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Of Lithuania’s three countrywide polls that will take place this year, the European Parliament (EP) election usually receives the least attention. Vladas Gaidys, a sociologist and head of pollster Vilmors, is even a little lost for words about them.

“To tell you the truth, I haven’t given [the EP election] much attention”, he says. “Everyone is more interested in the presidential ones. My first response would be that people here don’t really differentiate between the roles [of the elections].” Of the year’s three elections, he too finds the EP contest to be the least interesting.

“The most interesting, of course, is the presidential election. There you can look a candidate in the eye, like in athletics, or a horse race. It is harder to look their parties in the eye, but even so, there is still excitement there. But here [the EP] is something very far away. Your interests are being represented, but it takes a specialist to understand the subject.”

Mr Gaidys says that one will search hard to find any specific European Parliament election campaign going on in Lithuania.

“If you searched, you could find it. Those already in the European Parliament, I think, would like to stay for another term. It takes five years to understand how it works. [Social Democrat leader] Vilija Blinkevičiūtė is the obvious example here. Clearly she is not drawn to this country, where she is at the mercy of journalists. Over there, you are dealing with heads of state and government…”

A European salary

Vytautas Dumbliauskas, a political scientist at Mykolas Romeris University (MRU), says only half-jokingly that the EP election is only of interest to those who are on party lists.

“The EP does not determine the life of an ordinary person very much. It is somewhat powerless. The European Commission, which is not elected by anyone, has more power than a parliament elected by citizens”, he argues.

But voters instinctively sense that politicians there receive a big payday, suggests Dumbliauskas.

“Maldeikienė wrote publicly maybe a year ago how much she earns as an MEP with all her allowances for travel and other things. It was €14,000-15,000. This is money beyond the comprehension of a Lithuanian like me.”

Dumbliauskas observes that parties mostly send veteran politicians to the EP.


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“The Liberals once sent [Jewish philosopher] Leonidas Donskis, and it was an honour and a source of pride that there was such a person representing Lithuania. But there are other MEPs, such as [Russian-born entrepreneur Victor] Uspaskichas, who makes me feel ashamed as a Lithuanian citizen.”

A poor deal for parties

Dumbliauskas reflects ruefully that it is not always good for political parties when their stronger politicians get used to a warm seat in Brussels.

“Take Blinkevičiūtė. I don’t think she is overworking herself in the EP. It is obvious that Blinkevičiūtė wants to stay in Brussels, she does not want to be either president or prime minister. This is a tragedy for the Social Democrats. She may be damaging the party. Because who is this other leader who is beating around the bush?”

On the question of how voters decide who to vote for in the EP elections, the analyst is unconvinced that reason is a major factor.


‘The EP does not determine the life of an ordinary person very much. It is somewhat powerless. The European Commission, which is not elected by anyone, has more power than a parliament elected by citizens’ – Vytautas Dumbliauskas


“Mostly they look at the photogenic nature of the candidate, their relationship with the candidate – whether they like them or not”, says Dumbliauskas.

But he believes that it is important that at least seven or eight of the eleven MEPs take an active approach to their job.

“Europe is in for a shake-up. The world is collapsing before our eyes. It is becoming like basketball without rules”, says this analyst of the difficult circumstances in which the MEPs will need to find solutions.

Keeping up appearances

Matas Baltrukevičius, a political scientist at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, agrees that the European Parliament election is not turning into a battle of ideas.

“It is obvious that many parties are not particularly concerned about the EP election”, he says. “The parties contesting the presidential election will invest more in that, even if they know that their candidate will not do well. That is because, in the run-up to the parliamentary election [due before October], the presidential election gives more visibility than the EP election.”

Baltrukevičius points out that the EP election will not coincide with the presidential election this year, so the turnout will be low.

“It is simply important for the parties to make a respectable showing.”

The odd case of Veryga

Looking at the overall situation, Baltrukevičius is impressed by the Freedom Party’s efforts to present its programme.

“It is one of the more dynamic parties. Of course, in their case, it should be noted that [their presidential candidate Dalnius] Žalimas is both a [previous candidate] in EP elections and a presidential candidate, which adds extra weight.”

The analyst did not rule out the possibility that elected MEPs might subsequently spurn their new office.

“There is nothing to prevent newly elected MEPs from either resigning immediately or serving for a few months before the Seimas elections”, says Baltrukevičius. “The case of [Farmer-Green former minister] Mr [Aurelijus] Veryga is interesting to me, because it is obvious that [Farmer-Green leader] Mr Karbauskis does not have the people he needs for his list in the Seimas elections. Mr Veryga is the only one. So a lot rides on him. Unless Karbauskis changes his mind and decides that he himselfs wants to head the list.”

Recalling the history of the EP elections in Lithuania, Baltrukevičius observes that they have become an opportunity for veteran politicians to get away to a place where the work is quieter and the pay is good.

“Some may actually see it as an early retirement. But others are quite dynamic. […] Each MEP is a different story. We have active ones as well as passive ones.”

Context

The European Parliament (EP) election will take place on 9 June this year in Lithuania. The country will elect eleven MEPs. Among the incumbents it is only known for certain that Aušra Seibutytė (formerly Maldeikienė), elected on the platform “Aušra Maldeikienė’s Train” and who later joined the conservative Homeland Union, will be retiring from politics.
Some candidates, such as Aurelijus Veryga (Farmers and Greens) and Dainius Žalimas (Freedom Party, liberal) are running for both the presidency and the European Parliament.
Several EP candidates are prominent MPs in Lithuania’s Seimas [parliament]. They include Eugenijus Gentvilas, who will lead the Liberals’ Movement (conservative-liberal) list; Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė, who is the current senior member of the Homeland Union; and Paulius Saudargas, the parliament’s deputy speaker.
But the candidate most in the public eye is the Social Democrat leader and current MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė. Her decision not to run for the presidency had been awaited until the very last moment. Instead she will seek re-election to the EP.
This article is part of the Voices of Europe collaborative project, involving 27 media outlets from all over the EU and coordinated by Voxeurop.
👉 Original article on Delfi

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