3 billion euros – that is the cost incurred by the small state of Lithuania and its citizens due to the country’s choice of unsuitable strategies in the energy sector. Namely, we have chosen to rely on the natural gas provided by Russia’s Gazprom instead of switching to locally-produced biofuels. At the time when this decision was made, the founders of the most prestigious business magazine in Lithuania, VALSTYBĖ, and the organisers of this year’s Vilnius Energy Forum consistently warned the government leaders about the upcoming increase in energy costs. They tried to convince the leaders to switch to local biofuels, which would reduce the impact of this rise in prices on the Lithuanian economy and the well-being of the country’s citizens. Such a move would also have helped to create thousands of new jobs in the biofuel sector, and increased the flow of tax revenue to the budget by drastically reducing the import costs.
Unfortunately, the Lithuanian government chose the wrong path. Their decision was, in our opinion, influenced by some external forces – including pressure to remain dependent on the Russian corporate group’s price monopoly. Therefore, in 2008, Lithuania was not only affected by an economic crisis but was also being strangled by Gazprom. In order to avoid a similar situation occurring in the future, two independent publishers, Eduardas Eigirdas and Almantas Gliožeris, have established the Fund for the Development of Democracy and published the first edition of the magazine VALSTYBĖ in 2007. The main mission of this publication was described as the promotion of economic development and the establishment of independence in the energy sector. The editorial board of this magazine were eager to achieve this goal, and they quickly began organising the Lithuanian Energy Conference under the slogan “Independent Energy – Strong Economy”. Since that time, the magazine and the conference have supported many decisions to enhance the energy security of Lithuania, the other Baltic States and the European Union (EU). One of the most important decisions, supported by the magazine and the Lithuanian Energy Conference, was the realisation of the LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal project, which was designed to put a stop to the strangling of the Lithuanian gas economy by the established gas costs and monopoly of Gazprom. Despite enormous opposition, this decision was passed. However, it revealed that the EU, a seemingly unified alliance of states with the aim of mutual welfare and democratic prosperity, was incapable as an organisation of resisting external forces and was unable to execute a strategy which would prevent the overall debilitation of Europe and its individual states.
We should bear in mind that the EU provided hundreds of millions of euros for the regional LNG terminal, with the intention to facilitate its implementation. Yet despite that, some of these funds were not fully utilised because specific discussions, aimed at preventing a sabotage of the positive impact the LNG terminal project had on the Baltic and EU dependence on the Gazprom monopoly in the region, did not take place. It was determined that the process of building the terminal should progress in a regulated environment, which would eliminate the impact Gazprom had in the natural gas market in the region. Therefore, Lithuania, already strangled by the prices set by Gazprom that also sought to influence our country’s internal politics, aimed to acquire EU support for the LNG terminal. At this time, the country not only encountered hostile activity from Russian-influenced entities, but also rivalry among the other EU states with regard to claims for building this terminal in their own territory, despite the dependence of their energy and especially their gas sectors on Gazprom. Those Lithuanian politicians who cared about the independence of the economic welfare of Lithuania, the EU and its citizens, had to make a choice. They could either continue with the prices dictated by Gazprom and its strangulation of the country’s economy by not building the terminal; or they could build it, and thus break free from the grip of the Gazprom monopoly, yet risk losing EU aid. In our opinion, we believe that the path chosen was the only correct one – building the terminal meant not only freeing Lithuania but also the whole region from the Gazprom dictate. Regrettably, the discussions regarding EU aid have continued to this day, which means that the Lithuanian state and consumers are paying a lot more for the LNG than was previously evaluated. Without the EU support, the opportunities for the LNG terminal to reduce the natural gas prices are diminishing. Therefore, is Gazprom winning once more and Lithuanian businesses and citizens, who have freed a few other states in the EU from the Gazprom geopolitical and economic dictate, are on the losing side yet again.
In our honest opinion, with this example, we can state that the poor quality of the EU-wide energy politics is preventing the organisation from predicting the activities of the hostile strategies that are in place against them and eliminating the related risks. The economic might of certain EU member states and its citizens’ welfare are being further diminished, and therefore, the reason why we decided last year to rename the Lithuanian Energy Conference as the Vilnius Energy Forum is clear. It is apparent that we need to pass many decisions together in order to determine Lithuanian and Baltic energy independence, as well as the security and economic welfare of the EU energy and infrastructure sectors. We have to envisage specific scenarios, which would strengthen the union of democratic states, instead of the external forces that aim to divide Europe and to impose a certain type of politics on us all, which is favourable only for particular capital and corporate groups.
Therefore, we believe that the mission of the magazine VALSTYBĖ and of the Vilnius Energy Forum is extremely important. The objective is: to identify changes and determine the technological advances in the sector; to designate the most important strategies that will influence the energy sector; and to negotiate mutual decisions in Lithuania, the region and even the EU as a whole. We aim to contribute to the strengthening of the EU energy system, in order to provide the maximum possible economic welfare for European citizens.
These goals are especially relevant at the present time, as the era of cheap fossil fuel is ending. This trend was correctly identified in our magazine three years ago, and it is now coming true. Additionally, seven years ago we warned readers about the necessity to start rapid electricity production in Lithuania and the region, in order to avoid providing an excuse for the states in Eurasia – namely Russia and Belarus – to begin implementing their energy projects. The development of the Astravyets nuclear power plant, located a mere 50 km away from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, clearly illustrates this view. We believe that the aim of such projects is not only to influence the EU energy sector, but also the economies and the internal politics of certain member states in the organisation – primarily the Baltic countries. The inability to act unanimously and to frame the challenges that are facing the EU and our region is an extremely dangerous scenario.
We believe that all progressive forces – those in business, politics and other experts – should fully understand the importance of the aforementioned challenges, and should support our mission to identify those related to the EU and Baltic energy sector. They should also promote the agreement on specific strategic visions, to transform the risks into an economic potential. We all have to stand behind the idea that Europe can utilise the present-day challenges in the energy sector, related to stopping global climate change, to improve its economic might, which would strengthen the economic systems in all of the democratic EU member states. Yet this organisation has some unattended gaps in its policies, which when they are revealed may have the potential to be exploited by dictatorial of states that oppress their own citizens and aim to influence other countries into following suit and trampling the democratic principles and the EU. This is what may happen if the EU is unable to act unanimously and to withstand the pressure from both external and internal forces. We are certain that we have to resist these forces. Therefore, the mission of our editorial board and of the Vilnius Energy Forum is to inspire thinking about our freedom and creativity, which should help us to unite and create an energy system that will benefit our democracy and the welfare of our citizens. In order to transform this mission into reality, we ask for all of the representatives of progressive business and political institutions, as well as other experts in their fields, to support our mission. Only with your help can we make it a reality and make the EU truly mighty, while contributing to the strengthening of our democracies and resisting the energy darkness which once again looms over Europe.
We wholeheartedly appreciate everyone’s support, no matter how small, and we hope that by continuing to do what we have begun, we will be able to fulfil our dream – of a free and prosperous Europe.