Full interview with Sandra Kalniete, the future Commissioner nominated by Latvia

The EU’s next budget should concentrate on what offers added value for competition and integration between old and new Member States says Sandra Kalniete, Latvian Commissioner nominee, in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV. She would welcome a Commission president from a new Member State.

You will start in Brussels in a position as commissioner without portfolio. What are your plans for your first six months as Commissioner, and what do you hope to achieve in this period?

I am well aware that six months is almost nothing to accomplish something. In addition, we will work in the run-up to the reform of the Commission. Still, I believe the best way to test the new Commissioners is to assign to them clearly defined responsibilities. During my mandate, I would like to actively engage in shaping the new structural organisation of the post-enlargement Commission.

Can you please describe your previous professional experiences with EU-affairs? What has been your most interesting and challenging task in the dealing with the EU so far?

It was not an easy decision for me to go to Brussels. My present work is very interesting and fascinating. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, the most challenging and interesting task for me was to represent the government of Latvia in the European Convention. Without this experience, profound understanding of the way the EU functions and what should be the future of its Member States I would not have been able to successfully negotiate in the Intergovernmental conference. As ambassador of Latvia in France, the most challenging task was to put Latvia on the mental map of the French as well as to convince the French government that Latvia is able and deserves to become a Member State of the EU.

What is in your mind the most important task in a European Commissioners work in Brussels? And what sort of contact should a Commissioner maintain with his home country?

The present Commission will work just for six months. The next one will be completely reorganised. Still, the most important task for the next Commission as a whole, I think, will be to set up a proper organisational structure so as to be transparent and efficient. up a proper organisational structure so as to be transparent and efficient.

As to the contact with my home country, I believe, I could be as ambassador of the European Commission to Latvia. Trying to explain to my compatriots how the Commission works, what are the possibilities, why decisions adopted are as they are, how Latvia participates in the decision making process, and what is the difference in the work between a European civil servant, a Commissioner, and a representative of the government in the European Council. One of the most important tools available for the Commissioners is access to information on the Commissions activities in various fields. Coupled with the understanding of how the decisions are made in the Union, this information might allow the Commissioner to work effectively for the European interest.

What will be the most important task for the Commission in the next five years?

Internally, the functioning of the Commission itself. It has to be effective and coherent. In broader terms, working for a more competitive and visible European Union on a global scale. Of course, integration of the ten new Member States and those to come soon after will remain a paramount task in the years ahead. The Constitutional Treaty, provided that Member States agree on it soon, will influence the Commission’s work as well. That is why it is important that the Commission were open and ready to integrate the provisions of the Treaty.

Do you think the next president of the European Commission should come from one of the 10 new EU-countries?

I would not exclude that. I consider it would be a wise decision to send a strong message to the European nations about Europe’s genuine reunification. Let me draw a parallel with the NATO summit that, after the Czech Republic joined NATO, was held in Prague.

Do you think the EU will manage to agree on the Constitution before the end of 2004?

It is very important especially for the small countries to have the Constitutional Treaty for Europe. Strong and integrated Europe is in our inter ests. I hope that we will be able to accomplish work on the Constitutional Treaty by the end of this year.

What is your best foreign language? Do you speak French?

I speak English, French, and Russian fluently. Latvian is my mother tongue.

Do you see it as you role to bring the EU closer to the people of your home country? What do the people of your country most urgently need to learn and understand about the EU?

Like I mentioned previously, being a Commissioner, I see myself as ambassador of the European Commission to Latvia. It is important that people understood the balance of the EU institutions – the Commission representing the interests of the community, the Council standing for the Member States, and the European Parliament representing the citizens of the EU. My task therefore would be to explain how this triangle functions and what practical implications the decisions taken by this triangle bring to the citizens, including those in Latvia.

One of the tasks of the new Commission will be setting the new political agenda, and defining the long-term budget plan (The Financial Perspectives). What do you see as the new policy priorities for the next Commission?

I believe that during the next financial perspective, we should concentrate on the activities representing an added value, namely, education, research, as well as transport connections. This would contribute not only to a closer integration of the enlarged European Union, but also to the competitiveness of the Union in the world. Another major task will be the enlargement. During the coming five years, the debate on the next wave of the enlargement will take place. The integration of Turkey, for instance, will be one of the key issues. The debate on the Union’s immediate neighbourhood and the Union’s neighbourly regions, namely, which country belongs where, what action the EU needs to take in order to stabilise the democracy and market economy in those countries will be high on the Commission’s agenda as well.  

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