Usually, these reports are rather bureaucratic, diplomatically unspecific and do not want to arouse the anger of the criticised countries. The criticism is wrapped up in a veneer of general praise for the EU Member States.
Such diplomacy has not been abandoned in this report, published in the wake of Russia's aggression in Ukraine. First of all, the EC stresses that this war only further highlights the importance of democratic values, human rights and the rule of law.
It states that rule of law reforms have continued in the many EU Member States, addressing the problems identified in previous EC reports, but that there are still systemic legal problems in some countries.
Lithuania is praised for achieving good results in developing the efficiency of the justice system but is also peppered with criticism about the increasing length and backlog of cases.
Criticism is also levelled at our country for the continuing delays in the appointment of judges and for questioning the transparency of their selection.
Lithuania is urged to bring this selection and appointment process in line with European standards.
Brussels reminds Lithuania that the President of the Supreme Court is still in office as of September 2019.
It is recommended that this court's full composition is formed and its President be appointed.
The report recognises that our country continues implementing initiatives to fight corruption in the judiciary.
This is supported by the adoption of the Anti-Corruption Agenda 2022–2033, the amendment of the law on the Prevention of Corruption, which entered into force at the beginning of 2022, extending its scope to include state-owned enterprises and their subsidiaries.
More measures to reduce corruption are also mentioned: a Register of Private Interests will be in place from 2021, which is said to increase transparency in the public sector. Lobbying rules have also been adopted.
Provisions on the so-called „revolving door“ – the practice of keeping the heads of public bodies in their bosses' chairs but sometimes changing places – are also considered effective from July 2020.
Brussels experts see the breaks in their performance as useful.
Lithuania's efforts to improve confiscating assets acquired through corruption are praised. Furthermore, the investigation and prosecution of corruption offences are said to be helped by a new legal framework for the protection of whistleblowers adopted at the end of 2021.
However, Lithuania is recommended to continue reforming the legal aid system, including ensuring adequate legal aid conditions, as the low remuneration paid to lawyers may discourage them from taking on such cases.
The EC pays close attention to the Seimas Ombudsmen. It notes that amendments to the law regulating their activities under consideration in Lithuania have raised concerns that this could undermine the institution's effectiveness and raise doubts as to whether it will have the strength to implement its ambitions.
It is therefore recommended that the necessary human and financial resources be made available for the operation of the Seimas Ombudsmen's Office. Of course, this advice is completely unspecific, but it signals that the EC is keeping a close eye on the functioning of this control body in our country.
International human rights organisations have heavily criticised Lithuania, and the European Court of Justice has ruled very unfavourably on the measures taken by our country to manage the crisis of illegal migrants.
The EC has commented on the problem in its report with great caution.
It only said that in November 2021, in response to Belarus's actions in pushing illegal migrants to our borders, Lithuania declared a state of emergency under which certain rights restrictions apply.
But this is just a reminder of a well-known fact, and Brussels has shied away from making judgments.
Instead, the report focuses relatively heavily on media pluralism, the right to freedom of expression and the dissemination of information.
In this respect, Lithuania's legal system is largely praised.
Legislation is being drafted to make media self-regulatory bodies more effective and impartial and to make media ownership transparent.
In addition, the EC considers that the authorities are trying to reduce the financial burden on audiovisual media and radio service providers.
The Ministry of Culture is also commended for having set up a publicly accessible information system for producers and disseminators of public information.
The professional environment for journalists in Lithuania is acknowledged to be generally safe, but online threats against journalists are a problem.
Brussels is only more critical of the authorities interpretation of data protection rules, which restricts access to information.
The proposal is to improve access to official documents in line with European standards, to ensure that access to information is not unduly restricted, especially for journalists.
However, it is unlikely that everything looks as good for Lithuanian media representatives as the EC has been able to see from European distances.