Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
After Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė has vetoed the Government’s contested new Labour Code and law on Artificial Insemination amid widespread criticism, Lithuanian lawmakers will have to put both laws for parliamentary deliberations anew.
PM hails President’s veto
Lithuania’s Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius, who is a staunch supporter of Christian values, hailed nevertheless the head-of-state’s veto on the Artificial Insemination law but expressed «disappointment» over her veto on the new labour law.
«I am happy that the President vetoed law on Artificial Insemination. It has to contain progressive provisions based on science achievements. The conservative law encumbers the status quo for infertile families instead if improving their conditions to have children someday. Science strides forward but the Seimas’Conservatives throw us back with it to the medieval ages,» the head of Lithuanian Government told local media.
The president explained the decision to avert enactment of law on artificial insemination, saying it did not meet modern standards of healthcare and treatment.
Weighing in on it, Juras Požėla, the Health Minister, had told Lithuanian media it «embedded a medieval spirit.»
Praising the President’s decision not to greenlit it, he pointed out that the draft had been discussed extensively by the academic society, scientists and patients.
«I am convinced that the law has to serve the patients’ interests, not those of narrow groups,»the minister underscored.
Catholic Church meddles in legislation
Behind the adoption of law stood the Lithuanian Catholic Church, which rallied its supporters on the parliamentary floor, warning, although implicitly, that those parliamentarians seeking reelection in the new Seimas election in October will not secure local parishes’ support should they vote differently from the Church’s official position.
Under Lithuanian Seimas statutes, when the President vetoes legislation, the Parliament has to make up its mind whether to deliberate the law anew with the parliamentary committees taking on it from scratch. And then here is another option – the entire law can be put for the MPs vote on the floor again without amendments and to override the President’s veto at least 71 votes in favour are needed. Or, alternatively, the Parliament can approve the President’s proposals and amendments.
Approached by BNN, Vytautas Gapšys, a MP and a senior member of the Labour Party, said that it is «hard to predict» as to how the Seimas will react to the presidential vetoes.
«To override them, 71 MP votes are required. Looking at the history of the MP turnout earlier in the session, it might be impossible to garner so many legislators’ support,» he cautioned.
According to him, the Political Council of the ruling coalition is to convene in the coming days and decide how to act on the issue.
The new Law on Assisted Reproduction, the way it is now, limits the number of embryos and bans freezing them.
Supporters of the restrictions imposed by the Seimas, including the Roman Catholic Church, say that a human embryo is human life at its earliest stage of development and, therefore, must be protected.
Supporters of more liberal regulation, including the minister, Požėla, emphasize the need to protect a women’s health and ensure greater success of treatment.
No regulation on assisted reproduction until now
Lithuania currently has no law regulating the use of assisted reproduction technologies. Therefore, the state does not fund IVF treatment.
Until now, IVF treatment was regulated by a health ministry decree that did not limit the number of embryos and did not ban freezing them.
Lithuania’s parliament had backed a proposal that allowed creating only as many embryos as are intended to be implanted into a woman’s uterus at a time and to limit the number of created embryos to three.
Explaining her veto decision, Grybauskaitė insisted that couples have to be entitled to choose a method of infertility treatment that fits their moral values.
«The president proposes a moderate option that allows people to choose based on their moral and ethical values. The state must ensure that a person has a choice and access to the latest medical achievements,» Lina Antanavičienė said on the Žinių Radijas radio stations.
Grybauskaitė says that the requirement to transfer all embryos created during an IVF treatment cycle to the woman’s uterus increases the risk of multiple pregnancies and reduces the chance of a successful IVF treatment. She says that this can endanger the health of both mother and child.
Although favouring some of the president’s proposals, Gapšys warns their adoption may trigger some legal consequences for couples seeking children through artificial insemination.
«What if such couple splits up and the mother, or father, asks court to entitle her or him to give access to the frozen embryo to begin a new life with the new spouse? Such legal cases are quite common in the United States, for example,» he said.
Under the draft law proposed by the president, a final decision on the number of embryos would be made by the couple and non-transferred embryos could be frozen for storage in a reproductive cell bank.
Frozen and unused embryos are normally destroyed after five or more years.
The law passed by the Seimas would allow using the sperm or eggs only of a person’s spouse or registered partner for assisted reproduction purposes.
The president says in her decree that this restriction prevents infertile couples from having a biological child of at least one of the parents when one of the spouses or partners is infertile.
The draft law proposed by Grybauskaitė would allow sperm or egg donation when reproductive cells of a person’s spouse or partner are insufficient or there is a substantial risk of transmitting a disease. The donor’s identity would not be disclosed, unless ordered by a court for health or other important reasons.
Supporters of the conservative law, including the Roman Catholic Church, disapprove of the provisions proposed by the president. They call for ensuring children’s right to know the names of their biological parents and for protecting human life at its earliest stage of development.
According to the presidential advisor, freezing embryos is banned only in two EU member states.
«People even in staunchly Catholic countries have a choice,» Antanavičienė said.
Disagreement over new Labour Code
Blocking enactment of the new Labour Code, Grybauskaitė noted that it, although lauded by various employer organizations, failed to protect the rights of employees and reinforced domination by employers.
She proposed a total of 22 amendments to the legislation.
Following the presidential veto, PM Butkevičius claimed that it could drag it back into a Soviet era and was driven by unions and «several tens of protestors.»
«After the president has rejected the legislation passed by the Seimas, we may have to give up these advantages and thus stay with the Soviet relict, the old Labour Code,» he said. «Obviously, the head of state turned a deaf ear to the arguments of scientists, progressive businesses, international institutions, Lithuanian youth organizations, employers and political forces from across the spectrum,» he said. Butkevičius said the president’s decision was determined by criticism publicly voiced by trade unions and «several tens of protesters». The prime minister said that he could not say yet if efforts would be taken to overturn the president’s veto at the parliament.
Butkevičius also pointed out that the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which Lithuania expects to join, has identified productivity as a key challenge for the country and welcomed the government’s efforts to adopt a more flexible Labour Code.
Gapšys, the parliamentarian, told BNN that some argumentation that the President provided «makes sense»to him, but feared that if all the proposals by the head-of-state are approved, the amended Labour Codex can distort the gist of the intentions to ease hiring and laying off.
«We can cherry-pick what proposals we support and which not. We have to vote for all of them or discard their entirety,» the MP explained.
Employment permit issuance eased
In another development, the Lithuanian parliament has adopted this week legislation making it easier for third-country nationals to obtain residence permits and get employed in the country. The Seimas passed the amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens in a vote of 72 to four with 24 abstentions, reports BNS.
The amendments require that foreign nationals who want to live in Lithuania pay their employees monthly salaries of at least two times the country’s average monthly wage.
However, the requirement for them to employ at least three people, which was introduced two years ago, was removed from the law. Foreign nationals will also be allowed to hire foreigners who do not yet have a residence permit but are applying for one. The law will also facilitate employment and temporary residence for highly qualified professionals and founders of start-ups businesses involved in new technologies or other innovations significant to the Lithuanian economy.
Such persons will not only have their applications for temporary residence processed quicker, but will also be permitted to bring their families with them. A special commission set up by the Economy Ministry will assess if a planned company meets the criteria of a start-up. Persons issued with such permits will have to establish companies and launch operations, or their permits will be revoked.