RIGA - Continuing its policy of annulling the previous Cabinet's work, ruling coalition parties this week said they wanted to find a new candidate to replace Sandra Kalniete as the country's European commissioner.
While public speculation has focused on Parliamentary Chairwoman Ingrida Udre (Greens/Farmers) or Economy Minister Juris Lujans (Latvia's First Party), Latvia remains the last acceding state that has yet to confirm its choice for the European Commission.
Prime Minister Indulis Emsis has been coy about the matter, saying that a final decision would be made later, although his party, the Latvian Greens, was supporting Ingrida Udre, while his allies, the Farmers, had yet to decide.
Emsis said on July 27 that he expected to meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso at the end of the week to discuss candidates and the likely sphere of responsibility.
The prime minister stressed that he would not announce the name of Latvia's new EU commissioner until he was certain of the government's and the EC president's approval.
He added that it would be wrong to name anyone if he were unsure the candidate would receive full support.
Earlier Emsis said that Latvia's commissioner should be a woman, which would be in line with the EC's wishes. Former EC President Romano Prodi said he wanted at least three women from the 10 new members states, while newly appointed Barroso stated that he wanted at least eight women on the commission.
But Emsis' decision has struck many as odd. Kalniete, who was appointed by the previous New Era-led government, is well respected in European circles.
Typically a commissioner-candidate is chosen by the home state and then later given a portfolio by the commission's president. But Emsis' approach has been the opposite: Latvia, he is suggesting, should first find out what portfolio they will be given and then nominate the best person for the job.
When asked about this breach of protocol, Emsis' spokeswoman said, "[Emsis] has been speaking with Barroso."
Still, of the 10 new acceding states, Latvia is the only one wavering, though the Czech Republic has also changed its initial candidate, Pavel Telicka, with Vladimir Spidla, due to the domestic political situation.
Latvia already raised eyebrows in the European Parliament when it tried to recall an observer, Martijans Bekasovs, for criticizing the country's minority policy and then refused to let an EP official promulgate the results of the June EP elections in Latvia's Parliament.
During the upcoming hearings in the European Parliament, it is unlikely that Kalniete will face any difficulties, since she already survived her first test six months ago. But the 732-member legislature may choose to flex its muscles on one or two candidates during the confirmation hearings.
Also, Barroso himself has the right to reject any country's candidate.
If Emsis aims to keep Kalniete out and a woman in, the natural choice would be Ingrida Udre, though the latter expressed surprise at being mentioned in connection with the commission.
"I haven't even thought about it," she said.
Since the minority coalition came to power some four months ago they have worked diligently to remove powerful officials placed by former PM Einars Repse. The most notable removal was when Juta Strike was replaced by Aleksejs Loskutovs as head of the country's anti-corruption bureau.
Also, the Cabinet has sponsored legislation that would revoke the right of top government officials to hold dual citizenship, a move that many said was aimed at the head of the Constitution Protection Bureau, another Repse appointee.
While Kalniete was – and still is – politically unaligned, she was clearly the favorite of the Respe-led government. She is also one of the most popular politicians in Latvia, having been a leader of the independence movement and born in Siberia after her parents were deported during the Soviet occupation.
Regardless, if the Cabinet wants her removed, it will find the means to do so.
"It's clear that Sandra Kalniete is on her way out if this government has its way," head of New Era's parliamentary faction, Krisjanis Karins, said.
Speculation that Udre might take over for Kalniete focused on a possible subsequent reshuffling of positions in the Cabinet. Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons (Latvia's First Party) would theoretically take Udre's vacated seat, while the People's Party, the third coalition partner, would then be awarded the Interior Ministry