Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
Thirty years ago, the brave sons and daughters of Lithuania reestablished Independence.
For three decades our ultimate goal was to return back from where we were ripped out by force: the Western world in political, cultural and economic terms. For three decades we spared no effort to consolidate the international security of our country so that the painful history of the past would never be repeated again.
The process of state-building and improvement has no end. Today we have set yet another major goal for Lithuania: a Fair, Green and Innovative Welfare State.
We know how to overcome historical challenges. We see our mistakes and we know how to rectify them. We can develop guidelines for a successful future. But we still need to learn how to better accomplish what we have set out to do and to act as a whole.
A welfare state does not begin with economic and social indicators. It begins from respect to each other, mutual trust, responsibility for the common interest, and assistance to one another.
Awareness that you are responsible not only for yourself continues to be Lithuania’s objective.
Respect for those in the other camp of thought continues to be Lithuania’s objective.
We still see the word “agreement” as a sequence of nine letters – not a norm of behavior.
We are still learning to live as One Lithuania. Personal interests prevail against the common good. Scorn and derision override reasoned criticism and dignity. Finger pointing overshadows a helping hand. Meaningless noise raising outweighs dialogue.
My Dear Fellow People,
During the coronavirus pandemic, you have demonstrated a vivid example of how to extend a hand to each other, show respect and assume responsibility for our common existence.
You launched dozens of citizens’ initiatives that immediately mobilized and delivered help to the most vulnerable and to first-line responders fighting the virus.
You were discipled in keeping to quarantine requirements.
You performed your professional duties and at the same time you dealt with personal and family concerns camouflaged by the words “stay at home”.
Thank you most sincerely for that.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Hundreds of thousands of people were tested for the coronavirus. But the virus, too, has tested each of us, revealing the vulnerabilities in the state’s and society’s immune system.
Lithuania has taken a far-reaching and demanding test. Now it needs to do two important jobs: to fairly assess the state of its condition and to make a sound decision on how to become stronger.
The coronavirus has exposed those in society and politics who are ready to deal constructively with problems and those who are inclined to engage in empty rhetoric and destructive action, those who are engaged in honest work and those who need drama and superheroes, those who reach out to partners and those who seek instant glory with their eyes set on a wreath of laurels.
Putting the emotions aroused by the first-stage crisis aside, we can conclude:
- Specialists have passed the test of the virus with high professionalism and dedication. You – our medics, teachers, officers, civil servants, and diplomats – ignored actual working hours.
- Civil society has passed the test of the virus. Some through organizational skills, others through discipline. And that includes you – our volunteers, non-governmental organizations, communities, and civil-minded individuals.
- Business has tested its values and flexibility. Some passed the problems on to partners and consumers, others preserved jobs, delivered food for those in the front line and swiftly adapted to produce the equipment we lacked.
- Both politicians and state institutions have tested their flexibility, ability to respond quickly and make decisions without bureaucratic delay. Not everything went as we would have liked.
Looking back, we see that we delayed steps that would have stopped the spread of the virus in health care establishments. We were not sufficiently prepared and therefore we encountered problems in supplying and distributing protective equipment.
Today we see that, unfortunately, we still lack resolve and continue to delay taking measures that would slow down the spread of the virus in national economy. Eight or ten percent of designated support that has reached Lithuanian businesses is not what was expected from the state.
Dear Members of the Seimas, Fellow Politicians,
Actions by our residents and professionals during the pandemic sent a sharp reminder to all of us: society is not an abstract entity, society is people whom we have been elected to serve. To serve, not to govern claiming that the government knows better and those in power can decide for all.
After completing their term in office, politicians must leave the state and the government stronger than before they assumed the responsibility to represent their electorate.
In a civilized society, the balance of interests is negotiated, and the needs of specific, usually strong groups do not dominate. Regrettably, this truth needs to be persistently repeated. Personal and group interests protrude in almost all areas – from community elders to the Seimas.
That is why I am against lowering the electoral threshold of parliamentary representation because changing the rules with less than a year to go before the elections does not strengthen democracy – it improves specific individual conditions.
Therefore, when deliberating the budget for 2020, I initiated tax amendments which would make the taxation system fairer and reduce inequality in personal income. But the ability to share with the needy still needs to be learned.
I dismissed or submitted the dismissal of disgraced judges who wanted to preserve their privileges.
I vetoed the attempt to shift the burden of the crisis onto consumers as well as the wish to regulate prices at state level.
