Skvernelis invites Polish supermarkets to Lithuania, seeks to overcome Polish differences
It seems that Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who paid this week a visit in Poland, wanted to catch up with – and cheer up – his Polish counterpart, Beata Szydlo, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling party Law and Justice, on all hot mutual issues.
Chalking some of them up to «wrong stereotypes», the Lithuanian premier expressed confidence that both neighbours can improve the relations and work in lockstep.
Latvia’s PM, Maris Kučinskis, also attended the meeting, meanwhile Estonia’s PM Juris Ratas did not make it to the Polish capital due to a crisis stemming from a glitch in the country’s e-ID cards.
For now, however, the tensions between Lithuania and Poland seem to be a little eased. Summing up his meeting with Kaczynski, Skvernelis emphasized that the Poland’s ruling coalition leader sees Lithuania as «a strategically friendly country.»
«Some stereotypes probably keep us from emotional reloading today. He (Kaczynski) was provided first-hand information about the situation of the Polish ethnic minority. Now there is a huge opportunity to solve the problems,» Skvernelis underscored after the meeting.
He brought Kaszynski’s attention to the fact that Lithuania has the biggest network of Polish-language schools in Lithuania outside Poland.
«Lithuania is the only country providing Polish-language education from pre-school to university, with financing of ethnic minority schools about 20 percent higher than that of Lithuanian schools,» the Lithuanian PM noted.
He also presented the Lithuanian government’s decision to broadcast Polish television in southeastern districts with large Polish population and the Vilnius administration’s decisions on the status of Polish schools.
In Skvernelis’ words, the spelling of Polish first and last names in Lithuanian identification documents remains a sensitive issue in Poland. A few projects are currently discussed at the Lithuanian parliament on permission to use the letters w, q and x in passports, as the letters do not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet. The Prime Minister supports the decision, however, it is unclear whether the bill will secure sufficient support at the parliament. Skvernelis said he briefed Kaczynski on the concerns of Poland’s Lithuanian community about the situation in Lithuanian-language education there, as the local communities in Sejny and Punsk are short of Lithuanian-language textbooks, Lithuanian schools are being closed and Lithuanian-language examinations are held below standards.
The three prime ministers agreed on the detrimental impact of the enhanced flows of Russian propaganda, as well as a stream of Russian fake news about the Baltic states.
Among the key issues discussed by the heads of the Baltic governments was the looming synchronisation of the states’ electric grids with the Western European network. Until now, they are intertwined with the Moscow-controlled circuit system, BRELL. However, the heads of the Baltic governments departed not having found a common ground on the hot-button issue.
Although Skvernelis said he has secured «firm Polish support» to synchronise the grid via the existing power link, LitPol, Latvia and Estonia, however, frown at the proposal. The Latvian PM reiterated his country’s stance that the synchronisation has to be carried out through a second power link between Lithuania and Poland to be built until 2025. Meanwhile, Estonia has said it favours aligning of the Baltic networks with European through a Baltic Sea cable to Sweden.
According to Skvernelis, Lithuania and Poland are to «shortly sign the political agreement» on the synchronisation project. «Poland’s political approval to the synchronisation of the Baltic electricity system with continental Europe via Poland is very important. We cannot postpone the project – it is a joint issue of national and energy security of the Baltic States. The Latvian and Estonian calls to proceed with the synchronisation only when a second electricity link is in place is unacceptable and could procrastinate the process and leave the Baltic states dependent on the Moscow-controlled electricity ring,» Skvernelis said at a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart.
Counter arguing, Latvia’s Prime Minister Maris Kučinskis reiterated that Latvia supports the synchronisation by two lines, as an analysis by a research centre suggests it would be the best solution costwise.
Skvernelis does not rule out that Lithuania could synchronise via Poland alone, if Latvia and Estonia do not support the solution. The Latvian Prime Minister stressed the need for the Baltic states to cooperate among themselves and for extending this cooperation to include also Poland. «We have to think about joint action to secure financing for large regional infrastructure projects, in particular Rail Baltica,» he said. To those Lithuanians who dislike politics and care about more mundane things – how to make ends meet with the Lithuanian prices being so exorbitant – Skvernelis may have a cheerful message: a Polish grocery retailer is welcome in the Lithuanian grocery market. The PM has called on Polish food retailers to «explore» possibilities of doing business in Lithuania.
Some Lithuanian experts believe Lithuania has chances of attracting a Polish retail chain into its retail market, but the process would require effort from authorities and would probably take at least two years.
«I think it’s realistic to attract one of the Polish retail trade companies. I don’t see why our region should be taboo for Polish retailers, but some effort is required to convince them that the Lithuanian market can be attractive to them,» SEB Lithuania’s chief analyst Tadas Povilauskas said. «When the state wants to increase competition, this is a good sign for any investor. This may encourage Polish companies to enter the Lithuanian market,» he added. Laurynas Vilimas, head of the Association of Lithuanian Trade Companies, thinks that the arrival of a new retail chain would benefit Lithuania, but would pose new challenges for existing market players.
«This is advantageous for customers, but it would make it more difficult for market participants to work and compete. Growing competition will force them to look for new ways of attracting and keeping buyers,» he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Swedbank Lithuania’s chief economist Nerijus Mačiulis is sceptical about the possibility of a Polish retail chain gaining a foothold in Lithuania.
«I’m somewhat more sceptical about the possibility of a new retail player emerging in Lithuania and trying to find some niches here. A more likely scenario would be for a Polish chain to try and purchase an existing retail chain in Lithuania and then reinforce it,» he said.