Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Latvia's ice maiden

Sandra Kalniete is a name which is going to become all too familiar, now that she is to become the EU’s fisheries commissioner, and the agriculture commissioner as well. Already referred to in this Blog, she has been interviewed by Ambrose Evans-Pritichard of the Telegraph, and turns out to be a larger than life figure.

She was born in the Siberian gulag near Tomsk, spending her first five years as the child of a Soviet labour camp. She was lucky to survive sub-zero life and, as a result, takes a dim view of Russia. She is indignant that the EU is turning a blind eye to what she sees as the Kremlin's attempts to control its former satellites. "You can't go on spoiling a child for ever," she told Ambrose.

He describes her as “the soft-spoken art historian” who built the new Latvian foreign ministry from scratch after liberation in 1991. The British Foreign Office taught her the tricks of the trade at their diplomatic "boot camp" at Leeds University, as they have to a whole generation of rising stars now taking up key posts across Eastern Europe.

"Britain is a definite superpower and their diplomats are good, very good," she says at her headquarters off Freedom Street, formerly Vladimir Lenin Street. "They're not only skilful but they know how to hide their arrogance. It's not always the case with others."

When Ambrose asked he what she thought of the French diplomatic elite, she asked for the tape-recorder to be switched off. I warm to this lady. Pity she in charge of our agriculture and fisheries. Examined by MEPs during her confirmation hearing, she candidly admitted she knew nothing about either subject. But that is the system for you. It doesn’t matter how good she is as a person, she will be a captive of her officials.

For the full interview click here.

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