VILNIUS - European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and President Valdas Adamkus came to the defense of Dalia Grybauskaite, the EU's finance and budget commissioner, after the native Lithuanian expressed a tough assessment of the Baltic state's preparedness to join the eurozone.
"We should understand that any criticism said by the commissioner [Grybauskaite] is not a negative attitude 's it is positive criticism that should be understood as encouragement for Lithuania to further improve its situation," Barroso, who was in Lithuania last week, told a press conference on March 30.
"There actually are spheres in which Lithuania could improve something, there is a certain potential to make something better," the commission president said, adding that Grybauskaite "supports her country and wants everything to look better and to move more smoothly."
Barroso's words echoed those of President Adamkus, who said two days earlier that the critical assessment from Grybauskaite, a former finance minister, was "positive."
"I think that there is nothing to be worried about, as the commissioner voiced her concern and criticism driven by all facts and knowledge of the requirements that await Lithuania and Lithuania's progress in that direction," the president told the press March 28.
"I take her comments very positively, as they are well-meant and are made to preserve what has been achieved," Adamkus said.
Both men were defending the commissioner from an untypical attack by Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, who seemed to have taken umbrage by Grybauskaite's bleak assessment of Lithuania's macroeconomic situation.
He even dropped a veiled accusation of a political bias.
"It's a strange thing that our commissioner focused most of her criticism on Lithuania. I would not think that is right, unless it is done out of calculation of getting involved in politics to some extent here," Kirkilas told reporters on March 27.
"So I do not think that this criticism is quite reasonable. In my opinion, it is slightly hotheaded, which is not a thing a commissioner, a political figure of such stature, should do," Kirkilas said.
Grybauskaite, who was in Lithuania to accompany Barroso on his first visit to Lithuania, triggered the uproar when she said the Baltic state's hope to join the eurozone in 2010 was unrealistic.
"As an economist, not as a commissioner, I can answer 'no' 's it is not realistic, because currently no stabilization measures for prices are being used," she told journalists March 27.
Grybauskaite welcomed the government's inflation-curbing plan, but said it should have been done two years ago. "The program is late. Besides, there are no particular measures for stabilization of prices in it. It means that such measures will be even later," she said.
Grybauskaite went so far as to say Lithuania's current fiscal and monetary policy is directed to increasing inflation, which apparently irked Prime Minister Kirkilas.
Lithuania had originally intended to introduce the euro this year but was rejected by the Barroso-led commission for a slightly high inflation rate.