News2019.10.14 08:46

Can EU's Sinkevičius make Baltics think green?

After hearings in the European Parliament, Virginijus Sinkevičius, Lithuania’s 28-year-old economy minister, is set to become the European Commission’s youngest-ever commissioner.e Entrusted with the environment and oceans portfolio, will he be able to make a tangible impact not only across the bloc, but in the region and the country he comes from, too?

Linas Balsys, a Lithuanian MP and environmentalist, tells BNN he expects Sinkevičius to tackle pollution of the Baltic Sea.

“The situation is deteriorating and, for me, the way he will address the issue will be the litmus test of his performance,” the lawmaker says.

The other thing he expects from the would-be EU commissioner is efforts to reduce pollution in agriculture.

“These two issues seem to me the most acute environmental concerns we are dealing in Lithuania. In addition to pollution from old cars, of course,” he emphasised.

Sinkevičius could effect change in his home country by pushing environmental issues up the domestic political agenda, says political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas of Vilnius University.

“When it comes to environmental consciousness, the Baltics lag far behind the Western Europeans, let alone the Scandinavians. The awareness of climate change and its projected aftermath is just too low in the Baltics,” Janeliūnas underscores to BNN.

Too many people and politicians in the Baltics still see the environment as an issue of secondary importance and one pushed by Brussels.

“As a result, there is little to none pressure from the public to address environmental issues,” according to Janeliūnas. “Sinkevičius is in a unique position to change that.”

A case in point, he adds, is how weak or unsuccessful has been a push to introduce a tax on old polluting cars.

“Our parliament is just not up to that,” Janeliūnas points out.

In Timmermans' shadow

There are no environmental issues in the Baltics that wouldn't be equally pressing for the block as a whole, says Ieva Petronytė-Urbonavičienė, a political science lecturer at Vilnius University.

Her colleague Ramūnas Vilpišauskas notes that environmental protection has traditionally been the purview of national governments, but the growing importance of climate action is pushing this area to the political centre-stage.

“It’s an important responsibility politically, but that weight will probably go to European Commission Vice-President [Frans] Timmermans,” Vilpišauskas told a news agency. “And Lithuania’s commissioner will be in charge of only a section of that area. We can only guess which part it will be.”

Lithuania's Ambassador to the EU Jovita Neliupšienė explains that the environment commissioner will have to oversee the implementation of EU legislation and represent the bloc in negotiations with third countries.

“We are not aware of and do not see much of the hard work that is done by the commissioner responsible for environmental protection, waste disposal, cleaning, and implementing the directives and regulations that the EU adopts,” the ambassador told reporters in Brussels.

The final vote in the European Parliament on Ursula von der Leyen's European Commission is to be held on October 17.

This story originally appeared on BNN, and was edited for brevity by LRT English

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme

Newest, Most read