International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics
Friday, 24.03.2017, 18:04
Lithuanian President presented the Nation Address
Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This time our meeting – provided for in the Constitution – is taking place at a very special moment.
The longest-serving Government reports on its work, elections are approaching, society has started to divide into camps and finds it more difficult to speak the same language. We stand on the threshold of decisions critical for our country and the future of our children.
Therefore, today we need to agree on the most important work agenda. It is the lack of agreement that prevents us from moving on faster. To put it more precisely, it does not allow us to break away from the vicious circle of unfinished work – a circle that, year after year, keeps us going round, wasting energy, time and money.
We start things but do not finish them.
We had rounds of reforms reforming the reforms. Huge efforts and even bigger funds were directed to priority projects which after regular elections would be replaced by other projects, also of high priority.
We can count the projects exceeding a political cycle on the fingers of our hand. This speaks of a significant fact – the importance and unfortunately the lack of continuity.
In a democracy, there is a diversity of opinions and political forces, and the right of decision making is passed on from hands to hands. Therefore, if we want to have results, we must have agreement on the most important work to be done and its continuity.
We have examples in the history of independent Lithuania when our ultimate goals were not hindered by political colors.
That is how we gained independence. That is how we became members of the European Union and NATO.
We kept discussing things for years, but our eventual decisions and agreement led us to the ultimate goal – which means we knew where we were going.
Today we face no less critical tasks. If we achieve them, we will hand down a stronger state to our children.
Therefore, I invite us all not to rush around: let us agree on key tasks so that changing governments would continue to move in the same direction.
I will start with the economy.
Bringing the financial situation under control is unquestionably the greatest achievement of this government. It succeeded in protecting us from financial collapse at the cost of its ratings and popularity.
However, there are no guarantees that a similar economic situation will not happen again. Attempts to revive financial populism are heard not only in Lithuania. In a Europe tired of the debt crisis and austerity, this could cause disastrous contamination, especially in countries with no immunity to excessive spending.
We cannot change the global economic environment. We cannot escape its impact on our small and open economy. But we have to be ready for the unexpected and prepared to respond.
Therefore, only a strong obligation to adhere to financial discipline can prevent any kind of attempts to put us back on the path of irresponsible spending.
Having learned the lessons – our own and those of others – of living beyond means, the idea of financial discipline deserves not only broad political agreement, but also integration into national law. The Fiscal Stability Treaty signed by European leaders will provide protection from financial populism. It will give a clear and most importantly irreversibly positive direction for financial and economic policies. It will ensure the confidence of international markets and foreign investors.
I hope that the Seimas will ratify the Treaty in this spring session.
The financial system of Lithuania has become more resilient to turbulences. We have stood the Snoras bankruptcy test. It was a painful experience, but it also was a definite sign that there is no place for financial fraud in Lithuania – and there will never be.
Having stabilized state finances, we have to agree on the driving force of the economy: the promotion of business.
Blind austerity and restricted spending have reduced business opportunities. Unable to decide and agree on the renovation of houses, waste management and the development of youth entrepreneurship, today we are losing millions in unused funds which could have opened new opportunities for our people and the economy.
Therefore, we must coordinate financial discipline with promoting the economy and we cannot oppose these policies.
All parties and governments declare the promotion of business, particularly small and medium-sized enterprise, a priority. Last year alone, people with initiative set up tens of thousands of small-sized businesses. However, a business sunrise ever more often turns into a business sunset.
The reason is the same – there is no clear agreement, thus we support an abstract business concept. Meanwhile, we should encourage competitive business models which have the potential to create jobs, generate national product and integrate into foreign markets.
Business success goes with those who can lead – offer innovations, improvements and lower prices. For example, businesses based on high technologies did not slow down even during the economic downturn. On the contrary, the Lithuanian-made laser has found new markets this year. Lithuanian inventions have been even included into space programmes.
However, we have by far too few progressive companies and within the EU we are trailing behind in innovative contributions to the economy.
Energy is the second guarantee of economic security.
The work started by this government in the energy sector is unquestionably important.
After twenty years we found the courage to start on the path of energy independence. We are reducing dependency on a single supplier. We clearly said to ourselves that Lithuania is going to have a liquefied gas terminal. The noose of energy dependence that was tightened around us for many years is also loosened by the sun, wind and other alternatives.
These are irreversible decisions that should not be changed by election promises.
The Government has, in essence, decided on an entire package of key energy projects. However, all political forces hold responsibility for the energy future of our country and the development of its nuclear power. Therefore, we need a final decision and broad political agreement because these projects are going to be implemented in the course of several political terms of office.
Real political and economic independence is possible only if we finish the work that we started for the benefit of Lithuania.
The same goes for the restructuring of the heating sector.
What kind of prices- competitive or oligarchic – our people will have to pay for heating depends on the ability to curb the appetite of the monopolists.
There exists the term of heating poverty. It is said to occur when a person spends more than 10 percent of his or her income for heating. Our people pay a lot more for heating in winter months.
