Fifteen years ago, it seemed to us that Lithuania had reached the end of its history, as we sailed into the harbour of the European Union’s welfare and NATO’s security, believing that all the future had in store for our nation was peace and prosperity.
Unfortunately, the history was far from over. During the past several years, Europe has undergone a fundamental change, and a new, unprecedented danger now hangs menacingly over Lithuania – a danger systemically ignored by our political elite, the mass media, as well as Lithuanian political scientists, servicing the current EU project.
Ignorance of reality
The main threat we face today is the very real possibility of completely losing our sovereignty and the last remains of our political power. We joined the EU in order to protect our independence from the East, but are now witnessing the increasing intensity of the European federalisation project.
This process is being promoted heavily by the political elites of France and Germany, and the unelected politburo of Eurocommissars, wielding exceptional political powers. All of this clearly foreshadows the impending abolition of Europe’s nation states and rejection of national sovereignty.
It is obvious that what we tried to preserve in 2004, we now risk forever losing within the EU itself, not even two mere decades later, albeit in a different and unexpected way.
In the mid-20th century, due to the efforts of the European Founding Fathers – predominantly Christian Democratic politicians, leading the governments of France, Germany and Italy at that time – the European Pact of Coal and Steel was initiated, unifying the countries’ military industries. This led to the European Economic Community, which ensured genuine peace among the European states.
However, following the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, and especially the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, the European Community degenerated fully and became almost unrecognisable.
The former president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has stated directly that the nation is an obsolete category. The Europe of Nations was declared dead, and contemporary leaders of the EU have set themselves a new goal to create a nationless multicultural European society.
However, Van Rompuy and the rest of the former European leaders, such as the Maoist José Manuel Barroso or the heads of the major EU member states, acted too quickly in this regard. The nation state remains the most important form of European self-governance, at the centre of which lie the interests of the nation.
This becomes obvious when we observe the results of elections and referendums held all across Europe. Hungary, Poland, Austria, Italy, as well as the Brexit, which saw the British Parliament reject any compromises with the EU, all prove the fundamental shift in European politics. Europeans want to live in their homeland nation states, together with their own people. To think that the election outcomes of the past few years in various European countries somehow resulted from the mysterious populist efforts of uncertain origin to affect European societies, would be not only wrong, but also dangerous.
This, however, does not seem to apply in the case of Lithuania. Our president made an off-hand remark during New Year’s Eve, warning us of the pernicious “populism” prevalent across Europe. Our very own Speaker of the Seimas cautioned us about a “wave of aggressive nationalism” during the national liberation commemoration event on the Freedom Defenders’ Day. Our news media, especially the editors of the foreign news section on the national broadcasting channel, regularly provide us with a measured dose of bias regarding recurrent rampaging of “radicals”.
However, this is becoming increasingly hard, seeing as how the societies of not only the supposedly authoritarian-leaning post-Soviet countries like Hungary or Poland, but also Western states such as Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom, are assuredly turning towards a national renaissance of their statehood, the reason for which is a deepening distrust of the current direction EU is progressing in.
Meanwhile, the academia of the Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science (IIRPS), servicing our political elite, is often at odds with reality itself. According to them, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU is hardly a big deal, and supposedly marks the beginning of a new and bright stage of our deepening integration. In their lectures, they tell their students that the rise in prices that followed Lithuania’s adoption of the euro is nothing but Russian propaganda. Any attempts by European states to reclaim their sovereignty are also explained as signs of Russian interference.
However, these very same political analysts are oblivious to the fundamental fact that by dismissing Great Britain in this manner, we are losing not only the strongest opponent of EU’s federalisation, but also the one Western country that was the most consistent in resisting Russian interests in Europe.
It is quite perplexing that our political elite, popular news media and political scientists remain silent about the fact that German and French leaders, who are the most enthusiastic supporters of a federal Europe, not only consider Russia their most important partner, but also believe that peace cannot be attained without signing agreements with the country, and view their energy union with the eastern neighbour as an innocent endeavour of commerce.
