Lithuanian president's low cost jaunt stirs another debate on austerity

By bne IntelliNews April 19, 2013

bne -

Following a presidential trip on a regional budget airline to attend a state function, debate has sprung up in Lithuania over whether the country should loosen its purse strings to buy a state airplane.

The Baltic states have been praised as an example of austerity by numerous European leaders and bankers, but it's debatable whether any of them would be willing to join the Lithuanian president by using budget airlines to ferry them to their high powered pow wows.

President Dalia Grybauskaite posted a photo on her Facebook page on April 17 showing her aboard a Wizz Air flight headed to the London funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The shot not only provoked a wave of comment online, but raised an old discussion of the purchase of a state aircraft.

It has been noted that a state delegation, if need be, could use a plane provided by the Lithuanian Air Force, reports Leta. However, the president's spokesperson retorted that such a trip would cost LTL50,000 (€14,500). Chartering a plane would cost at least LTL150,000.

The tickets for the Wizz Air flight set the state back only LTL3,000, the newswire noted. Although the Facebook stunt is a clear push to the populist government - which took power late last year following a long fight with Grybauskaite over the inclusion of the Labour Party in the coalition - to continue to keep a close eye on the pennies (not to mention a stunt designed to boost her own popularity), that still suggests the president could have worked harder at her bargain hunt. A random search reveals she could have made the round trip for as little as LTL320 - as long as she checked in online and restricted herself to hand luggage.

Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius has said he does not rule out buying an aircraft for heads of state, but that could be difficult to square with the continued sacrifices being asked of the population, despite the resumed growth of the economy.

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