True Lithuania

Top 10 visible European Union influences

In 2004 Lithuania joined the European Union. When visiting Lithuania today some may ask how would Lithuania look had it remained fully independent? Here are 10 most visible (not only the most important) things that would certainly be different if not for the European Union membership:

1.Massive emigration. The European Union offered a hassle-free way for Lithuanian citizens to live and work anywhere in Western Europe, earning higher wages. Hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians, primarily the youth, used the opportunity and never returned to Lithuania. Lithuanian population declined by ~20% after 2004, numbers unheard of outside of war-ravaged lands. In comparison, between years 1989 and 2001, the total numbers of ethnic Lithuanians and non-Soviet minorities only declined by 3%, even though the economic conditions were worse. If not for European Union membership, Lithuanian cities and towns would have more people, especially more youth.

2.Euro currency adopted. In 2015 Euro (EUR) replaced the Lithuanian national currency Litas (LTL). On the one hand, this meant less need to exchange money for tourists as well as cheaper bank transfers. On the other hand, Lithuania lost its ability to conduct its own monetary policy and one of the key national symbols has been removed from people's purses. Lithuania also became obliged to help Euro-using countries in trouble. If not for European Union membership, Lithuania would still use its own currency Litas.

3.European law supremacy. In the European Union the European treaties, regulations, directives and European Court precedents take precedence over the Lithuanian local laws. This means that, for example, a regulation drafted by European authorities contradicting a Lithuanian law effectively "cancels" that Lithuanian law for good. As such, increasing parts of Lithuanian law system is drafted in the European Union authorities. If not for the European Union membership, all Lithuanian laws would be drafted locally save for International treaties signed by the Lithuanian government.

4.Immigration. Before 2004 hearing a non-tourist speaking in any other language than either Lithuanian, Polish or Russian, or seeing a non-White person used to be extremely rare, even in Vilnius. European Union mandated that people from other EU member states would be allowed to freely live and work in Lithuania, as well as conduct business, own land and vote in some elections, increasing their population share. Starting from 2015 European Union also requested Lithuania to accept large numbers of illegal migrants from Africa and the Middle East who were seeking to move to Western Europe. Coupled with the emigration, it means that locals are replaced by immigrants to some extent. However, immigration to Lithuania is currently much lower than the emigration. If not for European Union membership, much fewer Westerners, Asians and Africans would live in Lithuania.

5.Ignalina NPP closed. In order to join EU Lithuania was requested to close down its Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. This plant had the most powerful reactors in the world and provided Lithuania with 83% of its electricity, making it the "most nuclear nation in the world". Ignalina NPP closure led to billions of direct closure costs (partly funded by the EU) as well as massive indirect costs as Lithuania became dependent on Russia and more polluting Elektrėnai Power Plant to satisfy its energy needs. Electricity prices went up, while Visaginas city (where Ignalina NPP was located) lost 25% of the population and had its average age increase from ~31 to ~39 years. If not for European Union membership, Lithuania would still cover all its energy needs by producing cheap electricity in Ignalina NPP while Visaginas would be a nuclear city.

6.Schengen zone is an area largely overlapping the European Union where there is no border control and a single "Schengen visa" is issued. The list of nationalities able to travel visa-free changed somewhat as Lithuania joined the Schengen Zone. While EU membership is not required to be Schengen Zone member, in the case of Lithuania both decisions have been made concurrently. If not the Schengen Zone membership traveling between Lithuania and countries like Latvia/Poland would require crossing customs control, even if quick. However, for nationalities outside Schengen Zone getting Lithuanian visa would still be easier and cheaper, and vice-versa.

7.Lithuanian female surnames, previously unique in the world for having different versions for married and unmarried persons, had an option created for them to no longer show marital status applying the European Union directives on "indirect discrimination". If not for European Union membership, ethnic Lithuanian female citizens of Lithuania with surnames ending in something else than "-ienė", "-utė", "-ūtė", "-aitė" or "-ytė" would likely have surnames ending one of these ways.

8.License plates of Lithuania-registered cars had Lithuanian flag replaced by European Union flag. Unlike United States (or many other federations) where every state may produce its own license plates, European Union mandates that all license plates have to use a similar Design with a European Union flag on them. If not for European Union membership, every Lithuanian license plate would still bear a Lithuanian tricolor rather than a European Union flag.

9.Stands with European Union flags now have been built in thousands of Lithuanian localities and roadsides. The owner of every project that was partly funded through the European Union is obliged to erect such a stand at its location to advertise EU initiatives. However, all these projects have also received funds from Lithuanian, municipal and/or private budgets, and the European Union itself is actually funded by the taxpayers of all its member-states, including Lithuanians (if not EU membership the same money would go into national and municipal coffers). Nevertheless if not for European Union membership it is likely that different projects would have been funded and different initiatives undertaken, as the goals would then be set locally rather than on the European level.

10.English trademarks have largely displaced Lithuanian trademarks since 2004, especially so in the main cities. Not only have more foreign companies entered Lithuanian market but even many Lithuanian companies have established new businesses under English names or changed the longstanding Lithuanian brands into new English-named ones. English trademarks are seen to be better understood by Westerners, which was made more important by the common EU goods and labor markets. While there is a political will to safeguard Lithuanian language in local trademarks, European Union law does not permit this and it takes supremacy. If not for European Union membership a larger share of local businesses would be named in the Lithuanian language.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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