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Lithuania’s 20 Years in the EU: Co-creating Success

Lithuania’s 20 Years in the EU: Co-creating Success

Lithuania is commemorating twenty years of membership in the European Union, a time marked by significant strides in economic growth, technological innovation, energy independence, and cultural achievements. These developments underscore the substantial potential smaller nations have within the EU framework. With 78% of its residents optimistic about the future of the EU, Lithuania, alongside Denmark (83%) and Ireland (81%), is recognised as a frontrunner in pan-European sentiment, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey. This survey also reveals that 91% of Lithuanians believe the country has benefited from EU membership. This enduring trust highlights the considerable advantages experienced by both the youth and the older generations, who have witnessed the nation’s remarkable transformation since joining the EU in 2004. Simas Čelutka, a political philosopher and public intellectual from Vilnius University, greatly appreciates the opportunities provided by Lithuania’s EU membership: “Not only was I able to travel and study in other EU countries, but the EU also funded my PhD studies—a formative experience of my life. For me and my generation, 2004 is a landmark year, a year when my country made an existential decision to join the European family and European way of life. Russia’s war against Ukraine underscores the significance of this decision. Lithuanians clearly see and recognize the difference between freedom and tyranny.”

Economic Growth

Lithuania has experienced remarkable economic growth, with its GDP per capita soaring from EUR 5,395.1 in 2004 to EUR 25,123.9 in 2023. This impressive growth is a testament to the country’s significant economic modernization, which has attracted global corporations like Hella, Hollister, and Continental. Additionally, Lithuania has cultivated a vibrant ecosystem supporting over 1,000 startups across sectors such as IT, manufacturing, fintech, and cybersecurity. The nation’s leadership in digital skills, ranking first globally, and a sixfold increase in foreign direct investment since joining the EU, underscore its dynamic economic environment.

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey published in March 2024, 86% of Lithuanians report a high quality of life, and 75% believe the national economy is performing well. Aušrinė Armonaitė, the Minister of the Economy and Innovation, states, “Lithuania is progressing in bold strides. We have successfully transformed our economy from one reliant on low-cost labour to one that generates high added value. This transformation is mirrored in our youth, who are the happiest in the world according to this year’s World Happiness Report. Today, Lithuania stands as one of the most advanced and opportunity-rich countries in the region.”

Innovation and Technology

Innovation and technology positions Lithuania as a regional leader, particularly in fintech, cybersecurity, and life sciences. The country’s startup ecosystem, valued at €13.7 billion, includes three unicorns and shows potential for more.

The biotechnology sector, one of the most dynamic in Europe, exports 90% of its products globally, including to the US, Germany, and Poland. Lithuanian scientists are making pivotal contributions that extend beyond national borders, playing a crucial role in enhancing global health and saving lives worldwide.

Professor Virginijus Šikšnys stands out as a trailblazer in the realm of CRISPR Cas9 technology, his groundbreaking work enabling precise gene editing and opening new avenues in medical science.

Dr. Urtė Neniškytė, born in 1983, has made significant advancements in understanding the human brain. Her research has positioned her as a leading figure in neuroscience, and her achievements have been recognized on an international scale. Dr. Neniškytė’s receipt of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship, along with the International Rising Talents award, underscores the global appreciation for her work and its contribution to the scientific community at large.

In 2021, as a testament to Lithuania’s burgeoning expertise in gene-editing and molecular biology, a world-class scientific laboratory was inaugurated at Vilnius University. This facility stands as a beacon of Lithuania’s commitment to advancing in the field of molecular biology, further solidifying the nation’s position within the global scientific community and highlighting its contributions to critical research areas.

Lithuania’s laser technology sector, recognized globally, supplies institutions like NASA and CERN. The launch of the SYLOS 3 laser system and the acknowledgment of Ekspla’s FemtoLux30 at the SPIE Prism Awards 2024 highlight Lithuania’s leading position in this field.

Challenging the world with art

Membership in the EU has opened borders for Lithuanian artists and enriched the global art scene with unconventional perspectives on the critical issues the world is addressing. Lithuania’s cultural landscape has gained international acclaim, with its artists and performances receiving distinguished accolades. Notably, Lina Lapelytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė were awarded the Golden Lion at the 2019 Venice Biennale for their opera ‘Sun & Sea’, which challenges global audiences to reflect on our collective behaviour in the face of climate change. Following this, Šarūnas Bareiša secured another Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2021 for the film ‘Pilgrims’, recognised as the standout work in the ‘Horizons’ programme. According to Šarūnas, “This achievement is directly related to the formation of an independent national film school. All the key team members graduated from film studies in independent Lithuania. The development of the national film school can ensure further progress in Lithuania’s film field.”

Photo by Lukas Balandis

Lithuanian artists’ voice has been prominent in drawing global attention to the war instigated by Russia against Ukraine. In 2022, Lithuanian documentary filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius was tragically killed by Russia in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. His film ‘Mariupolis 2’ serves as a testament to Ukrainian bravery and was awarded the European Documentary of 2022.

Happier with every year

While there is still much to achieve in building an inclusive society where everyone feels just and integrated, there are optimistic moments to celebrate. The latest World Happiness Report reveals a surprising fact: Lithuania’s under-30 population ranks the highest in happiness, with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. Despite Lithuania’s overall 19th position, its young adults stand out as paragons of happiness in 2024.

Viltė Jonynaitė, a 27-year-old resident doctor, shares, “Our generation enjoys considerable freedom and opportunities. We are mindful of our history, which teaches us modesty and solidarity. Leading healthy lifestyles and travelling, we often find that our conditions—including education, healthcare, and housing—are quite favourable, compared to those abroad. This appreciation is deepened by understanding the hardships our parents endured, fostering greater trust in societal structures and a more positive life outlook,” she says.

Solidarity with Ukraine

As a nation that has reaped the manifold benefits of EU membership, Lithuania stands in solidarity with Ukraine fighting in an unjust and brutal war waged by Russia. Lithuania’s support extends beyond mere words, advocating for Ukraine’s aspiration to join the European Union.

Lithuania’s populace is among the staunchest advocates for Ukraine’s EU integration. A Eurobarometer survey conducted in January 2024 revealed that a significant majority, 79% of Lithuanians, is in support of granting EU candidate status to Ukraine, a sentiment that resonates with 61% of Europeans.

Lithuania continues to provide Ukraine with military, economic, humanitarian, and political assistance. Lithuania has also initiated several reconstruction projects because the rebuilding of Ukraine cannot wait until victory – it began immediately after Ukraine reclaimed the first inches of its territory, and the democratic world must contribute to this effort.

Lithuania’s twenty-year membership in the European Union has marked significant achievements in economic growth, technological innovation, and cultural influence. The nation has not only showcased its resilience and dynamism but also played a pivotal role in international advocacy, particularly in support of Ukraine. These accomplishments underscore Lithuania’s impactful presence and progressive spirit within the EU framework.