The future European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, has chosen Stefano Grassi to head her office, despite advice from former commissioners to choose an Estonian candidate.
Simson announced (link in Estonian) the decision on Wednesday in a press release which read: "I am pleased to announce that my team will be headed by the highly experienced Stefano Grassi, who has worked for the European Commission since 2004".
Grassi is currently serving as head of the cabinet for High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. Eesti Päevaleht reported (link in English) in August that Grassi was a likely contender for the position. Previously he served as an adviser on EU affairs to two Italian prime ministers — Mario Monti and Enrico Letta — as well as for a shorter stint in Juncker's cabinet.
"This is an experienced Euro official who, as my head of cabinet, can add value by knowing how decision-making processes work. Being more involved in the European Union's foreign policy in recent years, he will also reinforce the dimension of energy negotiations with our partner countries," Simson said to ERR.
Both former Estonian members of the European Commission, Siim Kallas and Andrus Ansip, previously advised Simson to choose an Estonian as head of her cabinet. Kallas' cabinet chief was Henrik Hololei and Ansip's was Juhan Lepassaar, both of whom are now pursuing careers as senior officials in the European Union.
Responding to the criticism that choosing a foreign cabinet chief would not give Simson the opportunity to work with high ranking Estonians, Simson said at least two Estonians would work in her office.
"The cabinet has a very clear description in the European Union - a cabinet consisting of six members in my case - must be made up of three nationalities and, of course, the strongest representation will be Estonians," she said.
"Of course, I stand for Estonians to gain important positions in the European Union," Simson noted, adding that there are hundreds of competent people in Estonia who will hopefully be on the career ladder in the coming years.
Other members of the cabinet include Peeter Kadarik, who previously worked for Simson in the Riigikogu, and will take up the position as Deputy Head of the Office of the Commissioner for Energy. Thor-Sten Vertmann, who was responsible for energy in Brussels during the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and Jaan Männik, who has played the same role in the transition team, will continue as Samson's advisor.
Laure Chapuis, an experienced French official who previously worked in the offices of Siim Kallas and Andrus Ansip, where she also served as deputy head of cabinet at the end of his mandate, is the fourth named member. Two more positions have yet to be filled.
Kaja Kallas: The Centre Party is making Estonia smaller
Head of the opposition Reform Party, and former MEP, Kaja Kallas also criticised Simson's choice of cabinet head.
"The Centre Party is once again making Estonia smaller. That Kadri Simson will take an Italian as her head of office is, in many ways, a very bad idea," she wrote.
Writing on social media she accused Simson of denying Estonians high-level career opportunities inside the European Commission, leaving Estonians out of decision making and communication, and said than an Italian could not understand Estonia's concerns and political positions and would not put them above their own country's priorities.
Editor: Helen Wright