The French and Czech Presidencies viewed from Latvia

Latvia – whether the gov­ern­ment, the par­lia­ment, the media or research insti­tu­tions – has not devel­oped a tra­di­tion of issu­ing a com­pre­hen­sive and sys­tem­at­ic assess­ment of the achieve­ments or short­com­ings dur­ing a par­tic­u­lar mem­ber state’s pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Union. Con­se­quent­ly, only a piece­meal and some­what sub­jec­tive assess­ment of the French Pres­i­den­cy can be pro­vid­ed here.

On 18 July 2007 the Lat­vian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs pub­lished a very lengthy doc­u­ment explain­ing and com­ment­ing upon the par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant issues for Latvia dur­ing the Sloven­ian and French Pres­i­den­cies of the EU.[1] A sum­ma­ry of that doc­u­ment was pub­lished separately;[2] high­light­ed were 16 top­ics rang­ing from the Lis­bon Treaty, Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy, and Euro­pean Secu­ri­ty and Defence Pol­i­cy (ESDP) to var­i­ous top­ics relat­ed to the econ­o­my. These doc­u­ments reveal Latvia’s pri­or­i­ties, and, in some cas­es, how Latvia would like to fos­ter their real­i­sa­tion. They were not draft­ed with the intent to serve as a tool for eval­u­at­ing the per­for­mance of the two presidencies.

Viewed from Rīga, the most notable achieve­ment dur­ing the French Pres­i­den­cy was the agree­ment in Decem­ber 2008 on a pack­et of leg­is­la­tions on cli­mate change and ener­gy. This was praised pub­licly by Prime Min­is­ter Ivars God­ma­n­is, Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Māris Riekstiņš.[3] Gun­tars Krasts, Lat­vian mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment point­ed out the val­ue-added aspects of this pack­age, which can serve as an impe­tus for devel­op­ing self-suf­fi­cien­cy in ener­gy resources and a wel­come boost for inno­va­tion and employ­ment as new and bet­ter ways are used to imple­ment the agreements.[4]

Lat­vian offi­cials have also praised the atten­tion devot­ed to stim­u­lat­ing eco­nom­ic recov­ery and finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty and recog­nised the val­ue of the Euro­pean Econ­o­my Recov­ery Plan. They wel­comed the progress made toward strength­en­ing the ESDP and the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty by all mem­ber states, includ­ing Ireland.

While approv­ing the EU’s quick response to the mil­i­tary con­flict in Geor­gia and Pres­i­dent Sarkozy’s efforts to bro­ker a truce, Lat­vian offi­cials have been reserved, unof­fi­cial­ly even crit­i­cal, about the accord that was obtained with Moscow, espe­cial­ly because it failed to pro­mote Georgia’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty and obtain a com­plete pull­back of Russ­ian troops from the region of con­flict. As Euro­pean Par­lia­ment deputy Krasts observed, EU’s response to the cri­sis in Geor­gia could have been termed a full suc­cess, had it not been for the vague accord, which allowed Rus­sia to inter­pret rather freely how to imple­ment it.[5]

Like­wise, Lat­vian offi­cials look with mixed feel­ings toward the slow progress made in reform­ing the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy and equal­is­ing its ben­e­fits for all EU mem­ber states. At the same time, the steps tak­en toward speed­i­er dis­burse­ment of cohe­sion and oth­er funds for eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment were clear­ly seen as positive.

Expectations for the main priorities of the Czech Presidency

Latvia’s pri­or­i­ties dur­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy of the EU are to be found in two doc­u­ments. The first one, “Pri­or­i­ty issues in for­eign affairs for Latvia dur­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy of the EU in the first half of 2009”[6], address­es the fol­low­ing topics:

Ener­gy security;
EU’s east­ern neigh­bours and Cen­tral Asia;
Transat­lantic relations;
Insti­tu­tion­al issues (i.e. Lis­bon Treaty rat­i­fi­ca­tion, agree­ment on the com­po­si­tion of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion 2009–2014);
EU Strat­e­gy in the Baltic Sea region;
EU-Rus­sia relations;
Glob­al challenges;
EU enlarge­ment and the West­ern Balkans;
ESDP;
Devel­op­ment cooperation.

The sec­ond doc­u­ment, “Prin­ci­pal sec­toral issues for Latvia dur­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy of the EU in the first half of 2009”[7], deals with:

Ener­gy secu­ri­ty and strate­gic ener­gy review;
Endeav­ours to sta­bilise the EU economy;
EU con­tri­bu­tions to reduce cli­mate change;
Review of EU mul­ti-annu­al budget;
Lis­bon Strat­e­gy after 2010;
Review of cohe­sion policy;
Reform of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Policy;
‘Stock­holm pro­gramme’ for jus­tice and home affairs after 2010.

