EXCLUSIVE / Valdis Dombrovskis, the former prime minister of Latvia, is expected to step forward as candidate to represent the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) at this year's EU Parliament elections. Having turned his country from economic laggard to leader, he may know how to put Europe back on track, he told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.

“I have dealt with the financial and economic crisis in my own member state and I believe this is an experience which I can bring to the EU level - how to deal with the aftermath of the crisis and how to ensure sustainable growth and job creation,” the former prime minister said.

Latvia bounced back from its 2009 recession to post growth of 5.6% in 2012, and reduced its fiscal deficit to 2.7% of gross domestic product. It received a €7.5 billion bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund to help boost its economy, in return for promising to instigate strict austerity measures.

The centre-right EPP, the largest political grouping in the outgoing 766-seat parliament, will chose its leading candidate at a congress in Dublin on 6-7 March. Whoever ends up representing the party stands a strong chance of becoming the next president of the European Commission.

Dombrovskis, who served as a Member of the European Parliament until 2009, said Europe needed to be bigger on big things and smaller on small things.

“What we really need to concentrate on in the coming years is how Europe can facilitate economic growth and job creation. It is all about jobs and growth,” he said, adding that the key word was competitiveness.

“You cannot sustain high levels of well-being or welfare without high levels of competitiveness. What we are seeing in Europe is not only a fiscal crisis, it is also a competitiveness crisis. We need to look at how to stay competitive in a changing world,” he stressed.

Dombrovskis says that strengthening the single market, matching the US and Japan level of investment in innovation and science and education as key factors for competitiveness.

Asked whether this was wishful thinking as a short-term measure to restart the European economy, he conceded that as a rule big countries have more inertia and that reforms take longer to trickle down. He said his experience of what was achieved in Latvia showed that small and medium-sized economies could begin to grow again very fast.

The former prime minister insisted that there were no universal recipes or solutions. “Each country has its own issues. But if we look at these issues of facilitating growth and competitiveness and we evaluate different factors in member states, then we can identify different solutions too,” he added. He urged for Europe to take incremental measures to ensure its competitiveness.

“The one who will endure is the one who is willing to change,” Dombrovskis said, quoting the Latvian poet Jānis Rainis.

To read the interview in full, please click here.