I opposed decisions, made by a state-run enterprise in charge of national roads, which were based on political motives, not professional assessment.
We all are responsible for the political culture prevailing in Lithuania today.
It is a shame that we have lowered the benchmark of political accountability for high-ranking officials to the lowest possible level alleging that actions which are not punishable by imprisonment are lawful and legitimate.
We keep failing to address long-standing problems because we see those who submit a proposal – not the proposal itself. The persistence with which politicians oppose initiatives that are not of their make – even though beneficial to Lithuanian citizens – is baffling.
Let us finally realize that compromise is not a weakness.
The work of a political majority does not boil down to levelling others to the ground with a bulldozer.
The work of a political opposition does not boil down to criticizing for the sake of criticism.
The work of all is to create general good.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I ran for president guided by the vision of a Welfare State.
A state that can resolve the persistent problems of poverty and social exclusion, corruption and shadow economy, irrational use of public resources.
A state that has the wish and determination to lead – not to follow behind others – in education, science and the development of innovative, high added value economy.
A state where respect, justice, openness, and unity are more than just loud words.
It is only together that we can create such a state – which is in the hands of us all: political parties engaged in the parliamentary election campaign, governmental and municipal institutions, local communities, business and employee associations, public and cultural figures, health and education professionals, all those who love Lithuania.
We do not live in Soviet times – there will be no five-year directive plan handed down from above. A decision made behind closed doors and dispatched for implementation in the “imperative mood” is most often rejected in a democracy.
The only plan for Lithuania is the one that we will develop through common agreement. Patiently negotiated, with decisions taken without brawling and spitting, and delivered by assuming personal responsibility for the final result. That is how I see the path of national development and the style of governance.
The concept of a welfare state has already become generic with first steps already made along this road.
This year’s budget approved in December of 2019 is focused on reducing social exclusion without violating fiscal discipline. It provides a growing income for those on the smallest pensions and a more rapid adjustment of retirement benefits.
I saw it as the first step towards diminishing social exclusion in Lithuania. However, narrow group interests to protect own personal income and tax breaks prevented us from making wider strides towards a welfare state.
I submitted to parliament amendments to the Law on Public Procurement. If approved, they would allow to save more than 0.5 billion euros every year. Today public resources remind of a leaking bucket that cannot be filled.
I initiated changes to the anti-corruption scheme, which would result in a billion-euro economic advantage.
We are on the right track. The idea of a welfare state has set in and is taking root. I expect to see specific measures for implementing the principles of a welfare state in the election programmes of both right-wing and left-wing parties. I will stand as a committed ally as we work to improve and deliver them.
I call on each and every to become a co-architect of our future.
The President’s office is open to you and to your ideas.
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
A welfare state is impossible without trust – the trust of citizens in their state and its institutions, our trust in each other.
Such trust is built by making many small steps.
We can speak in abstract terms about the importance of man and do nothing. However, we can launch a complex international operation to save three human lives.
That is why it was a matter of honor for me to reunite two Lithuanian nationals and a citizen of friendly Norway with their families.
When dealing with this problem, the Seimas stood in unity. Relevant services demonstrated high professional attitude and competence to arrange trilateral actions. Thank you for an excellent example of coherence which demonstrated that Lithuania does not treat an individual person as a pawn on the geopolitical chess board. We enhanced our country’s prestige in the eyes of NATO allies.
Only by trusting each other we can overcome the emerging external threats that Lithuania faces. We know them and we are consistently strengthening our national security. But sometimes it looks like our biggest enemy is… ourselves.
We must admit – the Ostrovets nuclear power plant is our 12-year-long mistake. The shifting of responsibility onto those who are at the finish line of this relay will not help the team.
Today we have made steps aimed at preventing the delivery of unsafe electricity supplies from third countries to Lithuania.
At Lithuania’s initiative, the European Council has introduced a requirement to ensure the highest international environmental and safety standards for nuclear energy projects in neighboring countries.
Lithuania has been urging the international community to focus on the problems created by the unsafe power facility in Ostravets and will continue to demand action and responsibility. It is obvious that this nuclear monster poses a threat not only to the neighbors of Belarus, but also to the entire region. However, our memorandums of local importance and letters to each other will not help. Let us streamline our efforts and speak together with foreign leaders and international organizations because shutting ourselves in the backyard and shaking topknots in anger have produced no results so far.
We should authorize the large Lithuanian diaspora to act on this and other issues. They are our treasures who exerted significant pressure on the powerful of the world as we all aspired to restore national independence this past century.
