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  Near and remote Europe

Viktor Denisenko
2011 01 24

In 2004 Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined the European Union. Politically and economically they “returned to Europe”, however, today it is difficult to say on whether this was a full-rate return.

Theoretically all EU Member States have equal rights in decision-making, but in practice the situation is far from ideal. The EU’s  slogan “Unity in Diversity” doesn’t eliminate the division of countries into small and big, into old and new etc.  Today the advice of the French President Jacques Chirac (who didn’t like the position of Baltic States concerning the war in Iraq) to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia “to shut their mouths” demonstrates that the voice of small countries means nothing in the games of the large states.  Let’s analyze two examples.

The first is related to the gas pipeline Nord Stream. The pipeline between Russia and Germany will go through the Baltic Sea. It’ll bypass traditional territories of gas transit to Europe and will increase European dependence on Russian gas. It was never a secret that Nord Stream is more political than commercial project. Worries of the Baltic States, that this project might not only affect energy security of Europe but also the ecological situation in the Baltic Sea, were not heard.

The second example is related to France’s decision to sell Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia.  Baltic States expressed their worries several times, especially with regard to Russia’s actions in Georgia two years ago.  Although NATO (France is member of the Alliance) is identified in the Russian Military Doctrine as enemy, this didn’t stop France from selling the advanced military technologies to Russia. The opinion of the Baltic States didn’t count here as well.

Maybe this is inability of the Baltic States to pursue effective European policy? In July Tomas Janeliûnas, a political analyst, wrote that „this group of states has no substantial influence on decisions of the EU compared to large EU Member States, thus the Lithuanian interests rarely „squeeze through“ to major decision-making patterns“. According to Janeliûnas, Lithuanian expertise is quite narrow and is of no interest to the large EU Member States. Thus, „in order to be noticed, we must crawl out of our shell and take an interest on the events in Europe and in the world“.

The image of the EU is still a mythological phenomenon to the Lithuanian society (also to Latvians and partially to Estonians) and in the first place is related to financial prosperity. According to the data of “Eurobarometer” of the last spring, Lithuanian and Latvian citizens trust EU institutions three times less than own national governments (in Lithuania 7 percent expressed trust in Parliament, 13 percent in Government; in Latvia correspondingly 6 and 13 percent). According to Janeliûnas, „Lithuanians trust the EU, but they still feel to be near the EU and not as its members“.

Estonia‘s attitude differs. The results of the public opinion in Estonia are closer to the average European. Estonians are more optimistic toward the economic situation and express more trust in national authorities.  On 1 January Estonia joined the Euro zone and this also demonstrates a more successful interface with Europe.

Although the majority of Lithuanians and Latvians positively evaluate membership in the EU, it is obvious that new seeds of Euroscepticism take their roots here. In 2003 Eurosceptics already had a possibility to express their views before the referendums concerning membership in the EU. When Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian citizens voted for membership in the EU, Euroscepticism quit the scene, but today it has a chance for revenge, especially in Lithuania.

Some kind of disappointment – emigration, decommissioning of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, the economic crisis – prevents from grasping other aspects of the united Europe. In Lithuania we often forget that one of the keystones of the EU are common values, however, frequently they become an object of attacks in the consciousness of society. Unfortunately, Lithuania has already become famous in Europe for its intolerance, especially the intolerance toward sexual minorities.

New Euroscepticism is based on contraposition of human values to national and religious values and interests. Vytautas Radþvilas is one of the ideologists of a new Euroscepticism. He discerned a collusion of „liberal totalitarianism“ in the European political correctness. According to Radþvilas, „by manipulating with the slogans of „democracy“, „freedom“, „equality“ and „tolerance“, supporters of the liberal totalitarianism accelerate the return of a nation to the times of ideological and political oppression. [...] Christians or persons respecting and acknowledging a cultural role of Christianity are referred to as „clerics“, „enemies of progress“ etc.

For Euroscepticism it is convenient to use Christianity as a tool for fighting against the EU which was established on an entirely secular basis. A change of European attitude toward the margins of tolerance also accelerates the spread of ideas of new Euroscepticism in Lithuania. The most recent example is deportation of members of the Roma community from France. Even in the most progressive EU Member States we could hear that the EU „overplayed“ with tolerance and that today its own key values are under threat.

On the one hand, Baltic States can say bravely: we all belong to Europe. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have become part of a unified Europe and this is an unquestioned victory.

On the other hand, for Baltic States Europe is still remote. They are too small and find difficult to seek influence compared to France, Germany or Great Britain. It is enough to count the number of Baltic States’ representatives in the EU structures: only few of them have been nominated to high positions.

In order to make Europe hear the Baltic States, it is necessary to search for certain political roads and to increase the competence on issues relevant for the entire Europe.  Maybe the situation will improve when Lithuania takes over the EU presidency in 2013. But in our consciousness Europe will remain a strange phenomenon (near and remote) if politicians and society will not get interested in the European issues and if we will not start considering ourselves as full members of the united Europe.

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