TALLINN - Siim Kallas took a gigantic leap up the ladder of European bureaucracy last week when European Commission President-designate Jose Manuel Barroso chose him as one of his five vice-presidents on the 25-member commission, the EU's executive.
Specifically, Kallas will be responsible for the consolidation of administrative reform, personnel and administration, budgetary discharge, internal audit, security and the fight against fraud. He will also chair the audit progress committee.
Barroso named 55-year-old Kallas the "AAA man" after the official name of the high-ranked job - commissioner for administrative affairs, audit and anti-fraud.
In a press conference in Tallinn last week Kallas said he was pleased with the appointment.
"The team is balanced, and it would be inappropriate to say that the big ones got everything and nothing was left for the small," he said.
Kallas added that he would like to use Estonia's e-government experience in the EC to make its work more efficient and without the hassle of mountains of paperwork and documents.
Kallas, who at various times held the posts of Estonia's foreign affairs minister, finance minister and prime minister (prior to the present government), will be directly in charge of some 2,600 workers.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who recently took the position of deputy chair of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament, told the Postimees daily that it was significant that Estonia, among new member states, received the position of a vice president.
Ilves added that the job in administrative affairs acclaims to Kallas' managerial skills.
Political analysts noticed that it was favorable for Estonia to see Ingrida Udre from Latvia getting the job of the commissioner for taxation and customs union as Latvia shares similar views with Estonian regarding the EU tax policy. (See story on Page 4.)
Barroso assured the public that the EC would act as a college and that each commissioner will be equal in the decision-making process.
"I do not want first- and second-class commissioners. All commissioners are equally important. I want my authority to be based on solid team work," Barroso was quoted by the EC press service as saying.
Barroso also promised that the commission, which will have the highest proportion of women ever, would hold more "informal brainstorming sessions and will improve cooperation between departments and Commissioners' private offices."
"I attach particular importance in communicating to Europe. The apathy shown in the last European elections is worrying. I have asked a vice-president to work specifically on a communication strategy. What Europe does and why it does it must be communicated to people more clearly," added Barroso.
The president-designee wants to introduce a number of changes in the commission's work, such as a new vice-president job for institutional relations and communication strategy, the split of current portfolios (transport and energy; agriculture and fisheries; internal market and taxation) and grouping commissioners in the same building, to name but a few.
The team will informally meet for the first time on Aug. 20 in Brussels. Commissioners will stand individual hearings before the European Parliament committees for two weeks beginning on Sept. 27. After receiving Parliament's approval, the team will develop its political vision and a detailed plan for the coming five years.