Political consequences of Lithuania’s EU integration
Right after the fall of Soviet Union, European integration had become the ultimate ambition of the Lithuania’s foreign policy. Such was the position of the majority of population and political elites in the country. Remarkably, on December 14, 1990, jointly with its neighbours Latvia and Estonia, the government of Lithuania made an epochal appeal to the European Economic Community claiming for the political, socio-economic and humanitarian support without intermediation of the then USSR. As a result all the following Soviet interventions into the Baltic region were sharply condemned by the EU member-states. Consequently, on August 27, 1991, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Germany and France officially declared their recognition of the Baltic States’ independence. Later on in 1992 the first agreement (the Trade, Commercial and Economical Co-operation Agreement) was signed between the EU and Lithuania to declare the joint political dialogue. The EU practical support to Lithuania was realized within the framework of the PHARE programme. In June 1995 the three Baltic States signed the Association Agreement with the EU confirming their intention to join the European Union (Fidmuc, 1997, pp. 1-3).
In May 2004 Lithuania became one of the three Baltic States (along with Latvia and Estonia) that successfully joined the European Union. This historical opportunity has imposed crucial political, security and socio-economic changes on the country as well as its international status. From the historical and geopolitical perspective, many lead experts tend to view the country’s post-integration successes in the context of benefits gained by the entire Baltic region. Therefore, many of the EU-integration advantages of Lithuania are similar to those of Latvia and Estonia. However, each country has its own domestic peculiarities, and therefore the case of Lithuania presents a rather interesting approach towards reaching genuine European ideals.While assessing the consequences of the Baltic States integration into European Union from the political perspective, Peter Duncan states that all three countries have worsened their relationship with Russia. All three states made themselves finally independent from the sphere of the Russian often imperialistic influence. Joining EU and NATO made the majority of population in these countries ultimately pro-European. Such geopolitical choice signalled positive socio-cultural changes, including linguistic and cultural identity. Overall, Baltic pragmatism is more than evident within the framework of EU-25 membership. Baltic States are eagerly fighting for the geopolitical advantages and benefits while advocating their own national interests.
In terms of political consequences, most experts state that over the years of membership Lithuania has much benefited from the direct participation in the EU institutions. This enabled the Lithuanian authorities to impact the decisions made inside the European Union. Deprived of the own commissioner, Lithuania has own representatives in the European Parliament and other influential EU institutions. In the nearest perspective experts forecast the coalition of the Baltic Bloc with the Middle European countries to increase the share of representative voting and have more considerable impact on the issues of regionalization within the European Union (Medhurst, n.d.).
Finally, EU membership signalled institutional stability in Lithuania as well as the democratization and transparency of political processes. High democratic standards based on the superiority of law enable to effectively protect human rights, epromote the freedom of speech and respect national minorities‘ rights. Much of the positive reforms in Lithuania are so far associated with powerful and influential PHARE programmes which are aimed to develop civil society, unbiased media, reinforce national democratic institutions and political parties.
Economic consequences of Lithuania’s EU integration
Right from the very beginning, the Lithuanian authorities perceived the EU as the potential market of goods and services capable to serve current demands of more than 400 m. residents. The grassroots of the Lithuanian economic operations with the EU member states were evident in the late 1998, which resulted in overall positive export (37.98%) and import (50.16%) indicators. Such a progress caused FDI (foreign direct investment) flows into the national economy (estimated 1625.30 m. USD in 1999. 61.23% of overall investment came directly from the EU countries, namely Finland, Germany and Sweden. Such were the major economic prerequisites of Lithuania’s EU integration (The European Committee under the government of the Republic of Lithuania, 2002).
The analysis of the country’s present-day economic progress indicates that over almost six years of EU membership Lithuania has gained more than it has apparently lost. Even the adverse affects of the ongoing economic slowdown and financial crisis that have sharply hit the country do not deter the majority of lead experts from agreeing with such a conclusion. According to the EBRD expert, Ib Katznelson, over 2004-2008 the Baltic Sea Region has overall shown significant growth in prosperity, which even altogether overwhelmed the growth rates of the EU-25 and the Central European Region. Prior to the crisis the national economies of the Baltic States steadily approached the EU-25 GDP level. In 2004 the three countries led the list of the OECD economies with regard to the GDP growth per capita.
Experts related the recent remarkable economic progress of the Baltic economies with the implementation of the quality reforms to achieve market economy standards. Domestically, private business sector received incredible facilitation and financial aid from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Further on, EBRD is ready to actively support renewable energy, alternative energy, municipal infrastructure, and equity investment projects to boost private entrepreneurship in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. However, there were negative economic impacts that had adversely hit the Lithuanian economy, namely: (1) wage pressures in various sectors of the domestic economy; (2) the global growth of oil prices; as well as the (3) increase in the EU-accession prices (Mokslai, 2009). Prior to January 1, 2007, all these and other negative consequences have threatened the chances of Lithuania and Estonia to comply with the Maastricht criteria required to join the Euro currency standard. As a result, the term is further extended to 1 January 2013 (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, 2006).
Initially, the Lithuania’s integration into the European Union was associated with the rapid economic development, as well as the enormous opportunities to boost the national economy. In 2003 prior to joining the EU, Lithuania demonstrated the perceived as the most economically developed country compared to all other candidate states. More than that, Economist Intelligence Unit Index estimated the quality of life in Lithuania as the highest one in the Baltic Region. Prior to the global economic crisis, the unemployment rate in October 2008 made up 4.7%. Over 2003-2008, the country shown the remarkable GDP growth shifting from 8.8% in 3rd Q 2003 to 7.0% in the 1st Q 2008. Such outstanding economic development and the country’s high international recognition as the state of high average income enabled Lithuania to concentrate its domestic capacities on the development of the modern and technologically-advanced infrastructure, including, four-lane highways, railways, and airports. Along with the infrastructural changes Lithuania managed to increase outsourcing as well as to advance the domestic tourism sector. As well as this, the country shows permanent progress on the way to building a knowledge-based economy, while the national laboratories are involved in R&D projects in the field of biotechnology, IT and mechatronics. The Lithuanian government specifically encourages the investments into the national value-added products and high-tech sector (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, 2006).
