technology. He said competition in the telecommunications service sphere has to begin to make the Internet affordable and stimulus has to be given to businesses in the IT sector.

He also promised to devote more attention to Lithuania's troubled farmers, promising to lobby for up to 10 percent of the state budget going to the agriculture sector.

Brazauskas said the government would carry out a strict borrowing policy and keep its obligations to international partners. He said the privatization process and the use of funds it generates needed to be improved, and small- and medium-sized businesses needed to be encouraged.

"Evaluate and criticize us in such a way as to prevent harm to the country's strategic interests and international prestige," Brazauskas told the opposition.

"Brazauskas will travel to meet with NATO Secretary General George Robertson, EU and Belgian officials as soon as possible," Valionis said emphasizing that Brazauskas wants to reassure Brussels that Lithuania's foreign goals remain the same. The meeting between Brazauskas and Robertson is scheduled for July 26.

The newspaper Lietuvos Rytas reported that there were not many differences between the programs of Brazauskas' government and the previous right-of-center governments of Conservative Andrius Kubilius and Liberal Paksas. "Why do we need to change governments if the policy remains the same?" the paper asked in its July 10 editorial.

Conservative MPs were publicly complaining that nothing leftist was left in the Brazauskas government program. "Nothing remains from the Social Democratic promises. You cheated your electorate," Conservative MP Arvydas Vidziunas shouted to Brazauskas after the presentation of the new government program in the Parliament.