Discussions about Lithuania’s negotiations with the European Union, the pace and content of these negotiations, have heated up of late. A resolution on Lithuania’s integration into the EU, adopted by the parliament on 23 January, is the latest example.
Indeed, the year 2001, or the first half of the year to be more precise, will be particularly important in the history of EU enlargement. The reason for this is the presidency of Sweden, a strong supporter of the Baltic States’ membership in the EU. Obviously, Lithuanian politicians are calling upon the government to seize this opportunity and accelerate the negotiations process. In addition to that, negotiations on the most important and “vulnerable” areas, such as agriculture, transport, environment protection, etc., are either underway or will start shortly. Decisions in these areas will have a significant effect on the future and final outcome of the negotiations.
Although the importance of the speed of the negotiations is widely recognised, many questions evolving in the process are being instigated by ongoing political discussions about EU membership. Some political parties are exploiting such issues in order to bolster their popularity and achieve other political goals.
The main opposition parties, especially the leftist parties, proclaim their general support for EU membership but at the same time take a critical stand on issues that might bolster their popularity or simply capture public attention. The Social Democratic Coalition’s proposal to hold a referendum on the issue of selling agricultural land to foreigners is one example. Although this idea was later abandoned, a requirement to apply a transition period in this area has found expression in the final text of the parliament’s resolution. One cannot call such proposals anything other than populism, for there is no economic justification for them. Quite the opposite, the removal of the existing restrictions on land purchase would be beneficial to all people in Lithuania both politically and economically.
Political declarations are an effective way to attract the attention of the foreign diplomatic community and observers to the intentions and activities of local politicians. Sadly enough, Lithuania’s integration into the EU is being increasingly used in flirting with voters. If they are truly concerned about the interests of the Lithuanian people, the members of parliament, both of the ruling coalition and those in opposition, had better spend more time analysing Lithuania’s negotiation positions and the work of the parliamentary EU Committee.
On the other hand, political debates about the integration process are natural given that EU integration had become a matter of domestic policy long ago. Take all the laws that are being adopted as “essential for Lithuania’s integration into the EU.” Naturally, there will be discussions on issues such as the functions of the country’s central bank, indirect taxes, bankruptcy legislation, a pollution tax, agriculture, and others, especially as time comes to switch from general principles to particular legal regulations, where there is ample room for improvising.
Another dilemma revolves around the pace of the negotiations on the one hand and the quality of laws and their implementation on the other. The European Commission, too, has accentuated the latter, although for obvious reasons it has neither ability nor obligation to ensure it. Recently, the Government of Lithuania was provided with a list of thirty laws that are “necessary” and “essential” for EU negotiations and must be adopted before the middle of this year. Many of these laws will have a profound impact on the Lithuanian economy and society. In order to ensure a proper adjustment to EU standards and successful negotiations over transition periods, it is necessary to evaluate the economic impact that these laws will have. One example of such evaluations is a study by the Lithuanian Free Market Institute on the impact that integration into the EU will have on the road haulage business in Lithuania. A summary of this analysis is presented in this issue of “The Free Market.”
Although they require time, expertise and other resources, such evaluations, rather than narrow group interests, demands of screaming activists, the experiences of other negotiating countries or the position of the European Commission, should serve as the basis in shaping negotiation positions. This is not to suggest that the political environment or the position of the negotiation partners should be ignored. However, only proper substantiation of Lithuania’s negotiation positions may secure Lithuania’s interests. This is important not only during the negotiation process and after a preliminary closing of negotiation chapters. It will be equally important after Lithuania enters the EU because the need to properly represent Lithuania’s interests will be as compelling as never before.