The Lithuanian prime minister said on Wednesday in Brussels that Lithuania did not criticize the candidacy of Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini who had been put forward as a candidate to replace current EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.
"You see, Lithuania has never criticized her. I can say that it was the president's position but it was expressed over the fact that, first of all, the competence of people chosen to such a responsible position must be evaluated. I cannot speak about her as I don't know her personally," Butkevičius told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday.
He said he had discussed Mogherini's candidacy with the leader of the European Parliament's Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and heard that the Italian minister was being criticized unjustly.
Meanwhile in a recent interview, the Lithuanian president warned that some candidates for the European Union's foreign policy chief supported "openly pro-Kremlin" policies, which made them fully unacceptable for the post in Lithuania's eyes.
"Absurd and undignified behaviour"
Order and Justice party MP Andrius Mazuronis, a vice-chairman of the parliamentary Committee on European Affairs, told BNS on Thursday that the committee had on numerous occasions discussed Mogherini's candidacy and criticized her. On 16 July, Lithuania's position on the issue was presented to committee members and they informally endorsed it.
"That position was unanimously expressed at the committee. In the prime minister's place, I would have not said that. Moreover, I have heard a very critical position on this minister not only from the president but also the Lithuanian foreign minister," Mazuronis said.
He also reminded that Lithuania's position was presented by a government representative – a vice-minister of foreign affairs – ahead of the recent European Council meeting.
Another member of the Lithuanian parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Audronius Ažubalis of the opposition Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats, said in a statement on Thursday that the prime minister's statement shows "total disrespect for the constitutional provision that the president makes decisions on key foreign policy issues".
"Secondly, such statements undermine the image of Lithuania as a serious and effective state in the eyes of foreign partners. Thirdly, such statements reflect the failure to realize the geopolitical situation and indifference to an EU foreign policy issue important for Lithuania and the whole region," Ažubalis said.
Opposition leader Andrius Kubilius also expressed surprise over the prime minister's statement, saying that just a week before Butkevičius had expressed a very strong position and said he would not support the Italian candidate.
"It was a joint and coordinated position of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland in response to the ongoing events in Ukraine and the mentioned politician's recent pro-Russian behaviour. It's a right and principled position of our President Dalia Grybauskaitė as well," the opposition leader said.
"But yesterday the prime minister suddenly changed his opinion and said there's nothing wrong in Mogherini's candidacy as only the Lithuanian president, but not Lithuania, is against her. It's an absurd and very undignified behaviour. [...] And a very dangerous step if, thanks to Algirdas Butkevičius, Lithuania backs a pro-Putin candidate for the position of the EU's foreign policy chief," Kubilius said.
Lack of experience and pro-Russian sentiments
Grybauskaitė and Lithuania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has so far refrained from public comments on specific candidates. Meanwhile, Butkevičius said in an interview with the national radio LRT on 15 July that the Italian foreign minister's candidacy would not be supported.
"As far as I know, the candidacy of the Italian foreign minister will not be supported," he said.
Diplomats say the Baltic states and Poland criticize the Italian minister for her lack of experience and pro-Russian stance.
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