Weaknesses in implementation
of formal rules
of formal rules
Formal democracy is well developed in Lithuania. Participation rights, electoral competition and the rule of law are generally respected by the Lithuanian authorities. Substantive democracy, in contrast, suffers from several weaknesses. Despite recent improvements, party financing is insufficiently monitored and audited, while campaign-financing laws are inadequately enforced. In addition, discrimination continues, sometimes reaching significant levels, while the governing coalition has repeatedly attempted to restrict media freedom. Most importantly, while anti-corruption legislation is well developed, the public sector continues to offer opportunities for abuses of power as the enforcement of anti-corruption laws remains insufficient.
Social-policy outcomes lagging; elections drawing attention from structural reforms
Lithuanian policymakers have sought to establish and maintain social, economic and environmental conditions that promote citizens’ well-being. Nonetheless, the country’s policy performance remains mixed, with social-policy outcomes lagging behind those of economic and environmental policies. Some observers attribute this to EU transition and integration processes, which have focused primarily on political, economic and administrative issues. Structural reforms in education, healthcare and the broader public sector are lagging behind demographic and technological developments. The country’s formal governance arrangements are well designed, yet these arrangements sometimes do not function to their full potential. There are significant gaps with regard to policy implementation and the use of impact-assessment and stakeholder-consultation processes for important policy decisions. In addition, many governance practices are better developed on the central level than on the municipal level. Overall, for most sustainable-governance criteria, little changed during the review period; this was in large part because the 2019 municipal and presidential elections, as well as the forthcoming parliamentary elections in 2020, served to distract political attention away from structural reforms and toward short-term political decisions aimed at gaining voters’ attention, especially through more generous social expenditures.
Shifting members in
The coalition government led by the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (which won 56 out of 141 seats during the 2016 parliamentary elections) has been in power since the end of 2016. After the break-up of the Lithuania Social Democratic party in autumn 2017, the party’s parliamentary group split from the ruling coalition, but was subsequently joined by the Lithuanian Social Democratic Labor party formed in 2018. After the election of President Gitanas Nausėda in 2019, four Lithuanian parties (the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, the Social Democratic Labor Party of Lithuania, the Order and Justice party, and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance) signed a new coalition agreement in July 2019. A reshuffled cabinet led by Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis (with three new ministers responsible for the transport and communications, interior, and agriculture portfolios) was approved in August 2019. After the collapse of the Order and Justice parliamentary group, a new political grouping called “For the Well-Being of Lithuania” was formed in the Lithuanian parliament. This political group joined the governing coalition, increasing its majority to 75 in the parliament of 141. However, due to some internal divisions, the ruling majority has not been able to dismiss Viktoras Pranskietis, the Seimas’ chairman, from office.
passed, but delayed
passed, but delayed
During the 2016 election campaign, the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union pledged to form a technocratic government. Saulius Skvernelis led the party during the election campaign and subsequently became the new prime minister, even though he had not formally joined the party. In its first year, the main policy decisions adopted by the new government included reform of state-owned forestry companies (largely motivated and legitimized by the need to implement OECD recommendations in order to join the organization) and revision of the labor code. The Seimas also passed amendments to the Alcohol Control Law to reduce the availability of alcohol. In its second year, the Skvernelis government focused on structural reforms (e.g., tax, pension, higher-education and civil service reforms). A series of largely incremental reforms were approved by the parliament in mid-2018, but it is unlikely that any decisive implementation of these reforms will occur until after the 2020 parliamentary elections. Smaller members of the ruling coalition have already showed a propensity to push through decisions that could increase their chances in the forthcoming elections, thus further reducing the room for long-term strategic decision-making.
New president calls for welfare-state boost
Nausėda, a bank economist and an independent candidate, won Lithuania’s presidential elections in 2019. He received 66% of the votes cast during the second voting round. His electoral platform, entitled “Welfare State,” focused on fighting economic inequality by increasing government expenditure as a share of the country’s GDP. In the middle of 2019, President Nausėda approved a reshuffled government led by Prime Minister Skvernelis. However, although the newly elected president has been quick to propose legislative changes aimed at increasing old-age pensions, his vision of the welfare state remained unclear as of the end of 2019.
Robust growth drives inflation concerns
In terms of economic development, the economy continued to perform positively from 2018 to 2019. For the last decade, Lithuania has numbered among the fastest-growing economies in the European Union (with real GDP growth around 3%), despite the negative effects of Russian sanctions on EU exports. According to European Commission forecasts, economic growth was expected to slow to 3.4% in 2018 and to 2.8% in 2019. Inflation has become a major public concern, prompting the government to debate various initiatives to reduce prices in the market. The World Bank ranked Lithuania 11th out of 190 countries overall in its 2020 Doing Business index, indicating that the country has become one of the most attractive locations in Europe (after Denmark, the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden) in terms of the regulatory framework facing the private sector.
Labor-market outcomes improving; demographic challenges loom
In 2017, labor market outcomes continued to improve due to economic growth and a declining working-age population. The unemployment rate decreased from 10.7% in 2014 to 7.1% in 2017. This was projected to continue declining to 6.4% in 2018. The two main challenges affecting the labor market are a mismatch between the supply of and demand for skilled labor, as well as a shrinking labor pool due to emigration and the declining number of graduates entering the labor market. Despite these challenges, the unemployment rate among low-skilled workers and the absolute number of people at risk of social exclusion remain high. The share of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion was 29.6% in 2017 (up from 29.3% in 2015). In addition, the country continues to perform relatively poorly in terms of life expectancy at birth. A low birthrate, emigration to richer EU member states and relatively low immigration rates continue to present significant demographic challenges. Over time, these are likely to have negative effects on economic growth and the pension system, while increasing pressure to restructure the education, healthcare and public administration systems.
Continuity in governance arrangements
Under the previous (2012 – 2016) and current governments, there was significant continuity in governance arrangements. Although meetings of the State Progress Council and the Sunset Commission have been suspended since 2016, the Skvernelis government decided to update the composition of the State Progress Council in 2018. Overall, executive capacity and accountability have remained largely unchanged. In 2018, Lithuania joined the OECD, a process which had motivated reforms to state-owned enterprises as well as to a variety of regulatory and anti-corruption policies. However, power and authority remain centralized, and are often affected by intercoalition party politics. Citizens and other external stakeholders rarely take part in the processes of government. Despite numerous electoral pledges to undertake cost-benefit analyses, most major reforms are not accompanied by substantive impact assessments or stakeholder consultations. In particular, initiatives by members of parliament continue to be poorly prepared and lack proper impact assessments.