State of the Nation Address by Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania
8 June 2021
Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Esteemed Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania,
We meet at a special time. Behind us is a year of tension, loss and anxiety, marked by pandemic.
Ahead of us is our tomorrow, which we must enter stronger, more resilient and prepared for new challenges.
Today we meet as if on the doorstep, looking at each other like strangers sometimes. May wisdom, respect and faith help us regain strength! Only together we are creators. Only unity has the power to foster growth. Only shared goals are destined to become tomorrow.
Dear Fellow Citizens,
Critical situations are a magnifying glass for our weaknesses and our strengths. At such moments we distinctly see how we are strong and what should be made stronger, and evil is no longer invisible, so it becomes vulnerable.
We see that the public health crisis has weighed not only on the economy, but also on education, eventually turning into a crisis of coexistence and confidence. The Lithuanian people, endowed with patience and perseverance, watched the politicians stumble in fruitless disagreements and unwillingness to listen.
When the government demonstrates uncertainty and confusion, changes its decisions and is unable to plan steps towards the future, the burden on society increases.
It is not only our healthcare system and medics and that need to adapt. Some children still do not attend schools, students do not meet in auditoriums. Entire sectors of the economy and culture came to a standstill and have not yet fully resumed their work. People lost jobs. Uncertainty about the future has hit everyone.
Therefore, today I thank you, my fellow people, for your strength and self-control. For not giving up, for helping each other, for enduring, for standing firm.
Health professionals, volunteers, teachers, social workers, business people, people of arts and culture, public servants, and the military – you were the pillar of the state in the most difficult time!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Critical situations are a test when people realize how much the state cares about them, while the state comes to know whether people still care about it.
The past year underscored once again the importance of building a welfare state. A strong and just state that always helps people – and can count on their support itself. A state built daily by the respect of citizens to each other, mutual trust, and determination to give assistance to those in need.
We learn many of these things in the family. Lithuanian society begins with the family and rests on it. It is family-based relationships that allow each of us to feel part of a small community, develop self-confidence and confidence in others, learn to communicate and cooperate. We especially needed such contacts in recent months.
Last year, as governments changed, I urged to refer to experts, their advice and experience. The Council of Health Experts has demonstrated how useful science-based recommendations are and facilitated the handover of power in second-wave pandemic conditions. We thank them very much.
On the other hand, we have realized that political will is irreplaceable. When expert opinions differ, politicians must take leadership. In recent years, we saw leadership shifting from ministerial offices to municipalities. It was assumed by those who see the people’s needs every day, who can respond without waiting for instructions. Those who are not afraid to accept responsibility. Starting with innovative business ideas that made Lithuania known in the world and ending with a registration system for vaccination – all this was initiated by people in local municipalities, and I would like to express my sincere thanks to them.
Now that vaccine supplies have significantly increased, the task remains to ensure a smooth vaccination of the Lithuanian population.
In just a month, we will know if 70 percent of the adult population will be vaccinated by mid-summer. There is no point in arguing whether this happens in the first or last week of July. We do not have the luxury of repeating the coursework for pandemic in autumn. Our life cannot come to a standstill again.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This spring, I told members of the new Seimas that the road from quarantine cannot take us through social, business and educational ruins.
The pandemic knocked at all doors. Social exclusion and inequality grew rapidly under quarantine conditions. The people of Lithuania had many reasons to be disappointed and question social justice, one of the pillars of the state.
The crisis has drawn a clear distinction between modern responsible business and the corporate culture of the last century. Some created jobs and supported civic initiatives, others satisfied personal needs by receiving state assistance. Some waited for delayed support to survive, others took advantage of the newly introduced exemptions to buy Ferraris and yachts.
Statistics show that the average wage increased rapidly in Lithuania over the last year. But let us not deceive ourselves – the income of the richest people went up, while the wages of the poorest stood still or fell. This is how exclusion grows. This is how alienation expands. And it is the duty of politicians to change that.
On my proposal, the Seimas is deliberating an increase in non-taxable income. I do not to agree that such assistance to the lowest paid is excessive, that it does not solve fundamental problems and therefore can wait. It cannot wait! The feeling of unfairness cannot wait.
The situation of people with disabilities, those in need of care and their families is especially difficult. Suspended or restricted health and social services have left them feeling even more isolated – or left alone to their own fate.
