10/05/2003 - D-7
Just a few days before the referendum on 10th and 11th May Lithuanian support for their country's membership to the European Union is rising. According to the latest opinion poll undertaken by the Vilmorus Institute, 66.3% of those interviewed said they would vote in favour of their country's integration into Europe against 13.3% who are not in favour of Vilnius joining the Fifteen. 20.4% of the population remain undecided. Last month those in favour of European integration represented 65.5% of the population.
The electoral campaign is in full swing in the Baltic Republic that was visited by Günther Verheugen on 24th and 25th April for a two day period. The European Commissioner for Enlargement flew over Lithuania in a plane used of aerial acrobatics, a YAK 52 made in Russia and piloted by the President of the Lithuanian Republic Rolandas Paskas, who is a former professional acrobatics pilot with many of this sport's trophies to his name. The president had already undertaken several acrobatic flights during his presidential campaign in December notably by flying under a bridge on a plane. "It is a thrilling experience and a chance to see the candidate country from a unique angle", declared Günther Verheugen who had accomplished several acrobatic figures with Rolandas Paskas' guidance and who also suffered a worrying moment when the access hatch to the machine unfortunately opened during the flight.
In the private industry we should note the initiative taken by the biggest Lithuanian brewery, Svyturis-Utenos, that is marketing a new beer called Euroalus (Eurobeer in Lithuanian), at a price that is 30% lower than other beers in order to encourage the population to turn out to vote. "As a modern company with Western capital (the company belongs to the Danish group Carlsberg) we understand how important this referendum is. We are not trying to influence the Lithuanian people's decision but we are simply calling on voters not to remain passive and express their opinion by voting" declared Tomas Kucinskas, the managing director of the Svyturis-Utenos brewery.
Over the last few days, during Antanas Valiolis, the Foreign Affairs Minister's visit to Moscow, Lithuania also settled the final details of the agreement on the transit between Russia and to the Kaliningrad enclave through Lithuania. Both countries agreed on a deadline of 24 hours for the delivery of the facilitated transit documents (FTD) to Russian citizens. The questionnaire that Russian citizens will have to fill out on this occasion will comprise 72 points. Finally both countries agreed to sign a treaty before 1st July, when the visa free system that Russian citizens enjoy at present when going to Kaliningrad will come to an end, on the recognition of their borders and the readmission of unauthorised travellers. Russia's request to repatriate 1,200 tonnes of highly toxic missile fuel that is stored in Kaliningrad is being examined by Lithuania, who promised to take a rapid decision on this.
Although membership to the European Union is accepted by a wide majority of Lithuanians politicians are very worried about the participation rate. Indeed this must absolutely reach over 50% otherwise the election is invalid; Zenonas Vaigauskas, president of the National Lithuanian Electoral Committee, said he was particularly worried about the 200,000 (according to official estimates) Lithuanians who illegally live abroad and who cannot vote in spite of the possibility of voting in the consulates. We should hope however that the electoral campaign and the organisation of the election over two days should be enough to convince Lithuanians to express clearly their desire to join Europe.