Changes in this sector are inevitable. This coming autumn, heating bills will be put on election ballots.
The restructuring of the heating sector is an unchanging task for the present and the new Seimas and it will remain the principal requirement in the formation of a new government.
We have agreed to work for the good of a human person, not for the benefit of individual groups. But the energy sector finds it hard to dispose of old habits. Now that we have found the political will to start the restructuring of the heating sector, the monopolists have extended their tentacles to waste management and biofuels.
Therefore, I stand strong on my promise to you all – to show personal interest in the origin of corrupt legal acts. This year I had to use the right of veto several times to stop some draft laws that were custom made for separate interest groups and smelled of corruption.
The reforms delayed and the mistakes made have resulted in increasing numbers of socially vulnerable people. Therefore, social policy still needs our agreement. However, it was only a month ago – with the Government's term is approaching its end – that proposals were put forward.
Social policy is an area the most affected by political winds. The economic crisis has further exposed its flaws, but still no agreement was reached on the principles of granting state assistance. The debate about who needs it the most – mothers, the elderly or young people – has been trapped in a dead-end. So let us agree, firstly, to boost employment, not benefits, and secondly, to provide welfare to those who need it the most – not those who visibly abuse it.
Finally, let us move the distribution of social assistance from the center to local municipalities where they know better who is in truly difficult circumstances and who needs benefits only as a supplement to their shadow earnings.
A pilot project of this kind has already justified itself in five municipalities. People admit that this is more fair and rational.
Just like with the pension reform. No agreement was reached and it simply got stuck.
My Dear Fellow People,
The complaint that we hear most often from the people is "There is no justice".
Nearly seven thousand persons wrote or contacted the presidential office in the past year and every second of them expressed concern about the work of law and order institutions.
On the one hand, we are very pleased to note the progress achieved in consolidating the rule of law. On the other hand, we have doubts about the ability of the state to ensure justice.
I have always stood with the truth-seekers, and I will continue standing with them. But showing contempt for the state, insulting its law enforcement and legislation, pursuing only our own justice is not the path to truth.
The right to a fair, speedy and impartial trial can be ensured if justice is administered by honest and professional judges. Therefore, agreement to improve the judicial system still stands. It is a long path, but we have to walk it patiently and with integrity.
The courts are changing. In the course of three years, a dozen of judges not worthy of their office were stripped of judicial robes. Seventy two new judges have been appointed to serve justice. I have met each of them personally.
The rotation of heads of court, introduced into practice this year, will also bring change. As many as thirty heads of court at different levels are going to be replaced.
Fighting corruption in the judiciary – considered impossible until now – has now become possible. The practice of closed-door agreements between judges was uncovered in Kaunas. Models of dishonest interaction between judges and defense lawyers were exposed in Vilnius.
But the old, flawed system based on the principle "Crows do not pick crow's eyes" continues even today. A fellow prosecutor will get only probation for his first bribe, and trial delaying tactics is still used.
Further concerted efforts are needed to build a more reliable judicial system. The people can and must also contribute to this process.
We have agreed to engage the society in the work of law enforcement.
The first step has been made – representatives of society have been included into the prosecutor selection and performance evaluation commissions. We should also have society represented in courts of law without creating turmoil in the judicial system. The benefit would be mutual: the courts would get outside monitoring, while the public – an opportunity have an inside look at the judicial process.
Preparing these projects was and continues to be a key task for the Government in the field of law enforcement.
The depolitization of law enforcement structures is also our own decision.
But those who for many years have used law enforcement as a tool to settle political accounts or to protect their own inaction find it hard to break this habit. The fight for influence over the Financial Crime Investigation Service is a clear such case. And it does not end there. Even in the last months of parliamentary term, energy and efforts are directed towards amending the Statute of the Seimas and other legislation in order to restore political influences over law enforcement and the controlling authorities.
I hope no mistake will be made to bring us back to the times of "puppet prosecutors", "security moles" and fighting only petty corruption.
If we want to have true justice, not custom-made justice, we have to agree that the independence and accountability of all law and order institutions must be guaranteed.
To have more justice in the country, we decided and established by law that illicit enrichment is a criminal offence. We now have a new line in summary statistics: there are ninety pre-trial investigations initiated into illicit enrichment.
The estimated value of suspiciously gained assets amounts to hundreds of millions litas. It is a big step on the path of justice. But at the same time we see a step backwards: the list of persons included into a risk group for illicit enrichment, and subject to checks, has been shortened. It now excludes parliamentary and municipal politicians and covers only civil servants.
The parties, too, took the transparency and political maturity test.
Now that legal entities are not allowed to finance political parties, there will be more opportunities not only for political donations, but also for political ideas, competence and result-based action in the upcoming elections.
The agreement to take serious action against corruption and fight it by personal example is now put to practice. However, the parties failed to pass the transparency test when they secured public procurement exceptions for themselves.
