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. A summary of that document was published separately; 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. 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.
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.
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”, addresses the following topics:
EU’s eastern neighbours and Central Asia;
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 enlargement and the Western Balkans;
The second document, “Principal sectoral issues for Latvia during the Czech Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2009”, 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.
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.
 The full text is available at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/eu/Prioritates/FrancijasPrezidentura/FR-prezidentura/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
 A summary is available at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/data/file/ES/amzinop1_18008_prioritates.doc (last access: 25 January 2009).
 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).
 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).
 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).
 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).
 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).