Grybauskaite: e-voting a security threat

Using e-voting, Estonians seem to be so proud of, seems politically suicidal on the backdrop of Russia's increasingly aggressive behavior, President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite, due to visit Estonia next Monday, told Postimees.

As concerns energy security, Grybauskaite says that the Baltic countries do not have a valid agreement for a regional LNG terminal on the banks of the Gulf of Finland. The president believes it would not be sensible to construct a terminal in Estonia in a situation where demand is falling and the terminal in Klaipeda can service all three Baltic countries.

The construction of common European rail project Rail Baltic has created a lot of heated discussion in Estonia. What is your view of risks that the European Union will not maintain recent levels of financing, that construction will prove more expensive than planned, and that there will not be enough transport operations in the end?

The considerations you mention are relevant concerning every economic investment project. When looking for the answer, we must first and foremost decide whether we are after economic gain, or something more. The EU usually finances international projects that would not be cost-effective using conventional investment tools.

Looking at the possibilities of the three Baltic countries, we could not construct an economically viable railroad on our own.

Looking at Rail Baltic, it is more than an economic project; it is an undertaking to support integration, travel, cultural exchange. We need this railroad not just for three countries, but five, as Poland and Finland will also be connected. It is just the kind of project that requires European support.

How prepared is Lithuania for a situation where today the EU plans to finance 85 percent of Rail Baltic but decides to change its mind tomorrow?

Rail Baltic is moving forward today, and all three Baltic states must communicate a very clear message that we’re willing to take it all the way. Current rules suggest the EU will cover 85 percent of the cost, and member states will contribute the remaining 15 percent.

However, we don’t know proposals for future financing periods - it all depends on member states’ decisions. It is clear it would be very difficult for us to make Rail Baltic happen using our own means.

What would you recommend Estonian MPs observe when ratifying the Rail Baltic agreement after Estonia’s auditor general pointed out a number of major risks, for example the question of continued financing?

Rail Baltic’s international agreement is a guarantee that the Baltic countries want to take the project forward. Without this agreement, the European Commission and other member states will have reason to ask why should they finance a project the main beneficiaries of which cannot agree on and unanimously support.

The decision to build Rail Baltic has been made as I see it. Development of a north-south transport corridor is important. The three Baltic countries must show they are capable of working together. We must also keep in mind it is not just a question of goods, but first and foremost people: passengers, students, scientists; and a number of other important aspects.

If we start something, we must be able to finish it.

Lithuania took a significant step a few years ago when it rented a tanker to serve as an LNG terminal in Klaipeda and thus opened the Baltic gas market to competition for the first time. However, this step was preceded by an agreement that a regional LNG terminal would be constructed on the banks of the Gulf of Finland. Why is the Lithuanian government now talking about the need to turn its tanker into this regional terminal?

This is a misunderstanding. There is no agreement concerning the location of a regional terminal. A group of EU experts drew up a report in 2010-2012 in which it was concluded the Gulf of Finland could serve as a potential location for a regional LNG terminal.

This vision was based on the presumption that gas demand would skyrocket in Estonia and Finland. What we saw in the following years was the opposite, as wind power became increasingly popular.

Lithuania did not set up its terminal in Klaipeda following regional considerations. We needed security and independence from Gazprom. The cheapest and fastest way was to rent a ship that could service all three Baltic states.

As soon as that ship made port, gas prices went down for all of us. Overcoming Gazprom’s monopoly gave us not only economic independence, but free hands in making political decisions.

We did not use European subsidies to take that step. The terminal in Klaipeda could cover up to 90 percent of demand also in Estonia and Latvia; however, we’re not forcing it upon you.

From this point of view, constructing an LNG terminal is increasingly becoming a market decision. Building the terminal in Estonia would not make economic sense as the Klaipeda terminal can service all three Baltic countries. Constructing another terminal to service a dwindling market would not be wise.

The Klaipeda terminal does not require any kind of special status; we simply got a foot in the door at the right time and are in fact regional, despite what anyone might call it.

The meetings the prime ministers of the three countries attend on the LNG terminal subject, are they official negotiations, or are they something else?

I believe they reflect curiosity in the LNG subject matter. Representatives of a lot of foreign countries visit our terminal as it is modern and flexible. It can be used to bunker ships. We can rent out some of the capacity of the terminal as we don’t need it.

The international press reported your critical view of Estonia’s e-voting some time ago. What was it based on?

That is not true, as I have not delivered an assessment of e-voting in Estonia. I was asked about using e-voting in Lithuania.

My answer was based on very serious studies on the subject carried out in other European countries. I was surprised to discover that countries that had used e-voting were critical of it. The German constitutional court rejected e-elections following reliability concerns in 2009. The Netherlands gave it up after using it for a decade. Ireland dropped e-voting due to security concerns. France, USA, and the United Kingdom have not adopted e-voting on security considerations.

The Constitution stipulates that elections must ensure the voter’s anonymity; however, e-voting does not guarantee that, nor does it guarantee security. The more frequent attacks on our cyber systems, the less confidence e-voting inspires. That is my opinion that does not include a position on Estonia’s e-elections.

Looking at our common neighbor’s increasingly aggressive behavior, use of systems like e-voting seems all the more suicidal.

Does this mean there is no way Lithuania will adopt e-voting by the time of parliamentary elections in 2019?

I would not like to speculate on that; however, I believe e-voting to be a national security threat.

How do you see the development of Estonian and Lithuanian e-services and potential cross-border usage?

I’m very glad digital solutions are firmly on the agenda for Estonia’s presidency. The problem, however, is that digitalization of services is merely a tool. We are not seeing sufficient integration in terms of the content of services in Europe.

The common market remains stubbornly on the agenda as a lot of questions in terms of its functionality are far from being answered. Development of e-services will continue to be inhibited for as long rules are disharmonized and cross-border trade faces obstacles.

What are the more important challenges Lithuania and the other Baltic states face in the near future?

The number one problem is Russia that is staging increasingly aggressive drills near our borders. This forces us to strengthen our own military capacity. That is why we are looking at reforms in NATO that will result in a substantial redesign of the planning system.

To ensure growth, we must show ourselves as dynamic and innovative countries to encourage foreign investments.

Our cooperation with Scandinavia is very good, and we must continue to make relevant contributions as we are too small to achieve success on our own. We need to demonstrate our high level of digitization both in the EU and NATO. It will reflect competitive ability and innovative spirit.

Social cohesion and well-being is one area where we must keep moving, as our pensions, for example, still fall well short of a lot of other European countries.

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