RIGA - Prime Minister Indulis Emsis announced on Aug. 3 that he was putting forward Parliamentary Chairwoman Ingrida Udre as the country's European Commissioner in place of Sandra Kalniete, who had been selected by the previous government.
Throughout the negotiations each of the coalition parties - Greens and Farmers Union, the People's Party and Latvia's First Party - openly backed different candidates, with the People's Party backing Kalniete, Latvia's First Party supporting fellow party member and Economy Minister Juris Lujans and the Greens and Farmer's Union pushing Udre.
However, despite calls for a Cabinet vote by the People's Party, Emsis chose the candidate on his own volition.
When the decision was announced, Udre was unavailable for comment, and later it was reported that she had already departed for Brussels, where she was scheduled to meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, who reportedly voiced support for her on Aug. 3.
The position, part of the 25-member European Commission, the EU's executive, is extraordinarily challenging and rewarding. Each commissioner earns a salary of 215,000 euros annually.
Prime Minister Emsis said afterward that he hoped his coalition partners would not oppose him, and he advised them "not to awaken the authoritarian personality in him."
Latvia's First Party continued to back Lujans publicly, despite the fact that Barroso had clearly asked for a woman from the Baltic state.
In the meantime, the People's Party was steadfast about Kalniete's nomination, since she would have belonged to the same party, the European People's Party, in the European Parliament.
The decision not to stick with Kalniete, who is politically nonaligned and well-respected in Latvia, angered the People's Party. Its parliamentary faction leader, Aigars Kalvitis, compared Emsis' move to former Prime Minister Einars Repse' penchant for making decisions on his own without consultations.
Kalvitis did not rule out that problems within the coalition might arise as a result of Emsis' decision. The entire episode took place with the backdrop of continued talks between opposition New Era and the People's Party, both right-wing forces, about cooperation and possibly forming a new coalition. (See story on Page 2.)
Still, despite the dissatisfaction, it was rumored that the People's Party's actually stood to gain from Udre's departure and might be awarded with her seat as speaker of the Parliament, the second most powerful post in the country.
Commentators also speculated that the People's Party members were critical just to protect themselves from the political fallout certain to accompany replacing a popularly respected politician like Kalniete with one as controversial as Udre.
Indeed, the parliamentary chairwoman has been dogged by scandal, both for alleged corruption in her political party the Greens and Farmers Union and for such seemingly innocuous things such as taking her hair stylist on foreign trips at the taxpayers' expense.
"One thing we can talk about is the way this candidate was selected," Nellija Locmele, editor in chief of politika.lv, said, stressing that the criterion was not at all clear. "We have no idea of what her views are about this post."
Locmele added that Udre had nothing favorable to say about European Union membership before the last parliamentary election, when she ran on a Euroskeptic platform. Other commentators refused to comment about Udre altogether.
Kalniete was a career diplomat, a leader of the independence movement and a woman with a biography to accompany her political beliefs. She was born in Siberia to parents who had been deported by the Soviet government.
Udre received a master's degree in economics in 1995 and later worked for the Coopers & Lybrand consultancy. She entered politics along with Ainars Slesers, currently deputy prime minister, with the New Party in 1997.