Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
With the nearing UK‘s referendum whether to stay in the European Union or not, the heartbeat of thousands of Lithuanian émigrés in the country and their relatives back in Lithuania has quickened.
What if the Kingdom votes to exit the 28 EU-member state club? Lithuanian political analysts concur unanimously that Brexit would be the largest shake-up of the European Union since its creation in 1993. For the army of Lithuania‘s UK emigrants, the vote against the bloc will mean looming uncertainty.
With Brexit uncertainty will set in
«If the Britons vote for leaving the EU, the transition period can be lengthy and not necessarily smooth. Both to the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union, Lithuania including, as all the multiple bilateral agreements and treaties will have to be reviewed and drawn up anew. Between the UK and Lithuania, too,» Tomas Janeliūnas, associate professor at Vilnius University‘s Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences, told BNN.
In the daily life, the withdrawal will sow plenty of uncertainty as to how all the UK‘s émigrés, including Lithuanians, will be treated thereafter.
«Who will secure jobs and who may not? Who will be entitled and eligible for social allowances in the country and who not? Will young Lithuanians be eligible for the British schools’ grants, and so on? Just with a single signature many Lithuanians‘ life in the country can be doomed to uncertainty. As perhaps no other decision, Brexit would have a very tangible ill-effect on people from all walks of life,» the analyst asserted.
Majority is against UK’s exit
Not surprisingly, for a whopping part of Lithuanians, Brexit seems a bad idea. A recent poll by Spinter Tyrimai, an opinion and market researcher, has revealed that 48.4 per cent of Lithuanians disapprove the idea, while only 19.8 per cent expressed their support for it. Notably, a bulky 36.8 per cent of respondents did not have opinion about the UK‘s striving or have not heard of it.
Interestingly, 37.3 per cent voiced opinion that Britons will vote for exit from the European Union, versus 31.4 per cent who said that the country will stay in it. An impressive 31.3 per cent did not know how to respond to the question.
«To conclude, Lithuanians are overwhelmingly against the intention. Businesses, both in the United Kingdom and Lithuania, are against it, as business always stands for larger integration and liberalization,» Ignas Zokas, director of Spinter Tyrimai, told BNN.
He says he is not aware of results of similar surveys in other EU member states, but, in general, all the EU states, especially those in Eastern Europe, stand for the intact unity of the Union.
«There are many apprehensions, in Eastern Europe particularly, that Brexit can trigger a break-up of the entire formation. Ordinary people are uneasy that they will lose social benefits they have now in the United Kingdom,» Zokas said.
As many as 180,000 Lithuanians in UK
Agreeing, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, an analyst of Vilnius-based Eastern European Studies Centre, says that most people are worried about what lies next if the vote against the EU membership garners majority.
In his opinion, many people are also wary of the aspect of security that a united European Union provides.
Spinter Tyrimai has also asked respondents what will be the effect of Brexit on Lithuanian emigration, which is one of the highest in the EU. The UK remains one of the most popular destinations for Lithuanian emigrants.
According to the Lithuanian Embassy in the UK, around 180,000 Lithuanians live in the country. The data is also supported by the UK’s National Bureau of Statistics. According to Eurostat, there were around 160,000 Lithuanian citizens in the UK in early 2014.
Finding: Brexit may slow down emigration
Responding, 20.8 per cent answered that emigration numbers are likely to fall insignificantly after the UK’s departure, while 21 per cent pondered they can go substantially down. A mere 4.5 per cent believe that Brexit could prompt Lithuania’s UK emigrants to come back. But the majority, 32.4 per cent, asserted that the emigration level is likely to stay where it is now whilst 6.4 per cent were inclined to think that Brexit would boost emigration.
Emigration has been a very important issue in the debates whether the UK should leave the EU or stay in it. Brexit proponents argue that the United Kingdom suffers a lot financially paying out billion euros in social allowances to the army of emigrants many of whom tend to abuse the UK’s generous social welfare system.
Commenting the findings, Kasčiūnas, the analyst, says that Lithuanians tend to understand Britons’ sceptic arguments towards the EU bloc.
Transatlantic security initiatives may be hampered
«There is also another conclusion to be made: the UK has never seen itself as part of the EU and viewed it from a distance. It has always been kind of an equilibristic state when it came to its status and relations with the EU. Still, Lithuanians perceive Britons as our allies within the European Union. The approach is about the transatlantic policies. Brexit would mean that supporters of the geopolitical direction have been dealt a blow. Logically, if there subsequently appears an initiative to curb the US’s role on the continent, with Britons out of the European Union, it will be easier to block transatlantic cooperation supporters’ initiatives,» Kasčiūnas claims.
In his words, the UK has always sought balance between the NATO and the EU in terms of general foreign and security politics.
«London’s position was that the European Union should not duplicate the functions of the NATO. The stance was in line with the position of Lithuania and other Eastern European countries,» he says.
EU focus can shift
Janeliūnas, of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences, believes that, with Brexit a fact, the EU’s focus will shift for long to the reviewing of the EU’s existing agreements with the United Kingdom.
«This will be inevitable and it means that, for years to come, the EU will be obliged to exert its efforts for it instead of tackling a number of other EU issues,» Janeliūnas said.
He is convinced, however, that in regards to security issues, the United Kingdom will remain Lithuania’s close ally.
«As well as to all the European Union, but some forces are likely to try to weaken the UK’s commitments in terms of common European security issues and, especially, regarding the transatlantic collaboration,» the analyst warns.
With the United Kingdom out of the European Union, he claims, Lithuania will seek to enhance its ties with the traditional strategic partners in Scandinavia and especially with Germany.
«Brexit would certainly boost the prospects of eurosceptics and some other nations with strong nationalist parties like, for example, Slovakia, Poland and Austria, are likely to follow in the footsteps of the United Kingdom. I won’t be surprised if they and perhaps some others will try to blackmail Brussels in order to fulfil their agenda. It would bring more tensions in Brussels and throughout the European Union as well,» Janeliūnas stressed.
EU has to deter others
The only way to prevent it from happening would be Brexit’s adverse aftermaths felt severely by Britons themselves.
«If they see their life worsening due to the new problems that the country will stumble upon along the transition, it will serve as the best deterrence to other states pondering the UK path. I think the rest of the bloc, and Germany first of all, will do therefore whatever they can to sour the UK’s life if it opts for leaving,» the analyst said.