News2019.04.16 17:58

Lithuanian presidential debate: 9 candidates discuss foreign policy 2019.04.16 17:58

With less than a month left until Lithuania's presidential vote, the nine candidates vying for the post discussed foreign policy in a televised debate on Monday night.

Who are the candidates?

Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis. European commissioner for food and health safety, member of the Social Democratic Party

Arvydas Juozaitis. Philosopher, author, former vice-president of the National Olympic Committee of Lithuania, independent candidate

Valentinas Mazuronis. Member of the European Parliament, independent candidate

Gitanas Nausėda. Economist and banker, independent candidate

Mindaugas Puidokas. Member of parliament, elected with the Farmers and Greens Union, but running without his party's nomination

Naglis Puteikis. Member of parliament, chairman of the Lithuanian Centre Party

Saulius Skvernelis. Prime minister, candidate of the Farmers and Greens Union

Ingrida Šimonytė. Member of parliament, former finance minister, candidate of the conservative Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats

Valdemar Tomaševski. Member of the European Parliament, candidate of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania

Here is what they said:

Overall purpose of Lithuania's foreign policy

Nausėda said that NATO, relations with the US and European integration are key to Lithuania's security, but "we should look for more partners".

Puteikis declared that Lithuania's "foreign policy has hitherto been based on pandering to [international] organisations, like Brussels" and that people's welfare should be the goal of foreign policy.

Skvernelis listed countries Lithuania should develop strategic relations with: the US, Germany, Poland, Asian countries. "Our future is in close relations with Japan."

According to Tomaševski, Lithuania, under its current leadership, has no foreign policy and is losing its sovereignty.

Lithuania's relations with Russia

Andriukaitis said he supported sanctions over Crimea, but thought Lithuania should find "pragmatic rapport" with Russia which is a key player in tackling most global issues: climate change, the Iran deal, the Syria conflict.

Puteikis criticised the current president whose strict statements, he said, undermined problem solving with Russia.

Šimonytė would not change anything in Vilnius' policies towards Russia as long as it maintains aggression in Ukraine. Lithuania can prepare to speak with "future Russia" (read: post-Putin).

Mazuronis said that the EU's views about Russia were changing, and so should Lithuania's, "without giving up our values".

Tomaševski alone urged unreservedly to improve relations with Russia, a beacon of "Christian civilization". "We must expand these relations as islamization of Europe is getting stronger."

Puidokas noted that Russia was Lithuania's biggest trade partner and that Vilnius should concentrate on improving ties with Belarus.

On Macron's vision for Europe

The candidates were asked about the French President Emmanuel Macron's recent proposals for the European Union, including Europe-wide social safety net, joint cyber-security effort and border control.

Puteikis said that the European Parliament elections would "cool down" Macron's ambition. He slammed the EU's recently passed Mobility Package, detrimental to Lithuania's hauling industry, and accused Western European powers of hypocrisy. "When it comes to diplomatic war of words with Russia, they push us forward, while themselves doing trade."

Skvernelis supports the EU in its current shape and argued against centralizing border control and migration policies.

Šimonytė commended Macron's ambitions, saying some of his suggestions have already been successfully implemented in individual EU countries.

Tomaševski thinks Macron's plan is "populist" with "one or two" suggestions that are OK. He said no to centralized Europe, concerned for a loss of sovereignty.

Puidokas was all for "Europe of nations".

Andriukaitis commended Macron's "consistent" positions, urging Lithuania to have one as well.

What to do with Ukraine?

Most candidates' talking points played on the themes of helping Ukraine fight corruption and, as a carrot, offering closer integration with Europe.

Puidokas expressed support for Volodymyr Zelensky, the leading candidate in Ukraine's presidential election.

Departing from the consensus, Tomaševski restated he was not a supporter of the 2014 Euromaidan revolution and that Ukraine's current leaders were leading the country in a wrong direction.

Even more originally, Puteikis said that Lithuania was more corrupt than Ukraine and had nothing to teach its neighbour about fighting corruption. "Ukrainians, don't do what Lithuania does."

What would they talk about with Donald Trump?

The candidates were asked what they would tell the US president in a hypothetical one-on-one meeting.

Mazuronis replied that he'd thank Trump for being "the first US leader to actually improve Lithuania's security".

Tomaševski, too, laid praise on Trump, saying he was in touch with people's moods and wanted to strengthen the US.

Puidokas commended Trump's "fight against neoliberalism".

Nausėda, Šimonytė and Skvernelis concentrated on security and Lithuania having raised its defence budget to 2 percent of the GDP, supposedly partly a result of Trump's pressure.

Skvernelis added that he would apologise for Lithuania's vote in the UN censuring Washington for moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

Andriukaitis alone said his conversation with Trump would not be a pleasant one: he'd tell the US president that trade wars are not the way forward and reprehend his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

The rule of law in Poland

As Vilnius strives for better relations with Poland, the European Union has been looking for ways to discipline Warsaw for domestic attacks on the rule of law. The candidates were asked which side of the stand-off between Warsaw and Brussels they supported.

Mazuronis, an MEP, stood on Poland's side. He said he voted against the European Parliament's resolutions and that "censures and punishments" were the surest way to destroy the EU.

Puidokas, too, believed that Poland deserves Lithuania's unconditional support as a strategic partner.

Nausėda countered that he couldn't condone moves that broke the law. "I believe that Poland, a very pro-European country, will find a solution acceptable to both sides."

Andriukaitis insisted that the rule of law in Poland concerned all Europeans. Lithuania must stand for the principle and try to convince the Poles to put things in order.

Puteikis said that "the rule of law" was a term from the Soviet propaganda playbook and that Poland was doing everything right. Lithuania should imitate Poland's justice reforms, he said, because "here, much like in Poland, justice is very flawed".

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme