Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė on March 17 attended a European Council meeting which focused on the EU’s Annual Growth Survey and the progress of member states in implementing the European Commission’s economic and social recommendations for 2015. One can not deny that the problems a number of EU countries caused by anti-Russian sanctions.
While EU governments extended asset freezes and travel bans on Russians and Russian companies, it should be said that there is less consensus on whether to prolong more far-reaching sanctions on Russia’s banking, defense and energy sectors from July. For example, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Hungary are among the EU states most skeptical about the sanctions. Moscow has imposed its own tit-for-tat sanctions against many EU food imports.
Italy and Hungary said there could be no automatic extension of the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, the most public sign yet of fraying unity on how to deal with Moscow.
As for Lithuania despite the weakening of its economic position in the European Union, Lithuania continues to strictly adhere to the opinion of the need of anti-Russian sanctions. Though many Lithuanians, who once exported heavily to Russia, want to see markets reopen. Political views continue confronting economic benefits. Is it a right or wrong choice of the government? This will be confirmed or disproved only in the cause of time. But now economic and political situation in Lithuania is a matter of EU concern.
After the meeting, Dalia Grybauskaitė had to acknowledge the disappointing conclusions of the European Commission. According to the EC, Lithuania made virtually no progress in 2015, it was called limited.
It was stated also that some little progress was achieved only in easing tax burden, reforming pension and health care systems and seeking to ensure that education meets the needs of the labor market. However, there are still many economic and social problems which need to be addressed immediately.
“The observations on reforms which face difficulties and are not carried out have been recurrent over the past several years. This is a very strong call to make more progress,” the President said.
It is hoped that this time the President will hear the call and will really make needed steps to improve the situation in the country. The European Union is not the place where you only speak, support the common views on international summits but do nothing. The prosperity of the organization depends on each member state’s prosperity. No one will argue that if one of 28 members becomes weaker, it will pose a threat to the organization itself. And vice versa if a country is self-sufficient and strong, its voice would be prominent and heard in the organization.
Let’s take the United Kingdom. It should be said that London has reached the tremendous success in political negotiations with other EU member states and has secured the most favorable conditions of membership in the organization only due to its strong economic and political positions.
It is obvious that such areas in Lithuania as the pension reform, fiscal discipline and stability, improvement in tax collection, and the liberalization of the labor market need immediate action from the President and the Government. It is time to stop political games and exercises in eloquence.
According to the Lithuania Country Report of Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index 2016, Lithuania tops the EU in the number of incarcerated persons per 100,000 member s of the population) and intolerance to sexual and ethnic minorities. For example, persons belonging to Lithuania’s ethnic Polish minority are obliged to use the Lithuanian spelling of their names in official documents, which some find discriminatory. A solution has still not been found despite the fact that in 2012-2014 the Polish Electoral Action party participated in the center-left ruling coalition.
Some business groups continue to have disproportionate access to policy-making, notably in the energy and development sectors, which tend to dominate municipal politics. The number and nature of corruption scandals over the past decade, which mostly occurred at the municipal level and involved local politicians being bought off by business interests, are evidence of this influence.
Another sizable challenge is Lithuania’s negative demographic outlook. The working age population is shrinking rapidly and will be soon threaten growth. Population decline is due to negative demographic developments but is aggravated by net emigration and, in the context of the EU, low life expectancy and high morbidity rates.
In other words the Lithuanian government has a lot to do and should face the challenges, paying attention not only to foreign affairs but to internal policies as well. Only when Lithuania becomes strong and prosperous, the EU will consider it as a full member and not a burden for the organization.
Now is the best time for Lithuania to adjust or change its politics. Unfortunately, the idea of Unity of the EU is not justified in all spheres. Some member states have chosen their own way of further developing without leaving the EU. May be Lithuania should also find its own way in the EU taking into account its economic situation.
The phenomenon of the Islamic world- Ilham Aliyev
At the end of the twentieth century – at the beginning of the 21st century, world politics differ by its complexity and diversity. It is too important that Azerbaijan, which proclaimed independence twice during the twentieth century, maintained its this independence during the period full of globalization, international integration and social contradictions. Under such complicated historical circumstances, the prominent politician and statesman, the well-known and respected person in the world – Ilham Aliyev’s commitment and successful realization of this responsibility can be characterized as the golden age of modern Azerbaijan history. Conduction of successful foreign policy during his term as head of state has had a significant impact on the future life of Azerbaijan.
The Republic of Azerbaijan, established normal international relations with all the countries of the world after gaining independence, and in the frame of good relations with the Muslim countries, it also protects the interests and interests of the Islamic world within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and continues to cooperate with these countries in accordance with the requirements of international law. In this regard, strengthening of Islamic solidarity in the world is one of the priority issues in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan. Namely from this point of view, declaration of 2017 year as “Islamic Solidarity Year” by decree of the President Ilham Aliyev dated January 10, 2017, is an indicator of humanistness of our state leader and at the same time it is a positive example of our country’s sensitive attitude to the Islamic Countries Union. Islamic solidarity does not only mean the solidarity of Islamic countries. This is a kind of challenge, regardless of religion, to the world’s people to live in friendship, brotherhood and multiculturalism conditions.
It is well known that sectarian wars, civil wars in the Middle East and as a result, emerged certain socio-political tensions indicate that Muslim countries are in great need of moral solidarity. The controversial political processes happening in the world, the emergence and increasingly widespread of warlike states in different countries, the strengthening of religious confrontation, and the deepening of the prejudiced attitude towards Muslims emphasize the necessity level for solidarity among people, nations and states. It can be said that one of the main reasons for exacerbating the myth of Islamic terrorism, the threat of Islamophobia, and strengthening the oppression of Islamic countries should be sought in the absence of unity and solidarity among these countries. Faith differences, contradictions in interests and positions and etc. leads to serious disagreements, and sometimes severe confrontations. Islamic religion, its sacred values, are insulted by the Islamophobia and those who are exposed to the poisonous propaganda against Islam. The bloody events that took place in the Islamic countries during last years, especially in Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria are confirmation of our opinions. Cradles of ancient Eastern culture such as Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo, Kirkuk, Basra and other cities are subject to serious destruction as a result of wars in Iraq and Syria and constant clashes, monuments of Islamic culture in these cities are destroyed. Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are given in the Western media, mosques, the holy book-Koran is burnt. The Western world’s official structures do not just condemn the acts of vandalism, but on the contrary, they protect, honor, and appreciate the performers of those acts.
The main purpose of the “Islamic Solidarity Year” is to strengthen the unity of the Muslim world and to show that Islam is a religion of peace and culture, and to achieve this goal, as President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said, first of all, reconciliation between different sects that have historically damaged Islam should be established. The announcement of the year 2017 as the “Year of Islamic Solidarity” in Azerbaijan is a challenge to the West, which is strengthening its attacks on the Islamic world annually and promoting a new “crusades” in the 21st century. This is also a call for Islamic countries to be vigilant against the crafty intentions of the West, to demonstrate unity and solidarity. Ilham Aliyev made this important step and expressed the his own position and the position of the state of Azerbaijan. As Azerbaijan has distinguished from other states with its multicultural and tolerant values throughout its history. Islamic solidarity is also a part of this context, and this shows that President Ilham Aliyev gives great importance to the solidarity of the Islamic world. As political scientists point out, some initiatives have been made to call Muslim countries to get unified around religion. For the first time in history, the head of our state has sent a political message to the Islamic world, pointing to the importance of acting from unified position, to achieve unity and at the same time integrate into the world. It should be noted that the Order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan on the declaration of 2017 year as“Year of Islamic Solidarity” states: “The Republic of Azerbaijan has established mutually beneficial relations with the Islamic world by being selected as a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, ISESCO and other respected organizations joining muslim countries and has been an organizer of a number of important cultural forums of global importance. Azerbaijan has made a great contribution to the founding of tolerance environment, multiculturalism, intercultural and intercivilizational dialogue, and the promotion of Islamic values in the world. The prestige gained by Azerbaijan in the Islamic world got its expression in this results that Baku and Nakhchivan cities declared as a capital of Islamic culture in 2009 and 2018 respectively. And the decision to hold the IV Islam Solidarity Games in Baku in 2017 create favorable conditions for our country to take the next practical steps in strengthening the Islamic solidarity. ”
Only state leader of the country like Azerbaijan, where multiculturalism and solidarity are established, and citizens of different nationalities, religions and sects live in peace, has a moral right to give such a decree. The promotion of the Islamic Solidarity initiative is related to the challenges of the present and controversial processes that take place because of various reasons in the Islamic world. As it is seen here, the importance of Azerbaijan’s reputation in the Islamic world, as well as the need to strengthen the solidarity of Islamic countries, as well as the actuality of holding the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku, the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan in 2017, have been extensively and logically expressed in this decree. With Islamic solidarity policy, Azerbaijan, as unifying facility of the Islamic world, confirms that these religious values are indeed, humanistic, moral values and reinforces belief to being of these ideas are an effective means of creating a shared living and stability environment not only in the Islamic geography but also in the entire world. Azerbaijan, which has created a partnership of cultures and ideas between East and West, fulfills the function of a of solidarity bridge, thus demonstrates its commitment to universal values, as well as its commitment to the highest values of the Islamic religion, which had a special place in the past and continuing to keep its value today. Thus, Azerbaijan uses all the means to establish steady stability in a globalizing world and propagates the peacekeeping, reconciliatory position in a unique way that is essential for today.
We suppose that this humanist initiative of the President of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, will promote the expansion of cooperation relationship between Muslim countries in the world and further strengthening of the Islamic solidarity. The strengthening of Islamic solidarity, in its turn, will play an important role in ensuring tranquility and peace in the Middle East and other regions.
Economic Growth of Ukraine Depends on Completing Pending Reforms Quickly
Ukraine’s economy grew by 2.5 percent in 2017, the second year of modest growth, according to the World Bank’s latest Ukraine Economic Update. Growth in manufacturing, services, and construction was robust, but weaknesses in the agriculture and mining sectors, together with delays in key reforms to further strengthen investor confidence contributed to the modest overall growth performance.
“Faster growth is needed to improve living standards for the people of Ukraine who continue to hurt from the economic crisis of 2014-2015,” said Satu Kahkonen, World Bank Country Director for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. “This will require decisive measures in the next few months to complete pending reforms to bolster investor confidence and safeguard macroeconomic stability.”
Economic growth is projected at 3.5 percent in 2018 if pending reforms in anticorruption, land markets, state-owned banks, and privatization can be advanced in the next few months. This would provide an important signal to investors. If reforms are delayed, growth could drop below current levels in an uncertain macroeconomic environment as financing risks rapidly increase.
Ukraine faces major financing needs to repay public debt and fiscal pressures from higher public sector wages and social benefits in 2018 and 2019. Mobilizing adequate international financing by completing pending reforms in the months ahead will be important to maintain macroeconomic stability.
Meeting the fiscal deficit target of 2.5 percent of GDP in 2018 will require improving targeting of housing utility subsidies, making further wage increases contingent on measures to optimize the school and hospital network and public-sector staffing, and identifying affordable options to update public sector pensions.
Fiscal Pressures and Reform Options …
According to the World Bank’s Special Focus Note on fiscal pressures and reform options, Ukraine has made progress in reducing its large public spending since 2014. However, sustaining these gains while also improving the effectiveness of public services will require implementation of reforms in education, health, public administration, pensions, and social assistance in a fiscally affordable manner.
Public expenditures increased significantly in 2017, by 11.7 percent in real terms, reaching 41.5 percent of GDP, due to the doubling of the minimum wage and over 40 percent increase in wages of teachers and doctors. Spending on social programs also increased.
The recently adopted reforms in education, health, and public administration seek to improve compensation for teachers, doctors, and public servants to strengthen incentives and attract quality personnel. Achieving this in a fiscally affordable manner will require coordinating further increases in salaries with time-bound measures to optimize staffing and the school and hospital network.
