Friday

23rd Oct 2020

Interview

'Politicians should start by cutting their own wages first'

  • Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will be the face of the EU presidency from 1 July until 31 December (Photo: Dz. G. Barysaite)

The only way to get public support for austerity measures is if politicians start by cutting their own wages, says Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

The outspoken politician is known for her uncompromising stance on solid finances and living within one's means. And she appears to practise what she preaches - she takes low-cost flights and gave up part of her salary during the austerity policy followed by the government.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

She is also one of the names floated for a top EU job next year.

But speaking to EUobserver in her office in Vilnius, the Lithuanian President refused to be drawn on the speculation.

"As it was the case when I came back to Lithuania from Brussels (in 2009) - I will be in the place where it's mostly necessary for Lithuania. I am at an age where I'm no longer planning my career, I do not have ambitions at this stage," the 57-year old politician said.

After five years in Brussels as EU budget commissioner, Grybauskaite came back to Lithuania and was elected president in a landslide victory at a time when the country was in deep recession. Harsh austerity measures were implemented and the president herself gave up half of her salary.

"We applied larger cuts to larger salaries and the lower ones had less or were even exempt from these cuts. Myself for three years during the crisis from 2009 to 2012 I was retaining 50 percent of my salary for the treasury. That's how we need to talk to people. If you're showing that you yourself are cutting your salary, it gives you the possibility to prove this is necessary," Grybauskaite said.

Ally of Germany

Sometimes compared to Germany's Angela Merkel, Grybauskaite says there are quite a few differences, but that she is also an "ally of responsible behaviour in politics and finances."

"We are very different, our history, our families, including the political affiliation. For 23 years I have not been a member of any political party, and I have a bit of an allergy for any membership after the previous (Soviet) years in my life, when I had to be a party member."

On the other hand, she sympathises with the German government.

"There is a little bit of demonisation of Germany going on. Germany never said "austerity only." Never. Germany is also doing reforms, labour market - their unemployment figures are lowest in Europe."

"But the problem is that the largest bulk of the bailouts is German people's money. Imagine you are lending money to someone. Wouldn't you ask for some conditions? It's the same with Germany. The German government is responsible for German people's money. Any support of other countries can be only conditional."

Grybauskaite is also teaming up with Merkel on youth unemployment initiatives. A conference in Berlin on 3 July will gather ministers and heads of employment agencies from all over Europe in a bid to exchange good ideas and look at concrete ways to boost youth employment in southern Europe.

"Unemployment is over 50 percent in some southern European countries, which poses the danger of a lost generation. We are organising this event because we want to emphasise the Austrian and German examples on youth unemployment," she said.

Lithuania: In the EU spotlight

Lithuania takes over the EU presidency on 1 July. EUobserver talks to the country's leading politicians about its austerity policy, its euro plans and relations with eastern neighbours.

News in Brief

  1. UK scientists fear Brexit blow to joint EU research
  2. Greek migrant camp lockdown extended
  3. Lukashenko and 14 others in EU crosshairs
  4. EU imposes sanctions over 2015 Bundestag cyberattack
  5. Italy reignites Mont Blanc border dispute with France
  6. Commission to press Croatia on migrant 'abuse' at border
  7. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  8. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19

Opinion

All eyes on EU court for decision on religious slaughter

The European Court of Justice is currently facing a major question: can religious freedom coexist with animal welfare? The decision of whether religious slaughter can continue is expected in a matter of weeks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. South Caucasus death toll much worse than feared
  2. Polish court effectively bans legal abortions
  3. MEPs urge EU to be ready to dump disputed energy treaty
  4. EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'
  5. Why German presidency is wrong on rule of law
  6. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  7. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  8. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us