The past few years saw an increased tension in relations between leaders of the EU (Germany and France) and leading members of NATO (the US and the UK). After Donald Trump demanded all NATO member states meet their agreed-upon obligations and provide 2 per cent of their GDP for their defence efforts, Germany defaulted and exclaimed that it can no longer trust its partnership with the US, and that from thereon out Europe would take care of its own security.
The situation is quite ironic, really: the very same members of the NATO family, who show the least interest in ensuring Europe’s security, seek to take it upon themselves to maintain it. France stood firmly at Germany’s side on the natter, and took the issue once step further after President Macron initiated serious consideration of establishing the EU’s very own military force.
Germany returned the favour by supporting the proposed notion, even though each and every expert of the field claimed that such a force would undermine and overlap with NATO activities in Europe, inevitably leading to its decreased involvement in Europe’s security. The US showed solidarity with our countries in the Baltic region, and denounced Germany’s overly pragmatic energy policy, which involves the laying of the NordStream 2 gas pipeline across the bottom of the Baltic Sea, thus ensuring Germany’s complete dependence on Russia’s natural gas supply.
The US offered its own supply of liquid gas, but Germany seems adamant on trading with its enemies instead of partners. And just in case we forgot what the EU leaders consider to be their enemies, Macron stressed that the aforementioned EU’s military force would be tasked with protecting it from threats posed by Russia, China, and the US.
Germany’s silence on the issue was rather telling. It is apparent that the most relevant of EU’s capital cities are currently preoccupied with ensuring that their relations with the US could no longer be considered a partnership.
As transatlantic ties are weakening, and with Britain’s refusal to participate in the project of a European federation, the vision of “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” begins to take shape once again. In it, we of the Baltics are merely a bridge towards Russia’s vast resource deposits.
The laying of gas pipelines across the bottom of the Baltic Sea brings thoughts of a Merkel–Macron–Putin Pact. Whatever we call it, an agreement of this sort, not unlike one signed eight decades ago, would make Lithuania not only subject to the larger powers, but a mere toy of theirs.
It is thus obvious that if we seek to preserve the European unity and our own interests, we must prevent such a pact from ever coming to fruition. The jury’s still out on whether this would require a new treaty for Europe, one that would ensure a consensus of nation states and a United Kingdom’s decision to remain within a renewed community.
A treaty like that would reflect the nationalist sentiment that is becoming apparent throughout Europe, acknowledge the interests of the community’s member states, and embody a different vision of the continent – not that of a post-national Europe open to the entire world, but a nationalist one, defined clearly through the conception of the European civilisation.
A new treaty for Europe?
Europe is currently revolting against the inadequate, ineffective economic, social and political order of the EU. This popular wish for a different Europe delineates a fundamental conflict between the federally-inclined European elites and their societies at large, led by their new leaders, who have no intentions of giving up their sovereignty. Those seeking to return the decision-making powers from Brussels to their national parliaments outnumber those willing to give up even more of their sovereignty.
By blindly promoting further integration undesired by European societies, the elites risk destroying the European Union entirely. This would be the worst case scenario for Lithuania; in order to avoid it, we must put all our efforts into resisting further European federalisation, promoting for EU’s optimisation instead – that is, a return to an economic, and not a political European Union.
Orban, Kaczynksi, Salvini and other leaders of European countries all agree that the time has come for a new European treaty. It would be quite disappointing if Lithuania was to remain a voiceless participant of this, standing at a distance somewhere, all the while the very fate of the Old Continent is widely debated, following the European Parliament elections of 2019. For us, Europe was, and always will be, merely a chance to achieve something greater, and not a guarantee of any sort.
We can approach Europe with a disposition of a beggar, or enter it as a nation, ready to defend its interests. Central Europe and many other European states are already showing us an example.
Sometimes we tend to tell ourselves, in a rather complex manner, that we are insignificant and that we’d never achieve anything of note within the great Europe. This is incorrect; we may not have as much physical resources as other countries do, but we can still compete with our ideas for Europe.
As the current EU project, lifeless and increasingly unpopular in the West, crumbles away, there remains a hope that we can still preserve Europe and its four freedoms by signing a new treaty – a document based not on federal dreams, but a consensus of nations. Who knows, perhaps in a few decades, Europeans will laconically refer to it simply as the Treaty of Vilnius.