Prior to the EU membership accession most experts associated the progress of the Lithuanian economy with the following possibilities: (1) trade barriers’ elimination; (2) financial support from EU; (3) positive labor market changes; (4) vital infrastructural reforms; (5) considerable FDI inflows; and (6) production and export increase. On the other hand, many experts anticipated risks related to the increased numbers of emigration from the country and free movement of workforce across the EU (Piesarskas, 2006, pp. 1-19).
With regard to the economic consequences, the pre-crisis data shows that Lithuania’s macroeconomic indicators have advanced since the date of integration. This progress is primarily due to the structural changes inspired by the integration impacts. First and foremost, it was the financial support provided by the EU that directly impacted the growth of Lithuania’s GDP and subsequently all other major economic and infrastructural changes. Secondly, the EU integration made the country more open, which enabled the beneficial export operations as well as workforce migration. Therefore, in macroeconomic terms the EU financial support has both increased Lithuania’s GDP and work productivity. While the country joined the common market, it had significantly increased exports of the domestic products and services.
In due context, Edward Lucas claims that Lithuania has demonstrated their ability to effectively govern major political and economical processes that have so far resulted in the availability of top-class public services, as well as high educational standards ((UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, 2006). Transparent leadership and management of the domestic processes enabled Lithuania to eliminate corruption, red-tape and bureaucracy and reach low-cost and highly-flexible public services provided by small and medium-sized companies. Such approach enabled Lithuania to lessen national monopolization and create flexible low-cost working environment (Lejour et al, 2006, pp.12-16).
Social consequences of Lithuania’s EU integration
The advancement of social standards of life has been apparent in Lithuania since the date of EU integration. First and foremost, Lithuanian citizens have joined all the privileges of the EU citizenship, including: (1) free and borderless movement, living and working across the entire territory of the EU zone; (2) equal voting rights with the rest of the EU citizens in time of local and European elections; (3) protection by consular and diplomatic institutions in all EU member-states; (4) petition rights to the European Parliament (Mokslai, 2009).
One of the the main social consequences of Lithuania‘s EU integration is therefore associated with wide migration opportunities. Prior to the global crisis this trend has not caused counter societal effect – the rise of emigrant s from Lithuania into the EU member states since Lithuania managed to offer sound employment opportunities inspired by the steady economic growth. Furthermore, the challenges of cosmopolitanism and nationalism are high on the contemporary social agenda in Lithuania. Many preliminary forecasts of the country‘s integration expressed fears with the relation to the growth of the domestic nationalism, while others claimed the increase of cosmopolitanism while the country has become closer to the Western standards.
Overall socio-economic progress over the recent years has resulted in the development of civil society and self-sufficient middle class, which enables to eliminate the gap between poor and highly-profitable citizens in the country. This achievement has ultimately increased the country’s socio-economical stability. Furthermore, positive socio-economic and environmental changes have positively affected the birth and morbidity rates in the country. For instance, over 2004-2009 there has been slight decrease in the death rate as well as the increase of life expectancy in Lithuania. State social and health programs therefore need improvement to further lessen death rates and increase life-expectancy. Socio-economic diversity in the EU are now transformed and implemented in accordance with the domestic Lithuanian standards. All these are the direct consequences of the country‘s enormous globalization and Europeanization over the past decade. Joining the EU has overall a positive impact on the reconsideration of the national resources and their pragmatic direction towards the reinforcement of the state functions and re-distribution of public expenditures in the spheres of healthcare, education, and social security ((UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, 2006).
National security consequences of Lithuania’s EU integration
EU membership has directly signaled Lithuania‘s strive for the adoption of the European and Western standards. Security domain has not become an exception from the rule since the country was largely de-moralized by the adverse affects of the Soviet domination and Russian tone of imperialistic policy. Initially, EU membership meant that the country will acquire the unprecedented safety guarantees. By and large, along with socio-economic transformations this was proclaimed as the most important motive of the country‘s integration policy. Despite Lithuania was not formally provided with any safety guarantees, it automatically gained sufficient protection from any kind of external invasion. Consequently, the European membership has strengthened the country‘s domestic safety, and inspired the democratization of the most part of the domestic processes and institutions. Sound and technologically-advanced safety and security systems enable the Lithuanian authorities to effectively fight various affairs such as terrorism, corruption, mantrafficking, drug-dealing, organised crime and illegal migration.
The increase of the domestic spending on the national safety system allowed Lithuania to strengthen its membership in NATO bloc since 2 April 2004. Both joining NATO and EU were deemed strategically and geopolitically important since it has diminished the Rusian presence in the Baltic region. The same ws done by the Lithuanian neighbours – Latvia and Estonia ((Mokslai, 2009).
EU integration has marked the epochal choice of Lithuania as a pro-European country. The opportunities, risks, threats and challenges of such choice have much benefited the country and add the feeling of global presence and competition on the international markets. The enhancement of socio-economic standards over the recent period have indicated that Lithuania is on the right pass towards democracy nd market changes. What is more, it is much easier for the country to overcome numerous challenges of the ongoing economic crisis being backed up by the support of the European partners.