For the most part, the two lists are large­ly-self-explana­to­ry, because the brief exposés of each top­ic in the doc­u­ments show that Latvia’s views tend to coin­cide with the main­stream EU think­ing on each top­ic. The dif­fer­ences exist in terms of empha­sis and degree, when com­pared with the posi­tions of some oth­er EU mem­ber states. Latvia is enthu­si­as­tic about devel­op­ing rela­tions with the neigh­bours in the region and to the East and draw­ing them clos­er to the EU. Con­se­quent­ly, it sup­ports the notion of EU enlarge­ment, EU East­ern Part­ner­ship, and con­tin­ued nego­ti­a­tions lead­ing to treaty-based rela­tions with Rus­sia. Good rela­tions with the US have played a cru­cial part in secur­ing Latvia’s inde­pen­dence and Latvia believes that good rela­tions between the EU and the US are essen­tial, not only because of com­mon inter­ests but also shared val­ues. Past dis­agree­ments over the war in Iraq should not stand in the way to bet­ter rela­tions in the future.

While the top­ics in the two lists do not always coin­cide with the pri­or­i­ty top­ics of the Czech Pres­i­den­cy, this should not be inter­pret­ed as a sign of dis­agree­ment with Prague, but rather, as an indi­ca­tor of the issues to which Latvia would like to draw atten­tion. More­over, this has been also a char­ac­ter­is­tic of such doc­u­ments from Latvia in the past and they have not been used as a mea­sur­ing stick for the per­for­mance of a par­tic­u­lar EU presidency.

The order of top­ics as they appear in each doc­u­ment is not a cer­tain indi­ca­tor of the impor­tance that Latvia accords them. They are all pri­or­i­ties. Nonethe­less, in the case of ener­gy-relat­ed issues, the list­ing is not misleading.

On 14 Jan­u­ary 2009, Lat­vian Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Māris Riek­stiņš dis­cussed with for­eign diplo­mats in Rīga the pri­or­i­ties of the Czech EU Pres­i­den­cy as well as the pri­or­i­ties pro­posed by Latvia. The dis­cus­sion cen­tred on EU ener­gy pol­i­cy, sta­bil­i­sa­tion of the econ­o­my, ways to strength­en EU’s role in the world – pri­or­i­ties of the Czech Pres­i­den­cy, which, as Riek­stiņš affirmed, Latvia also endors­es. Con­sid­er­able atten­tion was also devot­ed to the com­plet­ing the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty.[8]

Turn­ing to the Lat­vian pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties for the first half of 2009, Riek­stiņš focused upon:

  • Region­al coop­er­a­tion, espe­cial­ly to the EU Strat­e­gy in the Baltic Sea region and its impor­tance in fos­ter­ing region­al ener­gy inter­con­nect­ed­ness and ener­gy security;
  • Transat­lantic relations;
  • Strength­en­ing the EU East­ern Partnership;
  • EU and Cen­tral Asia Strategy;
  • Devel­op­ment assistance.

Riek­stiņš said that despite finan­cial cut­backs and a dras­ti­cal­ly reduced nation­al bud­get, Latvia is deter­mined to con­tin­ue its assis­tance to Ukraine and Geor­gia and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the EU mis­sions in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

 

 

 

[1] The full text is avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/eu/Prioritates/FrancijasPrezidentura/FR-prezidentura/ (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[2] A sum­ma­ry is avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/data/file/ES/amzinop1_18008_prioritates.doc (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[3] Lat­vian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Latvi­ja atz­inī­gi vērtē panāk­to val­sts interešu iestrā­di ES kli­ma­ta un enerģētikas likum­došanā, press release, 12 Decem­ber 2008,available at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2008/decembris/12–4/ (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[4] LETA, press agency: dis­patch of 17 Decem­ber 2009,available at: http://www.leta.lv/archive_item.php?id=6D9496A5-7446–4E32-ACA4-E489490AD09F&phase=Guntars+Krasts&sd=1&sm=1&sy=2008&ed=1&em=3&ey=2009&t[]=t0&t[]=t1&t[]=t2&t[]=t10&t[]=t3&t[]=t6&t[]=t9&t[]=t11&t[]=t5&t[]=t4&t[]=t8&t[]=t7&more=true&moreid=5 (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Lat­vian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Latvi­jai būtiskākie jautāju­mi ārli­etu jomā Čehi­jas ES prezi­den­tūras laikā 2009. gada pir­ma­jā pusē, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/eu/Prioritates/CehijaPrezidentura/ (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[7] Lat­vian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Latvi­jai būtiskākie nozaru jautāju­mi Čehi­jas prezi­den­tūras laikā 2009.gada pir­ma­jā pusē, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/eu/Prioritates/CehijaPrezidentura/CZ-Prezidentura/ (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[8] Lat­vian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Ārli­etu min­istrs Māris Riek­stiņš ar Eiropas Savienības vēst­niekiem pār­runā Latvi­jas ārpoli­tikas pri­or­itātes un Čehi­jas ES prezi­den­tūras izvirzī­tos mērķus, press release, 14 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/janvaris/14–4/ (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).