The Baltic Times Summer Magazine 2018
MEP Laima Andrikienė: The most important thing is to protect our core values and lifestyle
The European Union has probably never dealt with so many challenges as it is at the moment. For the block, which unites 28 European member states, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make decisions. The EU has been shaken by a wave of victories by radical and populist parties whilst its enemies stand by, maliciously rubbing their hands. “My understanding about the essence of the European Union hasn’t changed from the very moment Lithuania joined. A strong European Union means a strong Lithuania, and vice versa,” MEP Laima Andrikiene told The Baltic Times Summer Magazine 2018.
The elections in Italy demonstrated that the wave of so-called ‘anti-establishment’ movements hasn‘t yet subsided in Europe. Are you worried about it, especially in the run-up to the European Parliament elections next year?
Because I’m a Conservative, readers will most probably immediately snub my remarks: ‘Well, the Conservatives are talking about threats again.’ However, there are too many of them hanging over the European Union now. We never had so many of them before.
My understanding about the gist of the European Union hasn’t changed from the very moment Lithuania joined. A strong European Union means a strong Lithuania, and vice versa. Because of this, unlike some of my colleagues in the European Parliament, I don’t want a weak and polarised European Union which is drifting apart. I want to see a strong European Union.
Unfortunately, the block that unites 28 member states with 510 million citizens currently looks like a hulking great giant with feet of clay. It’s unable to make decisions and it doesn’t properly execute the decisions it adopts.
The mechanism of decision-making – by the consent of all member states – on many issues discussed is often hardly achieved. Five, 10 or maybe 15 states at most may agree and adopt a unanimous decision. However when 28 states do this, reaching consensus is often impossible. It’s one of the biggest challenges the European Union has encountered.
Enemies both inside and outside the EU are happy seeing such a European Union, one entangled in long and fruitless discussions and therefore unable to adopt decisions in a timely manner. It’s a shame that the traditional parties amidst the increasing inefficiency of the EU not only fail to reflect the expectations of the people and lose their credibility, but also, in a way, help extreme political forces and extremists come to power.
There are also external threats to the European Union. Primarily, these are the fragile transatlantic relations. I’d say, with the new US Administration and a new host in the White House (President Donald Trump), these relations are being fundamentally disrupted. The European Union has to communicate with the US President in the way it would with a petulant child. Of course, the two big and unfriendly powers of China and Russia are happy about this weakening of relations.
The second threat is the Kremlin, which is becoming more and more aggressive. Europe is increasingly recognising this fact and the fraction in which I work in the European Parliament is no exception. Europe understands that not only the Baltic States, but also the other member states alone can’t deal with the challenges arising from Moscow’s aggression. Therefore, we all have to unite. The third real external threat is China and its hegemony in the world. I haven’t turned a deaf ear to the words uttered by Xi Jinping, the country’s President who’s also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, at the party’s congress: by 2050 China will dominate the world. China is acting very strategically and in a planned way towards this goal. Through a series of economic expansion strategies, billions are being allocated for the promotion of China, as well as its propaganda in the world.
Summarising, it’s obvious that both China and Russia are unhappy with their roles in the world and are seeking to change the present political order. It’ll probably sound strange, but the main occupant of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, still can’t forget the words of US President Barrack Obama, namely that Russia is only a regional power. Therefore by all means possible Russia tries to prove this isn’t the case. It interfered in the US and French presidential elections, started war actions in Syria, attacked Ukraine and annexed Crimea. In order to implement these and other possible actions of that kind, a weak and polarised European Union is needed. Maybe somebody will tell me I’m exaggerating?
Just remember what happened before the presidential elections in France, when Vladimir Putin met Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right. He supports extreme political forces in different countries. Steve Bannon, the former advisor to Donald Trump, who’s proud to be a Leninist, both before and after the elections goes to Italy to meet the leaders of the radical parties who have a very critical stance towards the EU and offers them his help.
When thinking about the European Parliament elections next year, what should the traditional parties offer in order to counter the radicals? I also have in mind the European People's Party, which you represent in the European Parliament? What message is important for you to send now?
It’s not an easy question and not an easy task for traditional parties. It’s not by chance that Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament, who, by the way, is a member of our political family [the European People's Party fraction in the European Parliament], expressed his apprehensions that extremist parties may win the European Parliament elections next year. I thought for a while, isn’t he exaggerating? Maybe his thought will mobilise the electorate to vote for the traditional parties and their policies which are based on our possibilities and an objective analysis of the situation and not on populist slogans.
