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© Vida Press

In recent years, there has been a heated debated in our political community on whether the European Union is destroying our identity or whether we have to resist the 'decisions of Brussels'. In the meantime, we were labelled either nationalist or liberal conservatives. We got imperceptibly involved in a process without end, a discussion, which was not really meaningful in practice. And some may have been taken in by the imposed divide, which actually does not exist. Meanwhile, external observers could say that the largest right-wing party in Lithuania was programmed for internal differences of opinion even on the future of Europe. In fact, this is not the case. The Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) has been, from the very start, and still is the largest Lithuanian political party, which consistently and openly supports Lithuania's membership of a strong European Union.

Unfortunately, a number of European leaders on both sides of the political spectrum have been comfortably sliding on a populist wave of anti-European sentiments for some time now. They have embarked on populism as their last resort, in the context of the falling popularity of traditional parties. Hence in the run-up to elections new movements and new unconventional forces arise with a very vague system of values ​​and ideas. Often, anti-European sentiments are coupled with encouragement not to make enemies with Russia and, in fact with Putin.

Similarly, Lithuania is following suit. While traditional parties are torn to pieces, new committees and movements are set up. The current ruling parties do not originate from Euro-enthusiasts, either. For instance, the leader of 'Peasants' does not brag anymore, but it is hard to forget his past opposition to the membership of the European Union, the introduction of the Euro, and the prospects of strengthening energy independence from the Russian gas. Another leader of the ruling party is still looking for ways to improve the relations with Russia. Moreover, we happen to hear speeches in the Parliament against, for example the EU-Canada agreement and people are being frightened about the flood of GMO products in Lithuania as a result of signing it.

I understand that today, being pro-European may seem unpopular and even difficult. As a pro-European politician you need to understand European affairs and be able to explain to people how the really complicated mechanism of the European Union works. For us, this is nothing new. Actually, the TS-LKD has always been choosing a less popular course for the sake of Lithuania's interests, rather than follow a more convenient downstream option. In fact, our constituents are not naïve; they realize the scale of resources allocated by Putin's Moscow for the purpose of breaking agreement among Western leaders and between communities. Therefore, it is our responsibility as a party to prevent the electorate from forming even the slightest impression that we are somehow contributing to artificially induced and myth-based disputes.

Besides, whom would we elect in Lithuania if the long-running, fire-resistant, waterproof and widely familiar parties disappeared? Local chiefs or the rich, well-established in their dominions, who have silenced political opposition and who would buy their electoral campaigns and candidates for non-transparent funds and influence?

I certainly respect those who are sincerely concerned about the preservation of the national identity. But I do not see any collision between the Lithuanian and the European identity. From a long-term perspective, we have to inevitably admit that we have never had more freedom to be Lithuanian than after joining the European Union and NATO. And what is more, we are safer than ever before. We have also made a huge progress of economic transformation and we are about to solve the problem of energy dependence. Finally, our concerns and positions in various fields are important not only for Lithuania.

Interestingly, it is precisely in those public sectors where the EU has so far had minimal powers, namely culture and education, that the situation is most upsetting. These areas were left exclusively for our own care. Since we fail to properly manage them ourselves, we cannot blame Brussels for our own shortcomings. Let us better invite European reform to these abandoned areas too.

Another typical reproach to Europe emerged after the sudden influx of displaced persons and refugees. Let us briefly imagine a theoretical situation where refugees flooded not from the south but from the east... Would we not ask for help from our partners? Actually, solidarity only works when you contribute to the solution to the problem, even if it does not directly affect you, knowing that, in the event of trouble, you will be offered equal solidarity by others.

Both Europe and Lithuania need genuine leadership. Leadership is not conformism, though. Quite on the contrary, leadership requires courage and ability to make difficult decisions. Such decisions were made by Germany, which, despite public scepticism, has taken a shared responsibility for the security of the Baltic region by deploying its troops in Lithuania. It was a politically difficult decision, recognising the significance of the security of the Baltic region to the entire Europe and the Western world. Thanks to Germany, under the leadership of Chancellor Merkel, European sanctions against Russia have been retained, although a number of Euro-sceptical leaders would happily withdraw them. Eventually, Germany feels responsible for the European Union; it brings forward proposals on Europe's future in order to engage those who lack ideas into a positive debate and to discuss real solutions. The TS-LKD also supports this type of leadership.

Indeed, at some point, the functioning of the European Union is either too slow or too weak. However, if we distance ourselves from the European core, we will remain exclusively preoccupied with our own country on the margins of Europe. And if the proponents of the fall of Europe succeed in winning the elections, our future options can become even more blurred. It is not by chance that the heralds of the decline of Europe keep silent about the concrete future vision they propose.

Europe has been naturally moving towards consolidation so far. Yet, we do not intend to lag behind the process, in the periphery of integration space together with those who are discussing withdrawal or divorce. Being as close as possible to the EU's integration core is in the best interests of Lithuania and this is the heart of the European platform of the TS-LKD. Multi-speed Europe is not our choice, but if it has already been imposed, we opt for the geopolitical core of Europe, rather than a geopolitically undefined area, which always translates into a higher security risk.

Therefore, it is time to admit to ourselves and remind to our political opponents that the TS-LKD is the largest and the most respectable pro-European party in Lithuania. Yes, we stand firm in our support for the European Union and we seek the deepest possible involvement in the decision-making on our common cause, because we do believe in Europe. The task of returning Lithuania back to Europe and fully engaging our country in addressing European problems was inherited from the National Reform Movement. We have been consistently pursuing this mission and will continue doing so without any hesitations.