TALLINN - In a decision that could both impact Estonia's international image and alter its domestic political landscape, the government approved on Jan. 15 Reform Party Chairman and MP Siim Kallas as the candidate for representing the Baltic country in the European Commission.
Taking into account his experience and international reputation, Prime Minister Juhan Parts called Kallas the best possible candidate.
Kallas, 55, former head of the Bank of Estonia, finance minister and prime minister said in a news conference that he looked forward to beginning his new duties.
Speaking of spheres of speciality on the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, Kallas said he would like to focus on finance or economic affairs.
"I would be interested in what I know best - that is finance. This is the field headed by Spaniard Pedro Solbes Mira in the present commission," said Kallas.
Another option, he said, would be entrepreneurship and information technology, the sector currently supervised by Finland's Erkki Liikanen.
Kallas said that Prime Minister Parts had already informed EC President Romano Prodi regarding his preferences.
Representatives of the new EU member states must be approved by the European Commission from May 1 to Oct. 31. They will work as aids of the existing commissioners until the end of October.
Kallas said it was not clear who would substitute him as chairman of the reformists. Kallas will likely remain chairman until October and may eventually step down.
Henrik Hololei, EU affairs adviser of the Estonian government, is poised to become Kallas' aid in the European Commission.
Many believe that Estonian politics will not be the same after the departure of Kallas, whose varied experience and popularity have made him a force to be reckoned with.
Center Party Chairman and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar told the Baltic News Service that the country's political landscape would not be the same without Kallas.
"The Reform Party without Kallas is somewhat different than with him. Kallas has been the force keeping the current coalition together, and his departure from active domestic policy will probably provide the opposition with more space for maneuver," Savisaar said.
In an untypical compliment toward his longtime rival, the Tallinn mayor added that the presence of Kallas has always given the domestic political sphere "more thrill and made it more interesting."