2019.08.12 17:30

Climate action not top priority for Lithuania, but may offer opportunity – interview with EC candidate

Last week, Lithuania's Economy and Innovation Minister Virginijus Sinkevičius became the country's presumptive nominee for the European Commission. He himself agrees he is lucky to be a Green candidate for the new EC led by a conservative president.

Even though European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen asked member states to propose male and female candidates, she reportedly greenlit Sinkevičius' nomination after meeting him last week.

Observers say that Sinkevičius is helped by his political affiliations – a member of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, his candidacy might please the Greens in the European Parliament.

On the other hand, Lithuania's ruling party veers considerably to the right of the European Greens, is socially conservative, has not been particularly active on climate policies and the government it leads has notoriously been the only one in the EU not to include a single female minister.

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Sinkevičius' young age and relative political inexperience – he is 28-years-old and has entered politics only in 2016 and became minister in 2017 – may also be held against him during hearings in the European Parliament in September-October.

Sinkevičius spoke with Nemira Pumprickaitė on LRT TV programme ‘Savaitė’.

Do you have any doubts about being appointed an EU commissioner?

I have great respect for the procedure and I believe you must go through all of it before you can be certain. Politics is unpredictable.

Would I be wrong to say that you could lay claim to the research, science and innovation portfolio?

It is the EC president's decision to make, I would not like to engage in speculation about what portfolios I could or could not get.

The two key issues for the European Greens are climate and gender equality. If you were offered to work with climate action and energy, would that be acceptable?

Climate and energy would be a very strong and influential position, because, clearly, it is a priority that the president [von der Leyen] identified and repeated several times in her speech. [It's] an area where she will push for more ambitious targets. Doubtlessly, it would be a big challenge and a recognition for Lithuania, and would require much cooperation with the European Greens.

Do you expect to be offered the position?

I cannot say, I am very sorry. Once we can, we will let you know, but for now, it is in Lithuania's interests, too, to respect the president's position and wait for the process to take its course.

[Farmers and Greens Union's leader] Ramūnas Karbauskis has said that the European Greens will back you to EC President van der Leyen. Have they?

Yes, the Commission president received a letter, as did [Lithuanian] President Gitanas Nausėda and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis.

But coming back to the two main issues, climate change and equal opportunities, our Lithuanian Farmers and Greens have not said anything about climate change, and let's not even get into gender equality.

There are many people within the party who care about these issues, not just climate change, but animal rights, etc. These get raised inside the party, but we understand the realities in Lithuania.

We cannot talk about climate change in Lithuania, because the number-one problem is social exclusion, therefore the priorities are ordered in that way.

But when it comes to climate change, it will inevitably affect [Lithuania] and I think that every party in the next general elections will have to say in its platform how Lithuania will contribute to climate action, what changes to our industry, agriculture, transport we'll have to make and and how we'll further the European Union's common goal which will be changed in 2030, to cut CO2 emissions by 55 percent and reach zero emissions in 2050.

We must find our place in this difficult mission, but I think it is also an opportunity, because, clearly, the goals will be very ambitious. For example, there are to be 100 cities in the European Union with zero CO2 emissions by 2032. We can understand that a lot of money will be invested into these cities so they can reach the target.

This means opportunities, new technologies and I hope that Lithuania will not shy away from climate change [action], but will be brave like, say, Finland which now presides over the European Union.

You seem to be preparing very seriously for the hearings [in the European Parliament] and want to meet the expectations of the European Greens.

I am a minister and a member of parliament and I understand very well that a minister or, in this case, a commissioner must respect parliament members and give well-argued answers to their questions. That is the only way to succeed.

Still, minister, would you agree that you were simply lucky to be at the right moment in the right place – the new Commission president needs the Greens' support and you are the only candidate from that side?

Sweden considered nominating a Green representative, but they announced it would be a social democrat. This is what happens in life – many different factors coalesce.