The social assistance package in Ukraine is not only fiscally costly—costing 5 percent of GDP in 2017, but is also poorly targeted—with only 30 percent of assistance going to the bottom 20 percent of the population. Fixing this will require improved targeting of the large HUS program.
The recently adopted pension reform helped improve adequacy of benefits and stabilize fiscal costs. Additional initiatives going forward should avoid undermining these core objectives of the pension system. The timeline to create a funded pillar system by January 2019 needs to be reconsidered since this will undermine contributions to the pay-as-you-go system, create contingent fiscal liabilities, and face inadequate availability financial instruments.
Since May 2014, the World Bank Group has provided a total of more than US$5 billion to Ukraine (including 4 development policy loans, 7 investment operations and 1 guarantee) from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).
The World Bank’s current investment project portfolio in Ukraine amounts to US$2.5 billion. Investments support improving basic public services that directly benefit ordinary people in areas such as water supply, sanitation, heating, power, roads, social protection and healthcare, as well as private sector development. Since Ukraine joined the World Bank in 1992, the Bank’s commitments to the country have totaled over US$12 billion in about 70 projects and programs.
Baltic States: Missed opportunities in global politics
We are living in the world where the facts “who makes” and “where it is made” are much more important than “what for” issue. Nowadays the world political scene is divided between superpowers supported by their allies. In order to punish each other for having opposite views the sides criticize any step made by the opponent.
Unfortunately, this happens even in case of evident necessity. It is not the secret that the modern system of international security is unable to perform all demanded functions any more. It needs to be reformed. Another question is who and where will decide.
The most likely political platforms for this are the United Nation Organization and OSCE. But the preparatory stage for any new decision should become different forums and conferences, such as the Munich Security Conference and the Moscow International Conference on Security.
This year the Munich Security Conference took place on February 16-18. More than 30 heads of state and government and over 100 cabinet ministers from across the globe came together at the forum for discussions on major international security challenges. As far as the Baltic States concerns, President of Estonia, as well as Lithuanian and Latvian ministers of defence did not miss the event because it was of great importance for the future of their countries and all Europe.
Just another situation developed in March. In Moscow an annual International Conference on Security was held on April 4-5. The fight against terrorism and other pressing security challenges were one the agenda. There is not a single person who is not affected by the discussed topics.
Many European countries considered it unnecessary to visit the event. It makes no sense to blame them for this choice. They have a strong and common view on what is happening in the world. But if abstract from the current geopolitical situation and confrontation between Russia and the West, politicians should see such kind of forums as a chance to find even weak possibilities to make the world safer. Probably the main reason for not attending the event is in the fact that politicians forgot how to listen to each other. They forgot that only discussing controversial issues makes possible to reach a consensus.
Another issue that deserves attention is the list of participants, which is of great interest to the analysts. According to the Russia’s Defense Ministry, representatives from at least 95 countries, three deputy prime ministers, 30 defense ministers, 15 chiefs of staff, 10 international organizations and military delegations have come to participate in the International Conference on Security. They include defense ministers of India, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Armenia, Mozambique, Serbia, and Israel. Thus, almost half of the UN member-states (total number is 193) sent representatives to the Conference.
It becomes evident that Russia really has powerful partners and allies that are ready to discuss even difficult questions and find mutually beneficial solutions. Those who came do not necessarily agree with Moscow and support its foreign policy but they clearly understand that unfortunately without Russia it is impossible to improve the International Security system.
This fact admitted Thomas Greminger, secretary-general for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. He stressed that Russia is a key partner in issues of the European security. But the Baltic States blinded by hatred to Russia ignore ignored the event thus putting political ambitions higher than common sense.
It is obvious that Russia is not satisfied with NATO’s actions near its borders. NATO in its turn disputes the lawfulness of Russia’s behavior. Every day confrontation becomes harder and leads to the arms race. The only way out is to discuss things and find the way out. The Baltic States as usual lost the possibility to express their position on key international security issues and be the active actors in global politics.
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