The virus has painfully affected the young generation, whom we have confined – without trying to find other solutions – to protracted distance learning. Solitary confinement with a computer or a cell phone will lead to even greater differences in learning outcomes. In fact, it is already happening.
It is therefore our duty to strive for children’s good health, better-quality education, employment, and social life through targeted measures. So that in the future we do not resent the “lost years” or the “lost generation”.
It was a huge mistake that cultural institutions, some of which could have operated safely enough and dispel social tensions, were re-opened at the very end of the long quarantine. Today we can remedy this mistake only by helping culture to rise again and take its rightful place in our lives because it is the foundation of our national identity and the backbone of society.
Where there is no culture, there is arrogance and the need to divide and sort the people of Lithuania. Have you noticed that respect is departing from our lives, the public domain and dialogue? It is replaced by tension and anger. Have you noticed that indulgence in self-righteousness and infallibility is building walls? Their shadows fall on the people, increasing despair, feeling of loneliness and neglect.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Confidence in the state was also dented by some of the decisions made by politicians – decisions that reflected the interests of specific persons, groups or political parties rather than society.
That is why I vetoed the laws aimed at reducing the independence of state-run and municipal enterprises, exploiting commercial fishing and undermining equality-based relations between central and local authorities by unreasonably imposing mandatory elderships on all municipalities.
At the same time, I would like to highlight those steps taken by the government that have demonstrated how useful applying the principles of welfare state can be in reducing exclusion. Social guarantees in case of illness and childcare, lump sums for seniors, medicinal bonuses, downtime subsidies – all of this helped to ease the first impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable in Lithuania.
To mitigate the effects of the pandemic on families, I initiated lump sums for children and increased benefits for children with disabilities as well as children from large and poor families. It has to some extend improved the situation of nearly 330,000 families.
Another important achievement is the increase in the average old-age pension from 345 to 414 euros over two years. It was also decided that the minimum pension cannot be less than minimum consumption needs. As a result, seniors will face a lower risk of poverty and exclusion. I support the ruling coalition’s aim to further improve the life of seniors, but there is still a long and difficult road to go before we reach the final goal of dignified old age.
With rapidly aging society, we need to increase the participation of older people in the labor market, help them maintain good health, expand lifelong learning and retraining opportunities.
Disability should not be a lifelong barrier. I am glad that from this year on the state will additionally help about 40 thousand children and adults with disabilities to purchase medicines and medical supplies. The Seimas also adopted my proposed amendments to the Law on Unemployment Social Insurance ensuring the right to receive full unemployment benefits by people with disabilities.
For me, the well-being of people with disabilities is an indication that we live in a civilized Western state. If every ministry, municipality, institution or company implements at least several initiatives to reduce the exclusion of people with disabilities, we will be closer to each other at the end of the year. Closer to humanity, closer to a fair Lithuania.
The state of Lithuania was created by its people, so the people and their concerns should not be lost among empty declarations. Regrettably, many urgent solutions to improve people’s life, the functioning of businesses and institutions still are the subject of power games. We continue to suffer from the same “disease” from which we have not been able to find a cure for a long time now. It is the rejection of initiatives that benefit the state and its citizens simply because their authors are “others”.
Members of the current ruling coalition – who were previously in the opposition – used to complain that their voice was ignored, their draft laws disregarded or shoved away in drawers. Today I see an attempt to do the same. The swings of vanity determine the choices made, depending on where a politician sits – in opposition or ruling majority.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Public confidence in the state also depends on how the justice system works.
The main concern today is to restore the prestige of the judicial profession, to attract the best legal experts in Lithuania to the courts of justice. However, it needs to be said that the judicial self-government is in no hurry to initiate a renewal of the judicial system. It has not yet been determined how to estimate judicial workload, and even a third of district judges do not specialize in cases. The handling of complex, high-profile cases that shape the public view of judicial efficiency continues for years.
My new legislative initiative is aimed at a systematic change and covers the selection procedure for judges, brings administrative courts closer to people and opens the possibility for specialized courts to work more efficiently.
Sadly, no laws will stop a judge from adding a touch of alcohol to his mantle. There is only one way – to evaluate their ethics in a principled manner, because attenuating circumstances simply do not exist in such cases.
Recently, we saw that the pointlessly prolonged rotation of Constitutional Court justices dealt a serious blow to this most important state institution. It cast a shadow of hidden backstage games incompatible with the principle of political neutrality of the Constitutional Court. Therefore, I call on the Seimas to find a way to prevent such intrigues in the future.