I invite world Lithuanians to take an active part in the life of Lithuania in order to make it stronger. Lithuania can and must provide its children around the world with an opportunity to be citizens just like us. The first step could be the introduction of e-voting for Lithuanians abroad.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The state must earn the trust of not only its citizens, but also foreign partners. Therefore, I attach great importance to our relationship with neighboring countries, transatlantic partners, active engagement in building a more ambitious European Union and promoting the Eastern partnership process.
Relations with Poland are back on the track of close strategic cooperation.
Today the Baltic States have a good opportunity to test their friendship. Is it limited to festive declarations only? Can it withstand the challenges of economic and financial solidarity?
Synchronization with continental European networks – a project that will strengthen our independence and elevate the security of our grids to a qualitatively new level – also requires to seek Baltic agreement.
We have renewed the dialogue with neighboring Belarus without crossing the red lines that we ourselves have set on nuclear energy and human rights issues. The sovereignty of Belarus is Lithuania’s security interest, too.
Today’s EU-Eastern Partnership summit sends an important message to the Eastern Partnership countries. Reforms in these countries could be accelerated by a clear vision and an algorithm of action, which would bring them closer to Europe. Where there is no place for European values, other standards – not necessarily European – will move in.
Lithuania is on a clear-cut EU political course. We need an economically strong and politically stable European Union. We may find fault with its complicated decision-making mechanism, lack of speed and consistency. But critics often forget what a unique entity it is and what principles it represents. It has never produced dictators or autocratic leaders – decisions are made by mutual agreement and with due respect for the rights and freedoms of all. And the ultimate target is common good.
At the NATO summit in London, I responded laconically to the question by U.S. President Donald Trump about the meaning that the EU and NATO membership carries for Lithuania: the European Union is for better living and NATO is for living. This observation truly and fairly reflects the very essence. The presence of NATO and U.S. troops in Europe and in our region continues to be the key precondition for peace and security. On its part, Lithuania is true to its commitment to allocate at least 2 percent of GDP for defense spending. It is my personal commitment as president, too.
There still exist insurmountable obstacles in Lithuania’s relationship with Russia and furthermore they are increasing in number. I am referring to the Kremlin’s efforts to fit the tragic history of the mid-20th century onto the template of its power interests and turn it into an obedient all-serving-maid in politics. Lithuania will never accept it – it has cost us too much pain and suffering.
Dear Members of the Seimas,
A welfare state is inconceivable without justice, but there is much inertia in this area. Public confidence in courts of law continues to be a desirability and there is no immediate prescription for delivering it. The judiciary system has not yet recovered from the recent corruption scandal, and its traces will be removed only by long-time work of honest judges truly dedicated to the oath they took.
I have always been and will continue to be intolerant to those who have disgraced the name of judge. But that is not enough. Total intolerance by the judicial self-government and the entire judicial community to those of its members who disrespect ethical standards is critically important. Effective exercise of competences is the only way for the judicial self-government to uphold professional ethical standards. Responsibility for it also lies with the heads of court.
At the same time, I will stop repeated attempts to politicize the justice system and convert courts into political instruments or political captives.
It is no secret that some institutions do not yet have a permanent head. The renewal of key justice institutions, including those where the candidates are nominated by the President, has been stalled. I hardly can be accused of unwillingness to negotiate, but I will never put up with any kind of pressure to appoint those who are preferred by some parties if I see a better candidate.
Recently we have been seeing attempts to whip up passions with respect to the Constitutional Court. Steps are made, intentionally or unintentionally, which are pushing the country towards a constitutional crisis. That is very irresponsible.
Public confidence in public authorities will grow if they operate within the scope of their mandate and if their work is directed at strengthening trust in government, not demeaning each other.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A welfare state is inconceivable without honesty. This is especially important now that the world verges on the brink of economic crisis.
We need to realize that the principles of a welfare state can be applied to both an economy that is growing and an economy that is declining. Decisions made in the interest of the most needy create empathy between the state and the people – a feeling that will continue even after the downturn ends. That is why I supported benefits for older people, initiated payments to families with children, submitted draft laws to the Seimas providing for the increase of the minimum tax-free amount and a temporary reduction of personal income tax for amounts below the set threshold.
After the crisis, we will go back to living according to our income. We will streamline our efforts to make the Lithuanian tax system fairer so that it does not serve specific groups or personal interests. However, even the most fair tax system will not ensure a dignified life for all if allocations to create the common good are parceled out or wasted, not invested in the future.
