RIGA - President-elect Valdis Zatlers has chosen Eduards Stiprais, Latvia's ambassador to the European Union, to head his chancellor's office, the key post in Latvia's presidency.
Stiprais arrived in Riga from Brussels on July 4 and immediately took up the post.
As head of the office, Stiprais will also act as one of Zatlers' chief advisers, though the president's office was reluctant to say in which areas of expertise Stiprais would have the president's ear.
"Everyone will advise on different things," the incoming president's press secretary, Evija Kenina, said. Who would advise the president on what remains to be determined, Kenina said. In her words, "That will be decided after the final discussion with the whole staff."
She added that the entirety of Zatlers' new staff will be announced in the lead-up to his July 8 inauguration.
The president's advisory staff will play a particularly important role in his administration due to his relative lack of political experience.
"I confirm that I have reached an agreement with Eduards Stiprais that he will be head of the chancellery," said Zatlers in a TV interview.
"I can say with absolute certainty that he is a very good candidate, because we have a great personal rapport. He has diplomatic experience, practically from the beginning of the restoration of Latvia's sovereignty, and he is Latvian ambassador to the EU and thus has excellent knowledge of this part of Europe," Zatlers said.
Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks had previously announced that he had mixed feelings about Stiprais' appointment to the office, BNS reported. He noted that it is difficult to "part with any good ambassador, even for a while, because it makes my job at the ministry harder."
Pabriks added, "At the same time, I am pleased that our ministerial staff is constantly being appreciated and that we are a source from which people are picked for higher posts. Actually, it means that the ministry is working well."
Arno Pjatkins, press secretary for the People's Party and Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, told The Baltic Times that the ruling coalition agrees that Stiprais' experience is beyond question, and as such considers him a strong choice for the position.
"[He is a] very good choice, because Mr. Stiprais has a very good reputation as an experienced diplomat and with foreign affairs. I hope that our cooperation will be good," he said.
"We know it's not political, but more of a professional choice," he said.
The political associations of the new chief of staff played an important role in his appointment to the post.
"Most importantly 's he is a politically neutral person," Zatlers said. Political neutrality is important not only for objective political advice, but also in part to help quell fears among the public that Zatlers' actions could be guided by more experienced politicians who favor their own parties' agendas.
Stiprais was formerly a member of Latvia's Way, a party with libertarian leanings, until he took a job as a diplomat in Brussels in 2003. Since then, he has lost almost all contact with his old party.
"Since he sat in Brussels we have not had very much contact with him," Juris Smits, a member of Latvia's Way, told The Baltic Times. He added that Stiprais would not give their opinion any more weight than that of the other political parties.
Stiprais started his political career in 1992 in the Ministry of Foreign Trade. He later went through a flurry of promotions and higher appointments 's never staying in one job for more than one year 's until settling into the position of first secretary for the mission of the Republic of Latvia to the European Union for three years starting in October 1995.
He later worked as chief negotiator for the EU accession agreements, and then took on the role of ambassador and eventually permanent representative of Latvia in 2004.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga is due to leave office on July 7. Zatlers will take up the presidential post on July 8.