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Dalia Grybauskaitė
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

European Union institution staff see Dalia Grybauskaitė as one of the favourites to become the head of the European Council next year, however her own intentions are currently unknown.

"The president refuses to comment on opinions published in the media. The head of state's attention is focused on direct work and necessary state decisions," the president's press service stated.

The decision on who takes the position rests on the votes of EU member states. Several unwritten rules are upheld when voting.

Vilnius University Institute of International relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) professor Tomas Janeliūnas explained that when deciding, usually the effort is to maintain a balance between the main positions.

Usually it is not the candidates of the major EU states such as Germany or France, who are proposed as European Council. This is because such nominations would further increase such countries' influence in the EU.

"A more neutral candidate, often nominated by smaller countries, is sought. It is decided based on the candidate's specific experience because these are postings, where leadership is expected. EU experience is important, as is the capacity to convince the heads of major states that certain candidates are capable of accomplishing their functions," T. Janeliūnas said.

The expert notes that the potential candidate's intentions are important as well.

"This intent does not have to be declared in an official capacity, in public, but it must be known in unofficial channels, whether the individual wishes to run for the post. It does not happen against one's will," T. Janeliūnas said.

According to him, no one wishes to rush public declarations because of protracted negotiations and the balance can shift with months, if not weeks left.

The political scientist also explained that there are no requirements regarding party affiliation. According to T. Janeliūnas, D. Grybauskaitė would even be advantaged that she is not a representative of a specific political party because otherwise she would need to make a case that she will be equally favourable to both sides of the isle.

First female in the post

D. Grybauskaitė would have an advantage as a potential candidate because she has a serious reputation among EU leaders according to the political scientist.

"She no longer needs to prove her competence. She has fairly solid support from Germany, recently relations with the French President Emmanuel Macron have been decent as well," T. Janeliūnas pointed out.

According to the political scientist, D. Grybauskaitė does not conceal her support to the EU development guidelines declared by the French and German leaders.

"I believe that this is one of her main advantages. That she is the representative of a small country could be viewed as a plus because it will not cause any backlash that it is the large countries, who are dominant," T. Janeliūnas said.

That D. Grybauskaitė is from a newer member state can, according to the political scientist, raise certain doubts because the current European Council president Donald Tusk is the same, thus an individual from a different country group may be sought.

"But this criterion is not essential and I believe that it should not prove an obstruction. Sometimes even the gender equality criterion can be important. We have not had a female European Council president, thus in this respect she could be received quite well," T. Janeliūnas said.

What could prove to be an obstacle, the expert points out, is a fairly categorical manner of speech and an especially strict anti-Russian rhetoric, which may not sit well with the leaders of countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary.

"In certain cases this could even threaten vetoing from certain parties. It is hard to say, whether there would be very clear opposition," T. Janeliūnas said.

However, according to the political scientist, it is early to speak of this because we are still missing the most important factor – D. Grybauskaitė's own position.

No evidence of seeking appointment

ISM Economics and Politics programme head Vincentas Vobolevičius currently cannot see any signs suggesting that D. Grybauskaitė is aiming for the post. He pointed out her support for Poland and strict position regarding Russia.

"I would like to emphasise here not D. Grybauskaitė's advantages and disadvantages because there certainly are advantages, she is an impressive woman, she was recently voted second among European institution staff to the position of European Council president, but in her movements I do not see much intent to activate those advantages. Let us see whether the president is intent on it herself," V. Vobolevičius said.

The political scientist believes that D. Grybauskaitė's experience at both the European and international levels is a highlight.

"Such versatility is rare. (...) This makes her particularly appealing. She is a woman, which is an advantage nowadays. She appears to be not only someone who can speak well, but also has experience in finance. This is a major advantage," V. Vobolevičius said.

The political scientist was uninclined to guess whether D. Grybauskaitė is a German favourite.

"Angela Merkel gets along with many. If we were to say that A. Merkel has a photo of Grybauskaitė in her office, then it would be significant, but if D. Grybauskaitė had a picture of A. Merkel, then I would say it wasn't," V. Vobolevičius said.

The political scientist does not believe that D. Grybauskaitė's candidacy would be vehemently opposed by Hungary.

"Vetoing, categorical opposition to consensus has political costs," V. Vobolevičius pointed out.

However, in his opinion, if need be the Eastern European powerhouse of Poland could advocate for D. Grybauskaitė.

"There have long been good relations between Kaczynski and Grybauskaitė if we are to talk of late Lech. I believe that Poland would be the major Eastern European power, who could even advocate for D. Grybauskaitė, if there was need for it," V. Vobolevičius said.

Among the favourites

A survey of European Union institution staff and experts released on Thursday shows that Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė is among the favourites to lead the European Council in 2019, according to BNS.

20% of those surveyed thought that it D. Grybauskaitė will be the one to be elected as head of the institution, which forms the Union's political direction and is comprised of member state leaders.

Only Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte surpassed the Lithuanian president, with support from 25% of respondents. Irish head of government Leo Varadkar received 13% of the vote, while Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and other politicians received less than 10% of the vote.

The analytics centre VoteWatch Europe, which performed the survey, states that D. Grybauskaitė would have an advantage in the race to become the head of the European Council due to a geographical factor. From discussions, it can be seen that the institution will be once more led by someone from Central or Eastern Europe.

The centre also stated that D. Grybauskaitė could expect support from the right wing European People's Party, Germany and Central and Eastern European countries.

"It is quite interesting that we have noted different trends among the respondents: those from the private sector are inclined to the candidacy of Rutte, while EU institution staff lean toward Grybauskaitė," VoteWatch Europe stated.

D. Grybauskaitė will remain Lithuanian president up to July 2019. Donald Tusk's second term as European Council head will conclude in the November of the same year. The European Council president is elected by the Council itself via a qualified majority.

A qualified majority is formed through 55% of the vote, comprised of countries, which hold no less than 65% of the EU's population.