Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskait? was awarded the Charlemagne Prize yesterday (9 May) in recognition to her contribution to European integration. The ceremony highlighted Lithuania’s pro-EU course as the country prepares to take over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July.
"I want to dedicate this award to the people of Lithuania," Grybauskait? said at a ceremony in Aachen, Germany, which awards the annual prize.
Grybauskait? was appointed EU budget commissioner in May 2004, after Lithuania's accession to the EU. She returned home at the height of the sovereign debt crisis in 2009 to run for the presidency and led her country with rigorous austerity without asking for a rescue bailout plan.
This example, among others, was the reason why the Charlemagne Prize Board granted Grybauskait? the award.
In her speech at the award ceremony, 57-year-old Grybauskait? called for "fiscal responsibility" within the EU, and called on Europeans to overcome fear of the future.
EU Parliament President Martin Schulz, speaking at the ceremony, described the Lithuanian president as "an extraordinary European woman and an outstanding politician." Grybauskait? has distinguished herself by her "energy, efficiency and reliability,” he said.
Schulz said he was impressed by the dignity and determination of the Lithuanian people in light of the country's recent economic hardships – a dramatic economic downturn in the last five years, reduction public spending by 20%, and pension cuts by 10%.
Grybauskait? is the 55th winner of the prestigious prize. Launched in 1950, it commemorates Charlemagne, ruler of the Frankish empire and founder of the Holy Roman Empire, who is buried in the city's cathedral.
In Berlin, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle praised Grybauskait? as "a committed European," adding she stands "like no other for the consistent orientation of Lithuania to Europe."
Grybauskait? represents her country at all EU summits as head of state and is expected to play an important role when the country takes over the EU presidency in July.