Playing it safe

  • 2002-10-03
After four years on the fringes of Parliament, Ingrida Udre could prove a power broker following Latvia's election Oct. 5. Udre talked about the upcoming elections with Nick Coleman.

Udre's slick campaign of skepticism toward European Union membership and determination to protect the country's farmers has put her Farmers and Greens Union ahead of traditional heavyweights, such as Latvia's Way party of Prime Minister Andris Berzins, in recent polls.

Just three months after it registered, the union is now seen as a potential political bed fellow for Latvia's most successful political newcomer, the New Era party of Einars Repse.

Firstly, where does the union's funding come from?

Okay the two parties, the Greens and the Farmers, three months ago decided to go because last time they didn't succeed. What we did was try to be open and transparent and we put an advertisement in the newspaper with a small political program to say to people that if you want to help us, to support us, this is our account number and you can transfer the money.

There are rumors your funding comes from Aivars Lembergs, (the mayor of Latvia's largest oil transit port Ventspils), or Ventspils-based businesses.

Ventspils businesses fund separately the Green part and separately the Farmers party, unfortunately not our union because a union is a legal entity which is different ... so we have different kinds of supporters and you can see on the Internet but I can't remember ... there will be some big funding from Ventspils.

I think Ventspils supports Repse's (New Era) party and For Fatherland and Freedom, but I always wonder why people think this is a big influence.

Who are you prepared to work with if you were to be part of a coalition government?

Today it's very hard to predict who will be the initiator, who sets up a new government. There are different rumors that Repse's ready to do it or Skele's ready to do it, we as well are ready to do it. What I can say is that definitely we are not going to be in coalition with the radical left or radical right

Your party's stance on EU membership seems to be becoming an issue. What are your preconditions for membership?

The main message ... is that all countries should be treated in an equal way. If we look at our country, agriculture is the most vulnerable part of our economy. There are a number of people who are still directly involved in farming. Their farms are not as big as the average in the EU and they are already not competitive ... because farmers in the EU countries are already being subsidized more heavily. If we look at our trade balance in agricultural products we are exporting just 5 percent of what is produced here but we are importing 60 percent from the EU. It means already we are out of the competition. If such unequal treatment will come in future it will bring big unemployment in the country.

Are you suggesting delaying membership, not in 2004 but waiting?

We should be realistic and see how far we are in the negotiations. In some ways it could be hard to change back but still it's a matter of negotiation and there could be possibilities for longer transition periods and we could talk and negotiate, not only with the EU but with other international institutions like the World Trade Organization, and make some changes in tariff policy to protect our market in vulnerable areas for some time, not permanently.

So are you suggesting a slow down in accession?

It's very hard to say. But we will gain if NATO enlargement will be in November ... then that will be like a red flag around our border, that we already are on the trans-Atlantic European side of the world.

If you could find justification for starting war - either in Iraq or in Georgia or in Chechnya it could be justification as well for different kinds of actions too from - let's say - Russia's side. Because we still have this historical threat and being part of NATO gives us security in many different ways and that will help our country and Europe ...

Are you saying that NATO membership is important but EU membership is less important? Are you suggesting a model of Europe that is based on nation states?

Yes it could be one way. It very much depends of course on the debates within the EU. We as the politicians and state officials should explain to our people why we need a referendum on joining the EU and why we don't need a referendum on joining NATO: because when we join the EU we lose partly our sovereignty, some part of our independence.

Are you in favor of devaluing the lat?

I'm not in favor, I don't want it, but you should clearly understand that if we join the EU with such a strong currency, it's financially not profitable for the EU too, to keep such a strong currency within the EU and therefore I think it could be some pressure from the EU side as well toward decreasing the value, or probably I'm wrong but this is what I think.

You've talked about protecting the interests of farmers and land holders but the Farmers Parliament which your party came from really represents the largest farmers in Latvia. There's an argument that the current government is really trying to protect the largest farmers but doing very little for small land owners, isn't your party the same?

No. In Latvia there's a proverb that where you have two Latvians you have three parties, the same happens with farmers, they have different kinds of organization and it's very hard to say which is the most representative organization.