The European People's Party is already preparing for the European Parliament elections. Our priorities reflect the most important concerns of European citizens, what they’ve emphasised in surveys or when voting in national elections. This is security and defence, protection of the EU’s borders, matters of youth, EU competitiveness [innovations] and social issues [poverty].
The uppermost priority is security. This issue is actually not only for the Baltic region. It’s important for everyone. I think, having declared a trade war against the European Union, Donald Trump will aim at NATO. When our long-time ally, the US, has the same goals that are in Russia’s list of priorities we have to understand that the world has changed and that there may no longer be the ally’s helping hand during a decisive moment. Therefore, we shouldn’t wonder when we hear about strengthened cooperation among EU states in the area of defence, about establishing the European Defence Fund and the funds allocated from the EU budget for the said fund and that we have to strengthen the structure of NATO. When the United Kingdom leaves the EU, 80 percent of NATO's defence spending will come from non-EU allies, namely the USA, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Norway and several other members. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Second, here comes border protection. It’s not normal that Turkey is guarding the EU’s borders. In 2015, during the refugee crisis, the European Union assumed the obligation of paying €3 billion to Turkey, so that the country would stop in its territory the streams of migrants from Syria and Iraq. We assumed the obligation and we’re paying the amount annually. Another sum of €3 billion was promised in case this will be necessary. We can’t be sure that the day won’t come when the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is flirting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, might say, “Deal with your migrants yourselves!” We have to protect our borders ourselves.
And yet another priority is our youth. It’s not normal when in the 21st century, in the richest continent on the planet which is Europe, in many EU member states young people under 30 are the most unemployed social group. This means it’s the most prone to social vulnerability.
We all were or are young, therefore we know well what the majority of young people seek, namely to finish their studies and find a properly paid job which corresponds to their education. Today, when a young graduate can’t find a job for a couple of years, which corresponds to his or her education and knowledge, this demoralises such a person very much. Unfortunately, in the European Union, in the economically-wise richest block on the planet, a new generation of such young unemployed people has grown up.
The good news is that the European Commission and the current European Parliament are proposing to double the amount of funds allocated for youth programmes and studies in the 2021–2027 budget, which would improve their competitiveness in the labour market.
It’s the youth that especially supports the idea of the European Union. Surveys demonstrate that the younger the person is the more he or she supports the European Union. As many as 75 percent of 20-year-old Brits are currently in favour of the UK staying in the European Union.
Innovations and scientific research are also among the priorities of the EU budget. This doesn’t surprise us as we live under conditions of global and especially intense competition.
The pressure on the European Union is big, exercised firstly by China and Russia and now by the USA. Therefore, the European Union must allocate large funds for the purpose of enhancing competitiveness for everyone not five but 10 years in advance.
Does the current French President Emanuel Macron, who won the presidential elections as an independent candidate, have the potential to also become a non-formal leader of the European Union given the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to leave the Chancellor’s position after her current term ends?
In April the Members of the European Parliament had the chance to see and hear Emanuel Macron in the European Parliament. Before his speech there were all kinds of opinions. Some were waiting for it with scepticism, whilst others expressed their support. After his passionate, pro-European speech it was obvious. Macron made an impression on everybody. He shared his future vision for the EU as if he was waiving the European Union flag high above his head. We were listening to his speech and thought, what would be, what kind of France we would have if Le Pen had won the elections and now would be standing in the European Parliament with her EU future vision?!
The most important question now is can Macron become the new de facto leader of the European Union such as Angela Merkel? Actually she expressed her support for him. However, meanwhile Merkel hasn’t yet said that Macron might successfully take the baton from her. I, just as many other European Parliament members, hope that the leadership vacuum will be filled as early as next year right after the European Parliament elections.
Our fraction in the European Parliament is concerned that Macron doesn’t belong to any of the traditional parties. Therefore, we are all asking ourselves: who are you Emanuel Macron? It seems to me that his political views are closest to those of the liberals and he needs the support of the parties in order to realise his political programme. The European Parliament elections will be an examination not only for Macron. How many mandates will his political movement (not party!) win and in which fraction they will want to work?