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Why did Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite fail to get a EU top job?

Grybauskaite speaks to journalists at the European Council [Council newsroom]

At the 30 June-2 July EU Council meeting the name of the outgoing Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite was barely mentioned for the post of the President of EU Council, but it did not get through. Why was that so?

Earlier, Gybauskaite has been mentioned by diplomats and politicians as a highly possible candidate to be the next president of EU Council, the job now held by Poland’s former Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

How good was Grybauskaite’s profile? In principle, it was good. First of all, she has an extensive European experience. She has worked as EU budget Commissioner in Barroso’s Commission, she participated in EU summits for 10 years, and earlier she has represented Lithuania at the meetings in Brussels as finance minister. Furthermore, gender equality becomes a key element in European politics, and in this respect at least one top job should be given to a woman.

What could have acted against her is the character. Grybauskaite is known for her straightforwardness and blunt rhetoric, which raises doubts whether she would be able to reconcile different positions in search for a consensus. However, the major obstacle did relate to the fact that although Grybauskaite is known for her center right views, she has no affiliation with any political party, which proves a handicap when the European parties seek to push through their candidates.

This has been widely confirmed on 1 July, just after the first day of the summit, by Lithuanian media Delfi and Lietuvos rytas, which quoted the Press service of Grybauskaite and her chief foreign policy adviser Nerijus Aleksiejunas. According to them, the influence of the pan-European political parties over EU decision making, in this case over distribution of EU top jobs, has increased and has become decisive. This consideration prevailed over the geographical and gender balance, expected to work in favour of Grybauskaite.

The Lithuanian constitution foresees that the President should remain impartial, and he or she it is not allowed to be member of any political party. The newly elected President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nauseda does not belong to any political party as well. In order to compete for EU top jobs Lithuania has to solve this puzzle, so it would not remain sidelined in the future. Furthermore, Lithuania has to overcome is provincial syndrome to demonstrate clear capacity of action at the European and global stage, to think and act wider, to dream bigger.

On the other hand, according to Grybauskaite’s press service, the fragmented results of the EP elections do not allow to define stable power centers, everyone interprets them differently while fighting for the influence. This could results in bad outcomes, especially when it comes to Brexit and the negotiations for the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027, also for the agreement for CO2 emissions neutrality by 2050.

What next for Grybauskaite? Certainly, her career is not yet over. On 12 July, after the inauguration of the new President Gitanas Nauseda, she will step down from the official position, while looking for new opportunities, which will certainly be there taking into account her experience and energy. Possibly, Brussels will see her return as the Commissioner for Lithuania, able to become the Vice President of the European Commission, what to high extent depends from Gitanas Nauseda. He who would likely not object for such choice.

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