Lithuania joined the EU as part of the ten country expansion of 2004. Lithuania is not a Eurozone member, but is likely to be the next country to join, with the government aiming to join in 2015, though Lithuania has not, as of yet, reached the Maastricht criteria for joining the Eurozone due to high inflation and a moderately sized budget deficit.
Lithuania is the largest and most Southern of the Baltic States. Historically the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was, at its height, the largest country in Europe, and a major constituent component of the later Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The partition of the commonwealth between neighbouring powers in the latter part of the 18th century led to its wiping off the map, however.
Lithuania was, however, the Baltic nationality most able to retain their national identity. Unlike Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania did not suffer from mass inward immigration from Russians and while Lithuania does have a Russian minority population it is only around 5.8% of the population. Poles (6.6% of the population) are actually a larger minority in Lithuania. As a result Lithuania has comparatively liberal citizenship laws.
Lithuania was the first of the Baltic states to declare independence, doing so in 1990. It was aided in this by a local Communist Party which, being dominated by ethnic Lithuanians, broke from Moscow in 1989.
As a result, the Lithuanian left is less stigmatised than in its Baltic cousins and Lithuanian leftist parties have won elections and formed governments.
Lithuania also has better relations with Russia than its cousins, though relations have recently soured due to the situation in Ukraine, with Russia suspending food imports via Lithuania in March.
Party politics has been highly fragmented since independence in Lithuania. At its height, fifteen parties were represented in the Lithuanian parliament. No Lithuanian government has ever won re-election. New parties frequently emerge just before elections and sometimes even go on to win them. Only one Prime Minister has served a full parliamentary term in office. Defections are frequent, during the 2004-8 parliament, almost a third of parliamentarians switched sides. Turnouts in Lithuania are rock bottom. In 2009 Lithuania had the second lowest turnout of any EU country in the EU parliament election that year, with only 21.0% of Lithuanian voters turning out to vote, and turnout in the last parliamentary election was a meagre 52.9%, actually an improvement on prior turnouts in 2004 and 2008, which were sub-50%.
Like its fellow Baltic states, Lithuania was one of the fastest growing post-Soviet economies between 2000 and 2007. In 2000 Lithuania saw its economy grow by 12.3% and subsequently saw growth between 6.7% and 10.3% each year until 2008. Like other Baltic states it was poorly affected by the 2008-9 financial crisis, seeing its economy crash by 14.8% in 2009, but subsequently bouncing back somewhat. Unemployment is now 11.1%, down from a peak of 18.5%. Economic growth is projected for around 3.6% this year.
Lithuania did not call in an EU-IMF bailout in response to the crisis but implemented severe austerity policies anyway (partially in order to avoid one).
The 2012 election saw the election of a centre-left government partially as a result.
Like the other Baltic States, Lithuania is a broadly pro-European country.
Lithuania will elect 11 MEPs, down one from 2009.
Lithuania elects its MEPs using a semi-open list system in which voters vote for parties who get seats in line with their percentage of the vote.
Voters may cast up to five preferences for their preferred candidates on the list. Candidates are elected based on a mathematical formula based on their position on a party list and how many preference votes they get, hence bringing in an element of both party preference and voter preference into the system.
Lithuania’s turnout of 21.0% was the lowest in the EU, bar Slovakia, in 2009.
Turnout may be raised in this election as it falls on the same date as the second round of this year’s Lithuanian presidential election. However, in 2009, the incumbent, Dalia Grybauskaite (herself a former European Commissioner) was resoundingly elected in the first round with 69.1% of the vote. Grybauskaite is highly popular and polls suggest that another first round victory is likely, so this may not happen.
A second national election in a month is likely to only exacerbate low turnout in Lithuania.
2009 Election Result
Polls suggest that two governing parties are likely to do well, with the Social Democrats and Order and Justice likely to occupy the first and second places, respectively. The Labour Party is also likely to increase its vote slightly, whereas the Electoral Action of Poles is in danger of losing its seat unless it benefits from higher than average turnout amongst ethnic Poles.Likely results
The major opposition parties are less likely to do well, despite mid-term elections typically benefitting opposition parties. The Homeland Union could well see its delegation to the European Parliament halved whereas the Liberal Movement is currently polling only slightly up on its 2009 result.