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Lithuania (and Europe) win top job at UN telecoms agency

BUCHAREST — Lithuanian diplomat Tomas Lamanauskas won the race to become the next deputy secretary general of the United Nations’ telecoms agency on Thursday, putting an EU official at the center of the work on global telecoms rules.

Lamanauskas won the backing of 105 countries. His opponents, Korean official Chaesub Lee and Samoa’s Gisa Purcell, won 59 and 12 votes respectively.

Lamanauskas, whose mandate is for four years, will work alongside the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)’s newly elected secretary general, American official Doreen Bogdan-Martin, to set standards for global telecoms and tech infrastructure and crucial new technology like 6G and artificial intelligence.

The victory for the Lithuanian marks a success for the European Union which has been striving to ramp up its international clout on internet governance to protect values such as democracy, privacy and online freedom and rights. The 27 EU countries all backed the Lithuanian candidacy, a first-ever show of EU unity in such a vote.

“It was a truly European campaign,” Lamanauskas told reporters after his election. “It definitely demonstrated that whenever we work together, people notice and hear us, and I think that’s hopefully a good lesson for the future.”

Despite a strong track record setting key standards for the early internet and mobile communication, the bloc had in the past decade taken a more hands-off approach to international tech diplomacy. Countries like China meanwhile pushed to convince other countries to embrace its government-led vision of technology from facial recognition to a more centralized and controlled internet.

“This shows the trust in Lithuania, trust in the European Union, because now European Union will be at the helm of leadership of the ITU, which is really a very important position and getting more and more important role on the current digital world,” Lithuania’s Minister for Transport and Communications Marius Skuodis told POLITICO.

The European-American duo at the top of the ITU’s leadership will also likely further embolden renewed transatlantic efforts to restore the West’s foothold in the world of global standards. The U.S. and the EU committed to cooperate on open and trustworthy technologies with the launch of the Trade and Technology Council in 2021.

Mark Scott contributed reporting.

This article was updated to include comments from Lithuanian officials.

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