Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty as seen from Latvia

From the ample media cov­er­age and the numer­ous infor­ma­tive dis­cus­sions organ­ised under the aus­pices of uni­ver­si­ties, gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions, and non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions in recent years, it would seem that every cit­i­zen of Latvia has heard of the Lis­bon Treaty. How­ev­er, even if Lat­vians tend to recog­nise the term and acknowl­edge that the Treaty affects every­one in every EU mem­ber state, rel­a­tive­ly few are suf­fi­cient­ly famil­iar with the Treaty’s con­tent to make an informed com­ment about it and even few­er have actu­al­ly read the entire document.

This sit­u­a­tion may be explained in part by the fact that Lat­vians are among the most euroscep­tic mem­bers of the EU fam­i­ly of nations. Accord­ing to a Euro­barom­e­ter stan­dard sur­vey of pub­lic opin­ion tak­en in autumn 2009, 55 per­cent of the respon­dents in Latvia believe that their coun­try has not ben­e­fit­ed from its mem­ber­ship in the Euro­pean Union and 43 per­cent of the respon­dents state that they do not trust this organ­i­sa­tion. Improb­a­ble as the poll results might seem at first glance, they demon­strate that mul­ti­ple fac­tors, even those that have lit­tle or no rela­tion with the EU, play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the assess­ment of the EU; these include an individual’s per­son­al per­cep­tions and pref­er­ences, a nation’s his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence, and the state of the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al econ­o­my. The sur­vey results sug­gest that a par­tic­u­lar fac­tor in Latvia was its his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence – more pre­cise­ly, the con­clu­sions drawn from the five decades of Sovi­et and Nazi Ger­man occu­pa­tions dur­ing and after World War II. They have not been for­got­ten and they still tend to influ­ence, right­ly or wrong­ly, people’s per­cep­tions of Latvia’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, despite the fact that two decades have passed since Latvia regained its inde­pen­dence and that Latvia joined the Euro­pean Union in 2004 of its own free will. In a nut­shell, Lat­vians tend to ques­tion the oblig­a­tions and respon­si­bil­i­ties that come with mem­ber­ship in an inter­na­tion­al organ­i­sa­tion, espe­cial­ly if mem­ber­ship means relin­quish­ing a part of their country’s sov­er­eign­ty; in oth­er words, many Lat­vians still hold on to the belief that it is wis­er be inde­pen­dent and unaffiliated.

In the spring of 2010, the hard­ships ema­nat­ing from Latvia’s eco­nom­ic reces­sion and the jostling for pow­er and influ­ence by politi­cians have been much more rel­e­vant and inter­est­ing to the aver­age Lat­vian than the events and devel­op­ments, how­ev­er impor­tant and far-reach­ing, abroad. This phe­nom­e­non in the con­text of the Euro­pean Union is described quite diplo­mat­i­cal­ly by the Lat­vian polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Toms Ros­toks: “Brus­sels is a place, where impor­tant deci­sions for Latvia are adopt­ed and where Lat­vian rep­re­sen­ta­tives par­tic­i­pate in the deci­sion-mak­ing process; and yet, Brus­sels remains more like the truth, which one per­ceives as being some­where on the out­side and with which it is dif­fi­cult to iden­ti­fy.”11Toms Ros­toks: Gar­laicīgā piec­gade (The bor­ing five years), Politika.lv, avail­able at: http://www.politika.lv/temas/fwd_eiropa/17266/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

Thus, had it not been for the fact that Latvia’s for­mer Pres­i­dent, Vaira Vīķe-Freiber­ga, was among the per­sons named as a pos­si­ble can­di­date for the office of the new Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, few­er peo­ple in Latvia would have tak­en note of the recent changes in the top lead­er­ship posi­tions of the Euro­pean Union. As in many EU mem­ber states, when Her­man Van Rompuy was select­ed as the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil and Cather­ine Ash­ton as the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy, the most fre­quent­ly heard com­ments in Latvia were ques­tions, such as: Who is he/she? How is he/she bet­ter qual­i­fied than the oth­er can­di­dates? Should not the process of select­ing the new Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent and the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive have been more trans­par­ent and more open? Very quick­ly, the dis­cus­sions and spec­u­la­tions about these ques­tions were replaced by a spate of mat­ter-of-fact reports about the activ­i­ties of the new EU offi­cials. At the same time, their per­for­mance so far has elicit­ed hard­ly any polit­i­cal com­men­taries in the Lat­vian media. From the many brief reports, the salient trait that has grad­u­al­ly emerged of Van Rompuy is pro­fes­sion­al­ism, clear­ly a qual­i­ty that will serve the new pres­i­dent well in estab­lish­ing his author­i­ty and the author­i­ty of his office in the new EU lead­er­ship and pow­er struc­ture. At this point in time, Lat­vian offi­cials do not antic­i­pate any change in the role of the rotat­ing coun­cil presidency.