Therefore, my priority is transparent public procurement and the eradication of corruption. In case of success, we will save money which could be used for health care, education, pensions, and other social needs. We have already submitted draft laws on public procurement and anti-corruption for parliamentary deliberation – and this is only the beginning.
Society is outraged by the recent corruption scandals, but this is an indispensable stage in the treatment of the disease. The infection cannot be eliminated without lancing the boil.
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
Dear Citizens of Lithuania,
We are all responsible for the Lithuania that we wish to see in five, ten or fifty years.
We have been tested by the pandemic. The situation is strategically favorable for us: massive financial resources will become available through the EU’s multiannual financial framework and recovery fund. Europe is rethinking the lessons of the pandemic and is ready for qualitative renewal.
In the next six-seven years, Lithuania will have a unique opportunity to change its face fundamentally through targeted investment.
Not merely to powder it, but to make a difference! It is not an ambition, it is a matter of survival in a competitive environment.
We can do it – which we proved in the pandemic months when Lithuanian enterprises – brimming with patriotism and ready to face the challenges of the 21st century – reoriented their production lines to save lives. It increased their self-confidence and boosted their position on local and global markets. Their example could serve as a source of inspiration to all businesses.
We cannot even imagine how much we can do!
Today we are all responsible for the environment that our children will live in. Lithuania is determined to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and to abandon the outdated, polluting economic model. We have launched the Green Lithuania Initiative aimed at reducing pollution, improving the environment, stopping climate change, saving energy, and encouraging people to raise and promote environmental awareness.
Today we are all responsible for the education that our children will receive. I do not appreciate the never-ending reforms in the education system, fake work, leaking funds, inability to optimize the school network, and failure to renew teaching programmes. National agreement on education is a debt that political parties owe Lithuania. It can be delivered in the near future. There is only one thing missing – the resolve of parties to have the job done.
Today we are all responsible for the jobs that our children will be doing. We are building a bridge to a breakthrough in science and innovation. I strongly support the appointment of chief officer for research and innovation and the creation of a network of representatives responsible for research and innovation across state institutions. I believe that it is necessary to redesign science and innovation establishments and to consolidate their activities. The experience of more advanced countries is the best evidence.
Today we are all responsible for what kind of people our children will grow up to be. We need to understand that culture creates high economic and human value. It is a great public asset, a source of emotional and social well-being. It promotes the image of Lithuania around the world.
The Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion, the divine voice of Asmik Grigorian and a drive-in cinema at the airport gave Lithuania more international visibility and self-worth than expensive trademark strategies. The promotion of culture is one of the best investments in building a confident nation.
Regrettably, the pandemic crisis has revealed that such investment not only promotes, but also divides. State and municipal cultural establishments vs. non-governmental cultural sector and commercial creative industries; cultural infrastructure vs. cultural content, construction cranes and hammers vs. newly emerging cultural expressions. We need to recognize that our culture is interesting only to the extent that it is multi-faceted and independent.
Today we are all responsible for having a Lithuania of sustainable growth. Every month I go on a working visit to different districts of Lithuania. And everywhere hear people talk about the same recurring problems: regional policies do not work, dialogue with central authorities is weak, central government’s distrust in local municipalities is widespread.
We will not move ahead if we continue to be guided by the “landlord-and-serf” principle. The legal amendments that we have initiated open new opportunities for local municipal institutions to make independent decisions on public tenders and anti-corruption measures.
My team is engaged in a constant dialogue between local municipalities and the central government. In this way, municipal councils started to telework, the problem of handling hazardous chemicals was addressed in the Utena District, green-light was given to launching an industrial park, original paintings will return to Samogitian manors, heritage impact assessment was concluded in respect of the Vilnius Old Town, and the relationship between local authorities and state-run enterprises became more constructive.
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
Fellow People of Lithuania,
During my first year in office, I focused on having more respect, trust, justice, responsibility, and solidarity in Lithuania. Respect to those who think differently will deliver much more than humiliation. This is valid not only for personal contacts, but also in the process of state-building. Let us take basketball as an example: Lithuania would never be among the world’s basketball elite if not for its well-known team spirit.
I will end as I began. My response to the question how I see Lithuania thirty years from now is the same: a green and innovative country of social peace.
Dreams can be real or imaginary. My dream is real. I invite you to move forward together to the Lithuania of tomorrow! Thank you.