It is no secret that I have high expectations about the newly appointed Prosecutor General. She faces the challenge of creating a Prosecutor’s Office of tomorrow capable to defend the public interest in a firm and principled way, ensure a more efficient criminal process and shorten excessively long pre-trial investigations. We need to expand the competence of prosecutors to investigate financial and corruption offenses, as well as cybercrime.
I am very glad that my proposal to improve the quality of legislation, put forward on Constitution Day, found resonance in the Government’s program. I hope that we will soon see changes not only in the quantity but also in the quality of projects submitted.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Lithuania’s security also depends on how much we value justice, respect and unity in our country. Today, we must be fully aware that we live in a time of cross-border shifts and growing tensions. We need to adapt quickly.
After all, national security risks exist not only outside Lithuania, but also within our country. Where citizens are frustrated, opportunities are easily found and exploited by hostile external forces that drag us into a web of disinformation and propaganda. Cynicism, arrogance, claims to the monopoly of truth – it all fuels citizens’ distrust in the democratic political system.
Therefore, today I call on all politicians to turn to the people and listen to their pains and concerns. But that will be difficult to do if people are sorted into “ours" and “others”, “progressives” and “villagers”. By talking rather than denouncing and grumbling, we would take a huge step towards a strong civil society capable of change.
We are not yet a mature democracy if politicians see citizens as statistical units whose voice is needed in elections only once every few years. Since when did we start to fear our people? Were we afraid of their voice during the times of the Sąjūdis movement?
We are not yet a mature democracy if we belittle our citizens who have a different opinion than the self-established representatives of the Ministry of Truth who have set themselves on the throne.
However, we can become a truly democratic society!
Let us start with three steps of trust and respect for the electorate.
The first is to create real conditions for the citizens of Lithuania to express their opinion in a referendum on the most significant issues of state life. To this end, we should extend the timeframe for collecting signatures needed to hold a referendum and give people the right to place their signatures electronically. It is unforgivable that the Constitutional Law on the Referendum has not been passed so far, which means that from July 1 Lithuanian citizens will lose the power granted to them by the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.
The second is to ensure that the people of Lithuania can continue to elect mayors directly.
Third, let us trust the future of Lithuania, its young people, and give them the opportunity to run for the Seimas at the age of 21.
The last two steps require amendments to the Constitution, which means consensus between the parties.
Such a consensus was lacking in the debate on the legalization of same-sex partnerships. So far, the opposing sides are not seeking compromise – rather the opposite, they are deepening the divide and heating up the dispute. To be brief, I am in favor of legal arrangements for the cohabitation of same-sex persons, but without prejudice to and without diluting the substance of Article 38 of the Constitution.
Is agreement possible? Yes, of course, if it is sincerely sought!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is only by being strong and united within the country that we can have more foreign policy levers. We will be able to speak forcibly to Europe and the world, bring allies together and shape international decisions.
We can expressly state that the resilience of the entire democratic West depends, at least in part, on our ability to withstand pressure from Eastern neighbors. Beyond Lithuania’s eastern borders there is an unstable space where inherent human rights and the rules of the free world are disrespected, where dictators who watch action films step into the role of terrorists and hijack passenger planes. Where border and nuclear security becomes a tool of blackmail.
Today, we have no other choice but to further strengthen Lithuania’s energy independence. We are working consistently to implement the synchronization of electricity grids with Western Europe. Cooperation with Poland and the Baltic States as well as the allocation of one billion euros by the European Union for this regional project have encouraged me to suggest an early start of synchronization: to test the isolated operation of the Baltic power systems as soon as in 2023.
The European Council conclusions, which are favorable to Lithuania, have made it possible to suspend the import of electricity from unsafe third-country power stations, including the Ostorvets nuclear power plant, at the EU level. The most important thing, however, is that we do not snooze off ourselves. Election promises may have faded in our memory, and the anti-Ostrovets drums have fallen more silent, so I need to remind you that electricity from Ostrovets can still enter Lithuania. I call on the Government not to give up and to reach an agreement as soon as possible on a common methodology for trade in electricity between the Baltic States and third countries.
Our country would be much safer if we had more stable democracies in the neighborhood. However, democracy cannot be imposed or imported – society needs to assert its right to democracy. Like we did, like Ukrainians did in 2014. Just like the Belarusian nation rose to fight for its freedom last year.
