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Lithuania’s president Grybauskaitė comes empty-handed from top Brussels jobs division

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Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė (L) speaks with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker speak prior the round table of a Special European Council in Brussels, Belgium, 30 June

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Europe’s leaders, divided starkly by political affiliations, have finally agreed to give two of the top four European Union jobs to women, but Dalia Grybauskaitė, the outgoing Lithuanian president is not between them. Analysts weigh in on chances of a Baltic nominee.

Officially, her nonpartisanship along with some of her personal traits, like assertiveness, left her without a top EU job, but some analysts approached by BNN reasoned that Western powerhouses’ leaders had not seriously taken Grybauskaitė’s candidacy into consideration from scratch.

EU superpowers divided top posts their own way

«As much as Grybauskaitė’s nonpartisanship and personal characteristics are important as the reasons why she was denied a major EU post, the arrangements between old European superpowers mattered equally as much,»

Marius Laurinavičius, senior expert at Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, told BNN. «Only the appointment of the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, as the new European Council president is perhaps an exception, but the factor that Belgium is home to the EU parliament and the Commission has always been of utmost importance,» he added.

German defence minister Ursula Von Der Leyen emerged as nominee for president of the European Commission, and International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, who is French, was put forward for the presidency of the European Central Bank. The former’s role must yet be endorsed by the new-composition European Parliament. If elected, she would be the first woman to lead the European Commission, meanwhile Lagarde will be the first woman to head the bloc’s central bank.

Many scenarios considered

Outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk called the appointments «a perfect gender balance,» but the much-declared striving for the other kind of balance, representing all the European Union regions in Brussels, was ignored in the marathon of negotiations on power division.

«The big players of Europe played the first fiddle in the negotiations from scratch and, as a result, their candidates grabbed the most important jobs of the European Union. There was simply no room for candidate from a small country like Lithuania,» the analyst underscored.

Yet some sources knowledgeable of the dragged-out negotiations leaked to Lithuanian media that Dalia Grybauskaitė was considered among candidates for president of the European Commission during the tense talks on key EU positions.

One of the scenarios proposed to EU leaders in Brussels on Tuesday night presumably foresaw giving Grybauskaitė president’s job at the European Commission, provided Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans had been appointed as president of the European Council, and  right-wing German Manfred Weber had become president of the European Parliament.

Eventually, none of the names was proposed for top EU jobs after Central European countries and Italy bristled against Timmermans’ appointment and the European People’s Party demanded to get the position of the Commission president.

It was just one of over a dozen combinations discussed by EU officials during the talks.

Analyst: Grybauskaitė did not have any chance

According to Laurinavičius, Luxemburg is the only European country able to get top jobs in the European Union.

«But, again, it is in the nucleus of Western powers. The country exerts strong influence in the decision-making on the European level,» Laurinavičius emphasised. «Apart the country, only Poland can boast of having had its citizen as head of a key EU institution,” he added.

The analyst had in mind Donald Tusk, who is retiring as president of the 2014-2019 European Council.

«The way the leaders were dividing top posts in Brussels, Grybauskaitė did not have a slight chance from scratch,» he reiterated.

When asked to elaborate which personal characteristics impeded Grybauskaitė to emerge among the top names, Laurinavičius pondered that her assertiveness and bluntness were not the only things that kept her in the margins.

«Her staunch rhetoric against Russia has been a major factor, too. Although this was not brought up by anybody in the negotiations, I am pretty sure many of the backstage talks did raise the fact and furthermore: it was used against Grybauskaitė,»

he said convinced. «Especially that candidate for EU foreign affairs (Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell Fontelles – L.J.) is clearly pro-Kremlin. So seeing him and Grybauskaitė working in tandem would have been impossible,» Laurinavičius added.

New MEPS will not vote against top four?

The analyst does not expect that the new European Parliament members will vote down the proposed candidacies.

«Big countries’ euro-parliamentarians prevail in the Parliament, so it is very unlikely that they will want to disrupt the beginning of their work by not approving the proposed names. Yet if it were up to them to pick new heads of the key European institutions, including the Parliament, they would certainly come up with other names. Now they, in a sense, will be forced to vote for the already introduced candidates. They might vote against some proposed commissioner, but I am sure they will not vote against the top four,» Laurinavičius underscored.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis also expressed his regret over the fact that not a single Central and Eastern European politician secured an important EU positions during the tough negotiations over the past few days.

Fears of Grybauskaitė was a factor

Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University, told BNN that he believes that old EU members feared emergence of Central and Eastern Europeans as the new EU and EC leaders.

«Look, we have Poland right here and we have Hungary a bit farther, both questioning EU policies and exasperating the EU leaders. So there is definitely fear of the region in Brussels.

Secondly, for many, Grybauskaitė embodies an avid fighter against bureaucracy and oligarchy. She is hard going, often obstreperous, so many of the Brussels bureaucrats just cannot stand idea of seeing Grybauskaitė as their boss.

I believe European authorities have not yet matured to have point-blank talking, Grybauskaitė-type leaders in Brussels,» the analyst reasoned.

MP: media exaggerated Grybauskaitė’s importance

Meanwhile, Lithuanian parliamentarian Petras Gražulis told BNN he knew «ages ago» that Grybauskaitė will come empty-handed from the EU top jobs division.

«Only our media conjured up image of her as a great leader, one suitable for the highest EU positions. Left with nothing in her hands, she will have now to find her place in domestic politics. There are talks already in Vilnius that she will seek a seat in Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) in the parliamentary elections next year,» the politician said. «If this happens, she will rough up the waters of local politics, but she, certainly, must be very disappointed not to get a top job in Brussels,» Gražulis said.


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