Lithuania president: Europe is back but migration, security challenges remain

Dalia Grybauskaite [European Council]

Europe is back – its economy is growing and political stability is improving, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė told EURACTIV.com. But Europe now needs to work to preserve its set of shared values and resolve the major challenges of migration and security, she warned.

Dalia Grybauskaitė has been president of Lithuania since 2009.

She spoke to EURACTIV Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

President Macron and Chancellor Merkel both gave a very upbeat speech on Europe yesterday. Europe is back, France is back. How do you see the end of the mandate of the current Commission up to the European elections?

It is good that we have gone through some sensitive elections in Europe and we got at least two leaders back which are very much pro-European. We also have a better economic outlook and a more stable economic situation in Europe. That means that we could be, and we are more optimistic on how Europe will look like in the future. That means we do have more time to discuss the future of Europe’s deep integration and what we can do together.

Of course, we do have different opinions, and we have some groupings of countries which would like to slow down the speed of integration, that’s normal. We do also have some sensitivities with the Brexit environment, but comparatively with last year, we have been more confident this year because we see solutions. Solutions are coming on Brexit, Europe’s economy is growing quite fast, political stability is starting to take place in Europe and after the final negotiations in Germany, we will have two large countries acting as locomotives for deep integration in Europe. This gives us confidence that we will be able to go ahead with our future.

But there is a big confrontational issue at the moment which is migration, where there is no way of finding a common ground. What would it take to find a common ground according to you?

I would not say it is confrontational, it is very problematic around the world. It is a global problem, not only a European problem and how best to solve it is a question for everybody, not only Europeans. We see that the philosophy to take in and to try to integrate didn’t work out, the quota system worked only partially and worked better in some countries than others. That means we need to come up with more creative solutions, but these need to be global solutions and they need to be agreed on a global scale because Europe only cannot absorb every refugee.

You are aware of the saying that you need to put your house in order before looking at the bigger picture, and putting the house in order is turning, as Tsipras and Gentiloni were saying yesterday, it is turning the illegal migration into legal migration. So creating a framework at the European level where there will be a better way of absorbing migrants on a legal basis. What do you think of these remarks?

As I said, integrational absorption and integration later as a second step of refugees is a very difficult problem because they are not easily integrating into our societies, in some societies even not integrating at all, and running out to different countries. That is a problem of the quota system.  We need to look for solutions which will benefit both sides, us as European countries who are taking in, and the refugees who are coming in, because you cannot force them to stay in one country against their will. So that means that it is very difficult. We need to find solutions, no matter, some will be legal, some will be communal, some national additions too, but also investments into the third countries closer to the source of the problem.

Let’s turn to another big topic: upholding European values. Both Merkel and Macron gave a very emotional speech about upholding European values, and we have some countries in Europe that are not upholding these values, I could mention Poland and Hungary. How do you make sure that you don’t lose those values?

The European Union was created on values, it is not only an economic support organisation. It was created mainly and firstly on values such as freedom, exchange of education, free movement of labour, a joint economic area, democracy, and rule of law amongst others. All of this as a package is important – you cannot just pick or fulfil one value and throw out another one. For us in the Baltic States, particularly in Lithuania, Europe is about values first, and then economic benefit second.

The problem is that in some countries as a general trend around the world nationalism is regaining popularity, in most countries, even large ones, we see political parties gaining rule and then isolating themselves to make a priority of so-called national interest. This is a tendency that we need to fight against, but not with forceful measures, we need to persuade each other, we need to talk again amongst each other. That is how decisions are made in Europe, we need to talk and have a consensus.

Is there a window of opportunity to convince them?

We have no choice, Europe is about talking, convincing, and making solutions. But not beating each other or forcing each other, that is not an instrument that Europe can use.

Are you afraid of the European elections in regards to the rise of populist parties?

No, in all countries elections are not easy and populist parties are taking over, so again what we need to do is persuade our own people, as elections are national really and not European, so we need to do our homework at home.

On security in the Baltic states. Tomorrow you are participating in a panel on Central and Eastern Europe. With a Defence Union, do you feel that as a Baltic state you have the right tool to feel more secure?

We feel it not as a Baltic state, we feel it as a NATO territory. Whatever it takes NATO territories on the east are protected by article 5. Also, the EU  will of course invest more into defence, joint policies, cybersecurity and all other new hybrid threats. But in general, we are a territory of NATO, not just separate Baltic states, or other, because the threats are global. Starting from the Arctic up to the very south such as Portugal, threats from a defence point of view are more or less the same.

This is why we will be investing a lot into the NATO summit this summer to go ahead with additional deterrence measures and defence measures in our region. Along with the new policies in Europe which are taken by the deep integration in defence and research in the defence industry, in cybersecurity. We are actively participating in these good tendencies. It is a very good position for Europe to add to what NATO can do to secure the defence.

Will we become a hard power?

Not yet, but maybe in the future, it depends on what definition hard power will have in the future because very soon cybersecurity will probably become a hard element as it becomes more and more important. Additionally, unconventional threats are more important powerful and influential nowadays, so that probably, eventually, we will also call them hard defence instruments.

So Europe is back?

That’s the best message for this year.

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