The key anti-corruption instruments have already been developed by joint efforts. Now they need to be put into action, with no exceptions or privileges for either the ruling parties or the opposition. No exceptions to anybody.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having agreed on the most important permanent directions of domestic development, let us also use foreign policy to safeguard national interests.
Over the past year, we turned foreign policy into new opportunities for ensuring our strategic goals and security. We are heard and we have allies.
Our aspiration to have the highest nuclear safety standards applied to all nuclear power stations has become the goal of the European Union as a whole. For Lithuania, it is a very important issue because of nuclear facilities constructed in its close neighborhood.
Projects of key importance to Lithuania's energy independence have been translated into a pan-EU agreement to eliminate the energy isolation of the Baltic States. Supported by reliable regional partnership, we are moving forward with the gas terminal and nuclear power plant projects.
Cooperation in the unique Nordic and Baltic region offers an opportunity to gain experience and to even better protect the interests of our people in Europe.
Let us agree not to deviate from this direction.
We decided to seek real, not formal, membership in NATO. Three years on, we have concrete contingency plans for the Baltic States and a permanent air policing mission.
We have also secured a focus on new threats: energy and cyber security as well as new military capabilities stationed close to our borders.
Lithuania has become an active and committed member of the international community. The Chairmanship of the OSCE and the Community of Democracies, the setting up of nuclear and energy security centers – these are signs of international confidence in Lithuania.
Good neighborhood carries great value. But it is not a given value. Good neighborhood exists where there is strong economic cooperation and where societies maintain close cross-border contacts. This should be the starting point in measuring the quality of neighborhood relations.
The changing geopolitical situation and national interests require a creative foreign policy and smart diplomacy. I put the priority not on ceremonious meetings or solemn declarations, but on constructive dialogue and value-based coordination of interests. I expect Lithuanian diplomats to contribute to this foreign policy course.
This year we will need smart diplomacy as we work hard for a package beneficial to Lithuania in the EU's new financial framework. But Lithuania's presidency of the European Union to start next summer will require the utmost mobilization of our efforts.
The agreement between the parties to identify the EU presidency as a national priority stands valid.
If no temptations arise to change the priorities of the EU presidency, Lithuania can turn this duty into new opportunities for proving its strong commitment and implementing national projects, especially in the energy sector.
We must begin by perceiving that it is not a job thrust upon us and that we – the people of Lithuania – are building the European Union together with Europeans.
In a globalized world, the preservation of identity has also become an issue of national security and agreement.
Until now it has been mostly the concern of enthusiasts dedicated to reviving patriotic songs, the spirit of "flax and bread", and the Lithuanian book, or public librarians making a welfare-size salary. But in most difficult moments we stand up and defend ourselves by singing unique Lithuanian sutartinės where perhaps unity and togetherness are encoded. Therefore, it is high time to decide at state level about protecting our cultural heritage, fostering our native language and providing adequate funding for our culture.
Our greatest asset – the youth – also does not get the attention it deserves. Because of the never ending reform of the education system, the best children of Lithuania are moving to where there is more quality, clarity and things are less expensive. The number of those who no longer identify themselves with Lithuania is growing at a dangerous rate.
I therefore invite the future Seimas and Government to act on the renewed education strategy and to decide and agree on a clear course of education without changing it at every election cycle.
Dear People of Lithuania, Members of the Seimas,
Let us agree on the essential work to be done in every area of the state's life that will not be swayed by the left or right pendulum. We have a duty to deal responsibly with national finances, to strengthen the economy by promoting business and independent energy, and to build a transparent, united and progressive country. So that we do not leave our children in debt and do not let corruption become a spoke in our wheel.
So that we can be proud of being the citizens of independent Lithuania!
And though we have started many important things, let us stop faltering and rushing about as if we did not believe in our ability and success. It is we who are the owners of our state. And I believe that we can be better.
We must prove it in the upcoming elections.
I would like to thank the present Seimas and Government for their agreement on issues of key importance to the state and its people which will help build a more secure life in our country.
In several months' time, we will have to decide who to entrust with governing our country for the next four years. Here we should agree on one point: everybody, not only a third of us, will go to the polls. We will not leave our future to be decided by others.
I am prepared to continue working with those who focus on achieving results beneficial to our country.
After elections, I will be waiting for the new Prime Minister not only to present a list of cabinet members, but also a continued list of works we have agreed upon. I would therefore invite you once again to agree on the core principles that we will not sacrifice to political wrangling. Let us not cancel or delay important undertakings only because they were launched under another political banner.
Before the parliamentary elections, the Lithuanian national team will travel to the London Olympic Games. Each of them will carry only the tricolor – with no political colors or shades. They will seek victories for Lithuania, either individually or in teams.
So let us agree, too, that first and foremost we will carry high the interests of our country and its people. And that we will walk in the same direction either on the left or right side of the road.
The athletes can do it, let us prove that we can, too!
Thank you for your attention.