We must realistically evaluate the situation in the region. Based on its growing military power, Russia continues to grossly violate the international law in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Georgia, and to increasingly control Belarus.
Therefore, our most important task today is to stop – together with our allies – Russia’s expansion and prevent further destabilization of the region. We must strive to give our neighbors the opportunity to decide freely and democratically on their lives. The asylum we offer to the people of Belarus, our support to civil society, the loud voice of Lithuania reminding Europe of what is happening at its borders is the least we can and must do for our neighbors.
It will not be easy because dictatorial regimes think that they can act with impunity. Therefore, it is critical to focus on deterrence in the Baltic States, to strengthen NATO’s forward presence and air policing mission, and to prepare specific defense plans. We can counter the emerging threats by ensuring the active involvement of the United States in the security of our region. We must secure continued rotational presence of U.S. forces in Lithuania and their permanent presence as close as possible to our borders. I will be speaking about this at the NATO summit next week.
As we seek the commitment from others to defend us, let us not forget that we too must take care of our national security. Let us respect our commitment to consistently increase defense funding to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030, enhance our military capabilities, participate actively in international missions, and build a civil society – from the school bench – that is ready to defend Lithuania.
Another major challenge ahead is to keep the European Union’s attention on the Eastern Partnership. We cannot allow one-off failures or frustrations to obscure the efforts made in Ukraine, Moldova and the South Caucasus. Lithuania has an exceptional, I would say, a historic role here.
I can personally confirm that European leaders listen to our voice and opinion on this issue most intently. We have unique experience and knowledge of the region, which is very much needed in shaping EU policies. Therefore, Lithuania’s leadership in the integration of Eastern partners into the European Union is and will continue to be an undisputed priority in our foreign policy.
Together we are always stronger. That is why I will continue promoting warm relations with the EU’s closest neighbors. In the past two years, we have managed to revive our strategic partnership with Poland at the highest level. Together we buried the rebels of the 1863 uprising in Vilnius, and together we celebrated the 230th anniversary of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Two Nations in Warsaw. We have reestablished the Council of Presidents, which will hold a meeting in Vilnius this coming October where together with Poland we will commemorate the anniversary of the Mutual Pledge of the Two Nations, a fundamental amendment to the Constitution. Lithuania is an active regional policy participant. We are forging a partnership with Poland and Ukraine in the Lublin Triangle format. I believe that the day will come when representatives of free Belarus will join this initiative.
The family of the Baltic States has a very close relationship with the Nordic countries. It is built on strong support extended by the Scandinavian countries to our re-established independence and shaped by their successful model of welfare states, similar views on regional security problems, and Scandinavian investments reaching us. Therefore, we always coordinate our positions on European matters and meet ahead of each European Council. During my visit to Stockholm next week, we will discuss among other things the further expansion of Swedish companies in Lithuania.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The future we will create for our children depends on our potential for renewal in key areas. After negotiating persistently in the European Council, we achieved a significant increase – bigger than ever before – in the funds allocated to Lithuania from the new EU budget: a total sum of 14.5 billion euros. The deadlock over equal direct payments to farmers was finally broken. The most important thing now is to use European Union funds wisely and fairly in sectors that create the highest value for people.
We will be able to highlight Lithuania’s advantages in a competitive international market only by creating a sustainable and innovative economy. We can do this because Lithuania has always been known as a country of creative, hardworking and persistent people. We have obviously outgrown the shirt of “cheap labor”.
Looking to the future, I see a unique role for education in consolidating and developing our achievements.
We must admit that three decades of inconsistent, contradictory educational reforms have done great damage to our young people. I therefore welcome efforts to reach a national agreement between political parties on the quality of education and I hope that it will be signed this year. Realizing that educational initiatives will yield results only many years or even decades later, we need to start as soon as possible.
In my pursuit of fundamental change, I submitted a package of equal start amendments to the Law on Education, which was adopted by the Seimas. According to one of its provisions, about 1,000 children from families at social risk will be included in pre-school education as soon as this year. We must continue to move towards ensuring access to pre-school education for all because it is one of the most effective means to reduce disparities in student achievement and exclusion.
Introducing inclusive education in Lithuanian schools by 2024 will be an important impetus for the development of a welfare state. Many children with disabilities will no longer be discriminated against. As they study together, children will understand from an early age how diverse we are and learn to accept and appreciate it. I saw this when visiting schools where inclusive education is already a matter of today, not tomorrow.
