Ladies and Gentlemen,
Voters in Lithuania have decided whom they want to see at the helm in the next four years.
I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate all newly elected members of parliament. The people of Lithuania have placed their hopes and trust in you, as well as their wish to have the pressing problems that society faces addressed effectively. It is now up to you to live up to that trust.
Important work lies ahead of us: the formation of a sustainable Government with a strong political foundation and the capacity to deliver reforms in practice, not on paper. Protection of public – not narrow group – interests, determination to bring about change in key areas, genuine focus on the individual person, competence, responsibility, and honesty – these are the main criteria I will apply when considering candidates for the next cabinet.
The spread of coronavirus in Europe and Lithuania is increasingly more difficult to control. We’ve got serious new challenges ahead. Society and businesses –the whole of Lithuania – will have to live through unpredictable and challenging times. Therefore, a smooth transfer of power is of paramount importance today. There is simply no time for post-election euphoria. The next Government must have a very clear immediate plan for containing the pandemic and a team ready to implement it. There is work to be done that cannot be delayed. As head of state, I will contribute to making it happen.
I have promised to work for the welfare of all the people in Lithuania – and I am keeping my promise. For me, a welfare state is the most important – yet uncompleted – work of our Independence years. I firmly believe that we must fight inequality, social exclusion and divisiveness, provide quality public services accessible to all and invest in our common future.
It means that Welfare Lithuania must be a strong, fair, green and innovative EU member state.
First, Lithuania must be strong because only a stable and safe environment can enable the development of all skills and capacities.
We, the people of Lithuania, are the owners of our state – and that’s how we should act. We have a shared duty to protect our hard-won national statehood and to defend our country from emerging threats. We must cherish our Homeland and make it stronger through everyday work.
We must do everything we can to ensure a smooth continuous functioning of state institutions and their cooperation. We must continue working towards energy independence, strengthen the infrastructure and build additional interconnections with Western Europe. We must pursue an active foreign policy aimed at Euro-Atlantic integration, the preservation of peace and the spread of democratic values in neighboring countries.
The current unsettling geopolitical environment is the best reason for us to respect party agreements on national defense. I will seek to increase consistently defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP because I believe it is up to us to take care of our own security.
A strong nation and a mature society are self-reflecting and self-creating. We need to invest in culture because it is the guarantor of our national identity, self-esteem, economic progress, and social well-being. As it draws inspiration from the past, reflects on the historical timeline and gives meaning to our national legacy, culture stands for national vitality. At the same time, it upholds civil society, promotes social change and builds bridges of understanding between generations – in the process, it is actively engaged in creating the future of Lithuania.
Second, Lithuania’s welfare must be fair. Fairness and justice build trust and confidence. Where there is no justice, there is no trust among citizens – without which a strong and fair state cannot exist.
I strongly believe that moving forward to a welfare state means eliminating exclusion among people. There is still a lot of exclusion in our life, by far too much: the walls of social status, descent, age or disability too often arise as insurmountable obstacles for the people in Lithuania.
We made a promise in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, adopted twenty-eight years ago, that our independent democratic state will regulate economic activity so that it serves the general welfare of the nation. We laid down the principles of social support to the needy and the principles for state-funded education and health care.
We must keep to this promise. I see social justice as a guarantee that every person has equal opportunities to pursue their goals and live in dignity – and, what is very important, independently. It is not sufficient to focus exclusively on the State’s monetary support to socially vulnerable groups. It is necessary to search for decisions on expanding social services, developing favorable labor market conditions, creating jobs – and empowering the people.
Change must start from pre-school establishments and schools. The uncomfortable truth is that the achievements of our school students are increasingly more affected by where they live and who their parents are. The imbalances in the education system prevent many young people from revealing their talents. It is our children who suffer because of it. We all suffer because of it.
I see education as top priority and intend to use the Equal Start initiative for making pre-school establishments more accessible to children from social risk families. We must ensure that the education system responds to the educational needs of each and every child and that formal education is supported by non-formal learning. Quality education must be accessible to all!
I believe that education is an area where all political parties can and must reach agreement. I will therefore work towards enforcing national political agreement that would enshrine our long-term commitment to future generations – just like we did in defense.
On the global market, we compete primarily through knowledge and skills. Therefore, I have already started to build a foundation for placing Lithuania among top twenty world nations in terms of the results achieved by school students in ten years’ time.
The trust of society in the state depends on other public services, too. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us how important it is to have a strong health care system. We all have the right to timely, accessible and quality health services. Difficult road to appropriate health care or dissatisfaction with the level of its quality creates long-lasting disappointment. It is therefore necessary not only to restore uninterrupted better-quality health services and prepare for mass vaccination, but also to substantially upgrade and upbuild the health care system.
Our sense of justice is also offended by the excessively high level of inequality. One in five residents of Lithuania lives below the poverty level, amounting a total of 600 thousand. They are one of us. They are not just passersby on street: they are our parents, neighbors, elderly relatives, childhood friends, and future-building families with children. All of them deserve equal opportunities and adequate payment for their work.
We could start speaking about a fairer state and society if the ratio between people with the highest incomes and those with the lowest incomes shrank by least five times. To achieve this goal, our primary objective will be to ensure that the coronavirus pandemic does not have a negative long-term impact on social exclusion and poverty. We will also have to take care of the elderly because the welfare of society is judged by the way it treats senior citizens. Pensions should be increased more rapidly to correspond to Western European standards. I have submitted the necessary legal amendments to this effect – and I will continue doing so.
