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15th Aug 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.

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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.

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