Innovation does not have time to wait for changes in the education system. That is why we must act here and now. First, it is necessary to consistently increase funding for research and experimental development to at least 2 percent of GDP. Second, we need to create a network of innovation officers across state institutions to coordinate innovation policies more effectively. Third, building on a stronger research base and fundamental research, we should engage more actively in international scientific structures.
Unfortunately, insufficient interaction between higher establishments of education and businesses remains our Achilles heel. It seems that sometimes entrepreneurs lack faith and scientists lack self-confidence. Together, we can break this vicious chain.
For me, the pursuit of innovative Lithuania is closely related to the vision of Green Lithuania. A few days ago, together with President Valdas Adamkus, the leaders of the European Commission, representatives of responsible businesses, public figures, and nature conservationists, we issued a Declaration for Green Lithuania. We witnessed businesses and environmentalists, often on different sides of the barricades, put their shoulders together for a common goal.
I am glad to see that more and more people in Lithuania genuinely care about the living environment. We are gradually breaking away from the grips of consumer society, with sustainability and mobility emerging as a lifestyle habit.
The provisions of the EU Green Deal are reflected in the Government’s program. However, this is not enough: we must pay more attention to the development of green infrastructure in the regions when allocating European support. One of the essential instruments to achieve climate goals for 2030 and 2050 is the ambitious development of renewable energy.
Targeted legislative initiatives can also improve the quality of environmental protection in Lithuania. I have therefore tabled amendments to the Legislative Framework Law, which provide for a mandatory environmental assessment of all draft legislation. In the initiated amendments to the Law on Public Procurement, I propose to establish a green course for public procurement, which would include environmental aspects in the evaluation of tenders. These would be timely steps in shaping a nature-friendly approach across public institutions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For our country to prosper, we need to develop interaction between state institutions and to foster political culture.
One of our long-standing “debts” is to strengthen Lithuanian self-government. For too long, we have treated it as a stepdaughter, both financially and attention-wise. Finally, we realized that being closest to the people, it can best respond to their needs. I would therefore like to remind party leaders of the agreement on strengthening the autonomy of self-government signed by political parties at my initiative at the Forum of the Regions last year. Let us not miss the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment through actual work.
I believe that cross-institutional cooperation will deepen and expand. However, I cannot keep silent that a great deal of energy is still wasted at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Attempts are made to divide the state and society and submerge them into meaningless political power games which are incompatible with the principles of good governance.
I also regret to remind you that yesterday’s opposition, which loudly supported the invitation to implement an ambitious reform in public procurement, today is trying to dilute its substance. Such an irresponsible approach costs us not only hundreds of millions of euros every year, but also confidence in state institutions. Are there not too many well-fed public procurement participants who strongly oppose change?
We can no longer delay changes that would reduce tax reservations and increase budget revenues. Those who are more equal than others still exist in the field of taxation. Those who receive high capital gains still pay lower taxes than much less paid employees. I understand that we are putting a lot of effort into fighting the effects of the pandemic, but we cannot keep using the virus as a cover-up for our lack of political will!
Experience shows that the window in the political agenda for delivering education, health, taxation, cultural, and other reforms of national significance is rather small. And it is narrowing as time is wasted in arguments over electoral procedures or the extension of alcohol sales by five hours per week. A year from now, when I deliver the next state of the nation address, that window will be almost completely closed, while most of you will be immersed in a mood of upcoming elections.
Distinguished members of the Seimas and Government, I am ready to do my best to support your ideas which will enable us to move forward. I do not think we have the time or luxury to split into those who love their homeland dearly and those who love it less dearly. None of us has monopoly over Love of Homeland. So let us always remember our duty and constitutional oath: to serve Lithuania and the well-being of its people.
Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Democracy is not set in stone. It can be undermined at any time by the thirst for power of this or that political force. It can be knocked out of balance by social and economic tensions, people’s disappointment in justice and lack of public solidarity.
However, democracy has a huge potential to withstand challenges, to invigorate society and to lead forward.
Where the Lithuanian nation stands open to change, united and self-confident, free from political censorship or imposed stereotypes, no one can stop it.
We can and must rely on increasingly stronger and demanding civil society. A society that wants not only to listen, but also to speak. To discuss, to explore, to shape decisions, and to build a better future.
People have the right to demand responsibility from elected politicians and to work together towards creating a strong, just, green, and innovative Welfare Lithuania that belongs to us all.
Thank you for your attention.
Last updated 2021.06.08 09:18