Con­cern­ing Ash­ton, it would be fool­hardy to attempt to eval­u­ate the work of the new High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive using the Lat­vian media, because her pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ties have not been report­ed as wide­ly as those of Van Rompuy, and the reports them­selves have avoid­ed any inter­pre­ta­tive com­ments of her per­for­mance in office. How­ev­er, well-versed Lat­vian observers of EU affairs stress that the posi­tion of the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive is very chal­leng­ing in that it cov­ers a daunt­ing array of issues and duties. At the same time, the specifics of the func­tion­ing of the posi­tion and its actu­al role vis-à-vis the Com­mis­sion and the Coun­cil remain to be defined.

The Lat­vian observers also point out sev­er­al fac­tors that clear­ly have bear­ing on the cur­rent pub­lic image of both Ash­ton and Van Rompuy:

  • Owing to the recent­ness of the adop­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty, both the EU and its offi­cials find them­selves going through a peri­od of tran­si­tion and adjustment.
  • More­over, much remains to be worked out “on loca­tion” and “in prac­tice” because the Lis­bon Treaty pro­vides an out­line of the func­tions of the lead­ing offices and office-holders.
  • The Lis­bon Treaty stip­u­lates the cre­ation of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS) to assist the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy; because the first High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive is direct­ly involved in organ­is­ing the ser­vice and appoint­ing the per­son­nel, she will not have the assis­tance of the ser­vice until it is functioning.
  • Under these cir­cum­stances, it is pre­ma­ture to attempt a con­sid­ered eval­u­a­tion of the work of the new Pres­i­dent and the new High Representative.

Con­cern­ing the EEAS, the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment endors­es its for­ma­tion and ful­ly sup­ports the con­cept envis­aged in the 25 March 2010 “Pro­pos­al for a Coun­cil Deci­sion estab­lish­ing the organ­i­sa­tion and func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice”. In Riga, no alter­na­tives are being con­sid­ered to that con­cept. At the same time, the Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Māris Riek­stiņš,22Because the Tau­tas par­ti­ja (People’s Par­ty) decid­ed to leave the coali­tion of par­ties form­ing the gov­ern­ment on 22 March 2010, Māris Riek­stiņš, a mem­ber of Tau­tas par­ti­ja, also stepped down from his office. On 29 April 2010, the par­lia­ment endorsed Aivis Ronis as the new Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs. He is a sea­soned diplo­mat and is not affil­i­at­ed with any polit­i­cal par­ty. urged repeat­ed­ly that atten­tion be paid to two aspects of the EEAS:

  • In select­ing mem­bers of the EEAS from among the can­di­dates from the mem­ber states, the notion of geo­graph­i­cal bal­ance should be adhered to so that all regions are equi­tably represented.
  • The EEAS should ensure, if an emer­gency aris­es, the avail­abil­i­ty of con­sular ser­vices for all EU cit­i­zens in coun­tries where only some EU mem­ber states have embassies and con­sulates.33See, for exam­ple, Māris Riek­stiņš: State­ment to the press, 27 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/aprilis/27–01/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

