When stripped of its political aspects, the decision to discard Sandra Kalniete and in her stead nominate Ingrida Udre as Latvia's representative on the European Commission makes no sense whatsoever. Beyond her extensive experience and the trust she enjoys at home, Kalniete had already begun the process of acclimation in the ultra-important post (the EC is the European Union's executive and the body that carries out the day-to-day management of the 25-member organization).
She speaks several languages, has held a ministerial post and is well known in diplomatic circles. And given the "barefoot in Siberia" aspect of her biography, she is the quintessential Latvian of her generation. Who then could possibly be better to serve a five-year term in the heart of the EU machine?
For Prime Minister Indulis Emsis, just about anyone. Even someone who is an overt Euroskeptic - as Udre is.
In October 2002, during the parliamentary elections, Udre continually lamented what harm EU membership would do to Latvia's agriculture and economy. She even went so far as to suggest postponing EU accession. While there is nothing wrong about this opinion (it is based on reasonable economic assumptions), it is odd that a person making such claims should be given one of the most responsible positions in the EU. At best, it is a display of irresponsibility; at worst, it is bald-faced cronyism.
Which it very well may be. The EC job pays $215,000 per year and comes with as many perks as a president would expect. So at the cost of inner-Coalition tension, Emsis stood behind his Green colleague and parliamentary speaker Udre to the end. When coalition partners failed to agree, he even went so far as to suggest that resistance to Udre's candidacy would "awaken the authoritarian impulse" in him.
But there is a deeper trend at work here - namely, a mania on the part of Emsis and the ruling coalition to chuck all those appointed by the previous government. It happened with Juta Strike, who headed the anti-corruption bureau, it happened with Kalniete and it will essentially happen again when Emsis and Co. try to pass a law this fall or winter revoking top officials' right to carry two passports.
With this kind of dubious leadership, we wonder what it will take to awaken the "democratic impulse" among right-wing forces - coalition partner the People's Party, oppositionist New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom - so that they form a new, more transparent government. It will take some courage and sacrifice on the part of these three parties, because if they fail, the current minority coalition will continue to survive all the way to October 2006 by cooperating with left-of-center forces. And with an economy that's expanding over 7 percent per year, there's enough money around to make that cooperation feasible despite any apparent ideological differences.