TALLINN - Baltic political parties face a variety of challenges during the run-up to the European Parliament elections, scheduled for June 12 in Latvia and June 13 in Estonia and Lithuania.
Like the selection of a commissioner to represent each country on the European Commission, the elections are a key aspect to the Baltics' participation in the EU project. Together the three Baltic countries will send 28 individuals to Strasbourg in July to serve as EU lawmakers in the newly enlarged, 732-member European Parliament.
Among the first tasks for EU lawmakers will be electing a new president for Parliament (to replace current President Pat Cox). Toward the end of the year they will elect a new president of the European Commission, the EU's executive, to replace outgoing Romano Prodi.
While the political turmoil in Latvia and Lithuania has pushed the election preparation to the backburner, in Estonia most of the parties have been busy getting ready for internal elections in the coming two weeks that will determine the final 12-candidate list.
The Social Democratic Party, previously known as the Moderates, was the first to draw up a list of candidates. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves is the number one candidate, followed by journalist Marianne Mikko, former Minister of Population Affairs Katrin Saks and others.
Siim Mannik, spokesman for Res Publica, said that the party's internal elections would start March 18 and last until April 4.
"Our program regarding our goals in the European Parliament is not confirmed yet, but we will stand for conservative values just as we do here in Estonia," Mannik said.
Res Publica, which aims to win two to three seats in the European Parliament, would cooperate with the European People's Party that together with the European Democrats currently holds the majority there.
According to Mannik, the party allocated about 255,000 euros for the Europarliament election campaign but hopes for extra contributions from the candidates.
Evelyn Sepp, a Center Party MP, said the party would carry out internal elections March 18 - 25. Its final list of 12 European Parliament candidates will be built according to the results of internal elections in which every party member can choose up to seven out of 23 internal elections candidates.
The Center Party's list of internal elections includes heavyweight politicians such as MPs Sven Mikser, Siiri Oviir and Peeter Kreitzberg - who are the key figures of the party's pro-EU wing - and other prominent party members. Those named to catch the Russian vote are Narva City Council chairman Mikhail Stalnuhin and MP Vladimir Velman.
"Edgar Savisaar decided not to run [for the European Parliament] referring to the doctors' recommendation not to take on additional stress," Sepp said.
Last week the People's Union puzzled the local political landscape by announcing it's slogan for the European Parliament election will be "Protect the Estonian kroon" and suggesting an additional referendum on switching to the euro currency. That move was quite surprising given that Estonian people said "yes" to the EU accession - and the euro - in September 2003.
Agu Uudelepp, spokesman for the People's Union, said the party had to review its electoral list in connection with the final approval of the open lists. The reviewed list will, among others, include MP Janno Reiljan who is also an observer with the European Parliament, writer Maimu Berg, former ambassador to Russia Mart Helme and famous Estonian euroskeptic Uno Silberg.
The People's Party would join the Union for Europe of the Nations faction in the European Parliament.
The Social Democratic Labor Party, the Christian People's Party and two Russian parties in Estonia, none of which are represented in the Estonian Parliament, have said earlier that they might participate in the Europarliament elections.
Martin Helme from the Free Europe research center, a leading Estonian Euroskeptic organization, said that the center does not plan to introduce individual candidates to participate in the European Parliament elections.
"We will maintain the role of a critical observer," Helme said.
He added, however, that one of the center's founders, Mart Helme from the People's Union, intends to run for a MEP seat, and the center's former director Ilmar Raag has been negotiating to join the electoral list of a political party.