As for the Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI), those Lat­vians who reg­u­lar­ly fol­low the Euro­pean Union devel­op­ments wel­comed this ini­tia­tive from its incep­tion, believ­ing that it would bring the Union clos­er to the peo­ple that it rep­re­sents and serves. This view also pre­vailed in the sem­i­nar which took place on 11 Decem­ber 2009. It was joint­ly organ­ised by the Lat­vian par­lia­ment, the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, and the Cen­tre for Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Providus to dis­cuss the ECI and its imple­men­ta­tion. Wel­com­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions, Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, and gov­ern­ment offi­cials, the Speak­er of the par­lia­ment, Gun­dars Daudze, under­lined the new oppor­tu­ni­ties pro­vid­ed by the Lis­bon Treaty for the peo­ple and par­lia­ments of EU mem­ber states to influ­ence the Union’s poli­cies, and added: “Whether or not we take advan­tage of these oppor­tu­ni­ties depends on us – on how active­ly we par­tic­i­pate in the process­es. It is, there­fore, essen­tial that the peo­ple of Latvia are well informed about their pos­si­bil­i­ties.”44Lat­vian par­lia­ment: Press Release, 11 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.saeima.lv/kastors/aktualitates.jsp?page=saeimas-zinas&id=15762&p=19 (last access: 14 July 2010). Deputy speak­er, Solvi­ta Āboltiņa observed: “In Latvia we often for­get that Euro­pean mat­ters are not issues of our for­eign pol­i­cy, but are part of our domes­tic pol­i­cy. More­over, once an EU deci­sion comes into force, it affects all our dai­ly lives very direct­ly.”55Ibid. The Min­istry of For­eign Affairs held a fol­low-up sem­i­nar on 7 July 2010 and more such sem­i­nars are planned in the future.66Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 7 July 2010, avail­able at http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/julijs/07–03/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

The spir­it of the ECI was evi­dent dur­ing the live­ly dis­cus­sions which took place on 11 Feb­ru­ary 2010, when Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Māris Riek­stiņš, signed a pro­to­col with sev­en non-gov­ern­men­tal organ­i­sa­tions to coop­er­ate in inform­ing the Lat­vian pub­lic about EU issues. Refer­ring to the ECI, Riek­stiņš invit­ed the par­tic­i­pat­ing organ­i­sa­tions to take full advan­tage of the new oppor­tu­ni­ties pro­vid­ed in the Lis­bon Treaty for peo­ple to influ­ence the EU. The Min­is­ter expressed his sat­is­fac­tion with the dia­logues and the coop­er­a­tion in the past between the Min­istry and the NGO’s. He explained that, as of Jan­u­ary 2010, the Min­istry had tak­en over the task, hereto­fore per­formed by the State Chancery, of dis­sem­i­nat­ing infor­ma­tion about EU devel­op­ments to the pub­lic and point­ed out, “It is com­plete­ly unac­cept­able to me that the sup­port of the peo­ple for Latvia’s mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union is one of the low­est among the EU mem­ber states; con­se­quent­ly, inform­ing the pub­lic about EU issues is all the more impor­tant.”77Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 11 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/februaris/11–04/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

Sub­se­quent­ly, apart from brief media reports about the Euro­pean Commission’s pro­pos­al of 31 March 2010 out­lin­ing the ECI rules and pro­ce­dures, there has been very lit­tle com­men­tary in the pub­lic realm about the details of the pro­pos­al. In Latvia, it is pos­si­ble for cit­i­zens to launch a ref­er­en­dum, and this requires deter­mi­na­tion and hard work on the part of the ini­tia­tors. Con­sid­ered in this con­text, the Commission’s pro­posed rules and pro­ce­dures for the ECI seem to be quite cum­ber­some. Con­se­quent­ly, the ques­tion aris­es if the rules and pro­ce­dures empow­er­ing the cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate in the EU leg­isla­tive process might not serve to under­mine the intent of the ECI and thus serve to widen, rather than reduce, the so-called democ­ra­cy gap between the EU insti­tu­tions and the peo­ple. To this com­ment, a well-informed Lat­vian offi­cial observed that if the ECI is to become embed­ded in the minds of Euro­peans as their tool, it is very impor­tant that the first ini­tia­tive that is launched proves to be successful.

    Footnotes

  • 1Toms Ros­toks: Gar­laicīgā piec­gade (The bor­ing five years), Politika.lv, avail­able at: http://www.politika.lv/temas/fwd_eiropa/17266/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 2Because the Tau­tas par­ti­ja (People’s Par­ty) decid­ed to leave the coali­tion of par­ties form­ing the gov­ern­ment on 22 March 2010, Māris Riek­stiņš, a mem­ber of Tau­tas par­ti­ja, also stepped down from his office. On 29 April 2010, the par­lia­ment endorsed Aivis Ronis as the new Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs. He is a sea­soned diplo­mat and is not affil­i­at­ed with any polit­i­cal party.
  • 3See, for exam­ple, Māris Riek­stiņš: State­ment to the press, 27 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/aprilis/27–01/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 4Lat­vian par­lia­ment: Press Release, 11 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.saeima.lv/kastors/aktualitates.jsp?page=saeimas-zinas&id=15762&p=19 (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 5Ibid.
  • 6Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 7 July 2010, avail­able at http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/julijs/07–03/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 7Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 11 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/februaris/11–04/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.