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2020.10.26 14:53

Lithuania's conservatives pledge changes in alcohol policies but no 'revolution'

BNS, LRT.lt2020.10.26 14:53

The new conservative-led government may revise some policies introduced by the current one, including on stimulus spending, but there will not be any overnight “revolutions”, according to prime minister candidate Ingrida Šimonytė.

Having won the parliamentary elections, the conservative Homeland Union (TS-LKD) looks to form a ruling coalition with two liberal parties and oust the current bloc, led by the Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS), out of power.

Read more: Conservatives seal victory in Lithuania's run-off elections

While in the opposition, the conservatives and liberals have criticised the LVŽS's restrictions on alcohol consumption and sales.

In 2018, Lithuania raised the legal drinking age to 20, shortened alcohol sale hours, further tightened advertising rules and increased excise duties on alcohol.

“As far as various bans and restrictions are concerned, our key message is that there'll be no revolution [...] where the new majority revokes all the decisions of the previous Seimas on a November day,” Šimonytė told reporters on Monday.

Read more: Lithuanian election winners look to form conservative-liberal government

The new government will look at whether restrictions, including on alcohol sales, have proven efficient and will discuss the measures with health professionals, businesses and other interested groups before making any changes, according to Šimonytė.

“I'm not ruling out changing part of the requirements or some provisions, but that won't happen overnight, in a week or right away,” she said.

Revisions of spending bill

Investments earmarked in Lithuania's draft 2021 budget for stimulating the economy may be revised next year, Šimonytė also said.

“The biggest doubts are about the so-called DNA plan, because the ambition is to make investments that have long-term consequences,” she told reporters.

Last June, the government of Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis approved the DNA of the Future economic plan to help the Lithuanian economy through the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan earmarks about 6.3 billion euros in long-term investment by the end of 2021. About a third of it, 2.2 billion euros, were earmarked for new investment, while 4.1 billion euros would be accelerating the investment that was already planned.

“We'll have [...] to assess these investments [to decide] if they can be planned in next year's budget, or whether we should first wait for the agreement on the so-called European recovery fund to see on what terms and what funding is actually allocated to Lithuania,” Šimonytė said.

The European Commission proposed in May to establish a European recovery fund worth 750 billion euros, including 500 billion euros in subsidies and 250 billion euros in loans. Under the proposal, Lithuania would get 3.9 billion euros in subsidies and 2.4 billion euros in loans.

Incumbents to focus on preserving their legacy

The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union sees protecting their government's achievements of the past four years as their main task in the new parliament, the party leader said on Monday.

“The main thing now is to protect the changes that have been made, particularly in the field of pharmacy where we'll try to keep in place the pricing policy and regulation on drugs,” Ramūnas Karbauskis told reporters.

“There are also alcohol control issues, because there are plans to lift the ban on alcohol advertising,” he added.

According to Karbauskis, the new parliament will resist moves to legalise recreational and medical use of cannabis, as sought by the liberal Freedom Party.

Karbauskis also said he hoped that the new government would not revoke decisions on pensions and child benefits.

The conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the biggest opposition party in the outgoing Seimas, came first with 50 seats and has launched talks with two liberal parties – the Liberal Movement and Freedom Party – to build a center-right government coalition that would have a majority of 74 seats in the 141-member parliament.