We must also work to introduce economic restructuring, create higher added value and make Lithuanian wages catch up with those in welfare states. We also need a fairer tax system with no unsubstantiated disparities and exemptions. One of our priorities should be a smarter fight against the shadow economy, which depletes the state’s financial resources.
We need to ensure effective regional policy to reduce regional exclusion – which would diminish the pressure on people to seek better life in the capital city or abroad. This will not be done without strong and independent local municipalities. Together with my team and other governmental institutions, I am working to make the average pay in the regions account for not less than 85 percent of the average wage level in the capital of Lithuania.
Trust in the state, Ladies and Gentlemen, is also eroded by non-transparent government decisions. Suspicion that central and municipal institutions or specific persons act irresponsibly and dishonestly, that they are involved in power abuse, corrupt activity and wasteful spending of our resources can be a heavy burden to bear. Each such case challenges our inherent sense of justice. We must continue fighting impunity. I will personally demand full compliance with high law enforcement, law and order and political standards.
Third, Lithuania must be green.
More and more people come to understand that a clean environment directly affects the quality of their life and that biodiversity is not only a national resource but also a legacy for future generations. Together with other EU countries, we are moving forward to climate neutrality.
We will have to do more in the years ahead: to renounce unsustainable consumer habits and create a modern, efficient, competitive, and green economy. We will fail if we keep looking back or try to find ways for bending strict requirements. What we need to do is to search for new opportunities and to demonstrate our resourcefulness. This is our big chance to get ahead and join the ranks of future leading global economies! Yes, you have heard me right – leading global economies! Digitalization and green economy are the path forward.
Environmental protection can and will become an integral part of life for all people in Lithuania. Society must be included into the decision making. Every one of us can contribute to change by choosing a bike over a car, scrapping plastic bags and buying organic products from local farmers.
In order to make environmental issues bring society together and not divide it, I have launched the Green Lithuania initiative, which covers a wide range of social groups, including municipalities, businesses, industrial companies, agricultural enterprises, non-governmental organizations, and local communities. I will insist on assessing all state-level decisions in terms of environmental protection and climate change. The Law on Legislative Framework – currently in the make – must reflect this prime purpose.
Fourth, Lithuania needs to be innovative.
Only a breakthrough in innovation will allow to transform the economy and create higher value-added products and services. By ensuring a reliable regulatory environment, favorable business startup conditions and appropriate incentives for modernization and investment, we will encourage companies to introduce innovation and create better paid jobs. In order to engage in global competition, we need to unleash our intellectual potential, make use of scientific knowledge and commercialize the results of scientific research.
It is hard to expect big innovations until the funding for Lithuania’s research and experimental development continues to stand below 1 percent of GDP. It is our shame. We are two times below the EU average. This hinders the advance of an effective system of research and development, prevents our young talents from unfolding, and leads to brain drain.
Innovation is increasingly shaped by digitalization. Therefore, we need to consolidate the state-run information systems, ensuring that all services are provided online and in real time, where possible.
It is already clear that the development of a human-oriented and ethically operated artificial intelligence requires to accelerate access to the public sector data. Everything that is not secret should be open and accessible to all citizens. Unfortunately, this is not a given today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A state needs adequate resources to perform its functions properly and provide quality education, health and other public services. We clearly lack them in Lithuania today. The scope of public finances is smaller by one-fourth compared to the EU average. This is the reason behind the constant shortfall of financial resources across many areas. We see a never-ending blanket pulling from one sector to another – regrettably, the blanket is too short and too narrow.
In order to make Lithuania strong, fair, green and innovative, we will have to increase government revenue. I am convinced that spending for public services should be raised to at least 35 percent of GDP.
Even now, there is room for budget revenue growth. To make it a reality, we need to fight the shadow economy and tax injustice. It is no less important to use effectively the funds already collected – that is why I have initiated the restructuring of public procurement and anti-corruption systems.
Of course, the vision of Lithuania’s well-being cannot and must not be restricted by the role that the state plays. A democracy is as strong as its civil society is robust, resilient and ready to act.
The culture of citizenship needs to be continuously nurtured and developed to remain viable. I therefore invite all the people of Lithuania to actively engage in the activities of non-governmental organizations and local communities. You can reach out to those around you, protect the public interest and address common problems together.
We will attain genuine national maturity only when the majority of our people are active participants in public life – where the required conditions are in place. We need more volunteers, more organizations and members of local communities, more people who are not afraid to voice their opinion and demand accountability from the government.
In order for us to be able to talk about a major leap towards a welfare society, Lithuania should score at least 55 points out of 100 in the Civic Empowerment Index. We currently stand below 40.
We will have as much welfare as much the society is engaged in tackling key problems, as much as the government institutions are sustainable and consistent, and as much as we have dialogue and agreement. A lot will depend on our ability to assess whether the funds allocated for a specific purpose are not only necessary, but also adequate. Our shared responsibility for the public good, our unity and solidarity, our determination to uphold respect to each other is no less important.
A welfare state means people who not only act in line with the culture of trust, but also build it themselves. The more inspiring example we give and the more we care for each other, the easier it will be for us to move forward together.
Let us not believe those who say that everything in no good in our country. Let us have patience to preserve what has been achieved, let us continue seeking new heights and let us sow new seeds of creativity and love. May they grow into a strong, fair, green, and innovative Welfare Lithuania!
Last updated 2020.10.28 12:15Back