• 2004-09-22
The nomination of Ingrida Udre for European commissioner is increasingly becoming an embarrassment for Latvia. It has already elicited protests, an ugly row between the president and the NGO community and, the latest, a flood of unflattering international press stories about the Baltic country. One even claims that Latvia is the "bridgehead of Russian corruption" into Europe. No doubt, if Europeans were concerned about EU expansion into poorer eastern countries, abodes of endemic corruption, then they need look no further than the drama surrounding the decision to nominate Udre as Eurocommissioner for philosophical satisfaction.

At home, Udre's reputation is at best mediocre; at worst, highly suspect. Ever since her Green and Farmers Union came under fire for campaign finance irregularities, she has become all but inaccessible, straying away from the press and tough questions. As a former auditor-consultant on the privatization of Ventspils Nafta, one of Latvia's most strategic enterprises, and then as a founder of the aforementioned party, which is financially backed by Ventspils business interests, Udre is too close to the port city for many Latvians' comfort. Ventspils, after all, is home to some of the most nontransparent businesses in the country.

As a consequence, Udre's approval rating has fallen so dramatically as to put only her just above local bogeymen Tatyana Zdanoka and Alfreds Rubiks, with a negative rating of 22.

But not so fast. In order to defend their "basketball-playing Euro-darling," Ventspils-supported publications 's Neatkariga Avize, Vakara Zinas 's have been spewing out tendentious nonsense about a conspiracy among Latvian NGOs, the newspaper Diena and George Soros to overthrow the government and get rid or Udre. Worse, top government ministers actually believe this garbage. As if the billionaire financier is worried about what's going on in tiny Latvia…. Anyone vaguely aware of Mr. Soros knows that he now has bigger fish to fry.

Irrespective of that, if Udre is not an embarrassment to European Commission President Barroso, then she could be very soon. The doubts and questions floating in European papers about Udre are not likely to go away (See story on Page 1), and they could peak in the next couple weeks as the confirmation hearing approaches. Even if MEPs disregard her eccentricities (fudging her resume, bringing her hairdresser along on trips), they have legitimate concerns about Udre's qualifications. She has little or no experience in her proposed field of expertise on the commission (taxation and customs) and has a notorious reputation for truancy at sessions of Parliament's European affairs committee. Her presence on the European Commission, the 25-member body that makes the union tick, does not imbue confidence.

Thus if he considers the weak-link-and-chain postulate, Barroso will see that he has reason to worry. And MEPs engaged in the confirmation process should take note of the inexperienced lackey that the town of Ventspils has sent them.