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Dombrovskis faces battle to retain his EU job

BRUSSELS — One of the most influential European commissioners of the past decade faces a fight to hold onto his job because of competition from a senior member of his own party.

Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, one of the Commission’s two executive vice presidents, has expressed a wish to serve a third term but faces a battle with Krišjānis Kariņš, who resigned as prime minister in Riga two weeks ago.

The Commission’s current five-year mandate expires in the fall of 2024 and officials are already jostling for position in the next administration, or entering races for more senior jobs elsewhere.

Officials in Riga and Brussels are watching Kariņš carefully following his resignation, especially after he made ambiguous remarks about his future. He is no stranger to Brussels: He served two consecutive terms in the European Parliament before returning home to form a government in 2019.

It is seen as a given that Dombrovskis wants to remain at the Commission, according to Latvian officials, who were granted anonymity to allow them to speak freely. They believe Dombrovskis and Kariņš will both campaign in next year’s Parliament election — a strategy that served Dombrovskis well in 2014 and 2019 because it was considered as proof of his support before the Commission appointment.

It was Dombrovskis ― currently the EU’s trade chief as well as having responsibility for economic matters ― who got Latvia’s rumor mill spinning on Wednesday after expressing his desire to seek a rare third term.

“I would be ready to continue working in these directions,” Dombrovskis told Latvia TV’s Morning Panorama when asked about his future, hinting at unfinished business in Brussels as the bloc’s economy tries to recover from a bruising pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

American accent

Dombrovskis and Kariņš, who hail from the same center-right party, New Unity, would both have a strong case for a top EU job. Dombrovskis is also a former prime minister.

He received the title “executive vice president” for his second term in the Commission and carries a lot of sway within the European People’s Party despite his reserved manner. His prospects could be enhanced because other senior commissioners, climate boss Frans Timmermans and antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, are looking elsewhere.

Kariņš, meanwhile, is seen as having attributes that make him an “international” politician. Born in the U.S. state of Delaware, the 58-year-old speaks English with an American accent and his supporters consider him as being a natural choice for a high-profile job. He was also previously Latvia’s economy minister.

“I don’t feel particularly tired,” Kariņš told POLITICO in an interview last week, making it clear that he was keeping his options open. “I certainly have a little bit of experience under my belt — and I cannot rule out anything, I’m certainly interested in continuing politics.”

There will likely be decent consolation prizes available for the loser of the two heavyweights, according to the Latvian officials.

A slate of senior jobs in Brussels has to be filled next year, among them the presidential posts of the European Council and Parliament, and NATO’s next secretary-general. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has said the Baltics are expecting a bigger seat on Europe’s geopolitical stage, given the recent eastward shift in European power dynamics.