VILNIUS - Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite has nabbed one of Brussels' most sought-after jobs with a promise that she will become overseer of the EU's mammoth budget on the European Commission within the next few months.
At a press conference held in the European capital on Aug. 12, EC President-designate Jose Manuel Durao Barroso announced he would appoint Grybauskaite as head of the budget directorate-general.
The post is roughly equivalent to that of finance minister, the job Grybauskaite held in Lithuania for almost three years before being nominated as the country's representative on the commission.
The appointment is seen as both a national triumph for Lithuania, whose representative managed to procure one of the union's top jobs in spite of her country's relative insignificance, and a personal success for Grybauskaite.
While Barroso's decision to place Grybauskaite at the head of the EU's budget all but assures her of the appointment, a round of final confirmation hearings will soon be held in the European Parliament. If confirmed, she will take over as controller of the EU's almost 120 billion euro annual budget on Nov. 1.
Grybauskaite, dubbed Lithuania's "iron lady," hardly restrained her frustration upon learning this spring that she would serve under Luxembourg's flowery Viviane Redding on the education and culture portfolio until after the European Parliament elections in June.
But it was all smiles this week in Grybauskaite's office when it became clear that the she would get the job she had been hoping for.
"Yes, she was happy to find out she got this portfolio," said Rima Kaziliuniene, a member of Grybauskaite's Brussels cabinet and a long-time aide at the Finance Ministry.
"The work is in line with her experience and interests," she said.
Grybauskaite declined to comment to The Baltic Times pending the completion of the confirmation hearings.
Nevertheless, if the commission was in search of a fiscal watchdog that would impose unswerving discipline on the EU's books, they have found her.
During her long tenure in government, Grybauskaite has headed many of the negotiating teams that wrenched the Lithuanian economy out of Russia's sphere of influence and placed it in the European one.
Yet her brightest moment to date has been as finance minister, when she presided over previously unthinkable growth figures that topped the European charts while reining in discretionary spending and proposed budget increases promised by politicians.
While speculation has held that the powers-that-be in Brussels have placed Grybauskaite at the budget's helm based on the merits of her record, some have been shocked that the high-level portfolio was handed to Lithuania, a relative newcomer to the EU and one of the union's smaller members.
Speaking to reporters after publicizing the appointments, Barroso made explicit his intention of fully integrating the voices of the new members with those of the old on the commission.
"Everyone has equal rights. I do not want any first- and second-class commissioners," he said.
Nonetheless, as Lithuania's former chief EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius pointed out, Barroso's doctrine of equality was also aimed at leveling out differences between large and small members. The budget portfolio, for example, previously belonged to German Commissioner Michaele Schreyer.
"He has clearly not taken into account the relative weight of a country in giving out the portfolios," Austrevicius said of the future EC president.
Lithuania's soon-to-be presence on the commission will most likely overshadow even those of the region's other new member states.
Estonian Commissioner Siim Kallas is to be made one of five vice presidents of the commission, while the ongoing political turmoil surrounding Latvia's Ingrida Udre portends an uncertain future for her stint as head of taxation and the customs union.
"[The Budget Directorate-General] is a very responsible post. But I think that with her experience, Grybauskaite will do an excellent job," Austrevicius said.