Latvia endorses EU Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy

Latvia firm­ly believes in the fur­ther enlarge­ment of the Euro­pean Union. As the erst­while Lat­vian Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Māris Riek­stiņš told Turkey’s Min­is­ter of Euro­pean Affairs and chief EU nego­tia­tor Ege­men Bag­iş on 26 Feb­ru­ary 2010, “[A]ny Euro­pean coun­try which has demon­strat­ed its desire to join the Euro­pean Union and has com­mit­ted itself to car­ry­ing out the inter­nal reforms and ful­fill­ing the essen­tial cri­te­ria must be giv­en this oppor­tu­ni­ty.”11Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 26 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/februaris/26/ (last access: 14 July 2010). An impor­tant rea­son for this, as Riek­stiņš has stressed on oth­er occa­sions, is the sig­nif­i­cance of the enlarge­ment pol­i­cy in secur­ing sta­bil­i­ty in Europe.22Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 28 March 2008, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/marts/28–2/ (last access: 14 July 2010). Latvia endors­es enlarge­ment if it is ground­ed in an indi­vid­ual approach and the ful­fil­ment of EU mem­ber­ship cri­te­ria.

Con­sid­er­ing the four EU mem­ber­ship can­di­date coun­tries, Croa­t­ia, Ice­land, Mace­do­nia and Turkey, Latvia antic­i­pates that Croa­t­ia could become eli­gi­ble for mem­ber­ship by the next enlarge­ment round, espe­cial­ly since the bor­der dis­pute with Slove­nia appears to be close to set­tle­ment. Mace­do­nia and Turkey have not made as much progress toward ful­fill­ing the Copen­hagen cri­te­ria. More­over, a con­spic­u­ous fac­tor stand­ing in the way of Macedonia’s progress toward EU acces­sion is the unre­solved quar­rel with Greece over the name “Mace­do­nia”. Accord­ing to the Enlarge­ment Com­mis­sion­er Šte­fan Füle, in May 2010 Turkey had opened 12 of the 35 nego­ti­at­ing chap­ters and closed one; more chap­ters could be opened up for nego­ti­a­tion this year pro­vid­ed it meets the open­ing bench­marks. It should be not­ed here that Latvia sup­ports Turkey’s EU inte­gra­tion efforts, even if a num­ber of EU mem­ber states have pro­found reser­va­tions about the idea of Turkey’s mem­ber­ship of the Union.

Of the poten­tial can­di­dates for EU mem­ber­ship, Lat­vian observers tend to only con­sid­er Ice­land as a pos­si­ble can­di­date for the next round of enlarge­ment, pro­vid­ed the acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions start prompt­ly and pro­ceed smooth­ly. They point out that, despite Iceland’s severe eco­nom­ic cri­sis in 2008 from which it is grad­u­al­ly recov­er­ing, Ice­land has a fine record of good gov­er­nance and demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tices and is already well inte­grat­ed into many EU process­es, pro­grammes, and agen­cies. For those Lat­vians who know their his­to­ry, Ice­land is quite spe­cial in that it was the first coun­try to offi­cial­ly recog­nise Latvia after it regained its inde­pen­dence in August 1991.

While Latvia clear­ly sup­ports the EU per­spec­tive of the West­ern Balkan coun­tries, Latvia also recog­nis­es that these coun­tries have much ground to cov­er in order to advance to the sta­tus of can­di­dates for EU mem­ber­ship. Since each poten­tial can­di­date coun­try has its own par­tic­u­lar hur­dles to sur­mount, it is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict which one will make the speed­i­est progress and when a par­tic­u­lar coun­try might become eli­gi­ble for EU mem­ber­ship. At the same time, as Riek­stiņš has point­ed out, unit­ed EU sup­port to the Euro­pean inte­gra­tion efforts of the West­ern Balkan coun­tries is essen­tial for the suc­cess and con­ti­nu­ity of their reform process.33Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 28 March 2008, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/marts/28–2 (last access: 14 July 2010).

Latvia ful­ly sup­ports the Euro­pean Union’s active inter­est in its neigh­bour­hood, and, there­fore, “espe­cial­ly appre­ci­ates the two ini­tia­tives of 2008 in the frame­work of the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy (ENP), name­ly the East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP) and the Union for the Mediter­ranean. For Latvia, it is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to con­tin­ue to devel­op close rela­tions with the east­ern neigh­bours by way of imple­ment­ing joint projects in the frame­work of the EaP and lend­ing sup­port to each of the EaP coun­tries”.44Māris Riek­stiņš, Lat­vian Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, address­ing the GAERC of 27 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/aprilis/27–2/ (last access: 14 July 2010). Such a choice is nat­ur­al, giv­en Latvia’s loca­tion and the resources avail­able. Fur­ther­more, like Latvia, the EaP coun­tries – Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, Belarus, Geor­gia, Moldo­va, and Ukraine – were once a part of the Sovi­et Union. Since regain­ing its inde­pen­dence, Latvia has devel­oped active bilat­er­al rela­tions with these coun­tries and encour­aged their Euro­pean ori­en­ta­tion. This is borne out by the activ­i­ties of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs and the Eco­nom­ics Min­istry.55More infor­ma­tion is avail­able in the secions on bilat­er­al rela­tions and exter­nal eco­nom­ic rela­tions of the inter­net site of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Arpolitika/divpusejas-attiecibas/ (last access: 14 July 2010) and the Min­istry of Eco­nom­ics, avail­able at: http://www.em.gov.lv/em/2nd/?cat=30113 (last access: 14 July 2010).

The views expressed above by Māris Riek­stiņš on the EaP and the ENP are shared by Aivis Ronis, who suc­ceed­ed Riek­stiņš as Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs on 29 April 2010. Address­ing a meet­ing of for­eign min­is­ters of EU mem­ber states and EaP coun­tries in Sopot, Poland on 24 May 2010, Ronis stressed the pos­i­tive role of the EaP ini­tia­tive in strength­en­ing the reform process­es in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries and not­ed that suc­cess­ful devel­op­ment of the ini­tia­tive requires appro­pri­ate financ­ing, includ­ing invest­ments ear­marked for struc­tur­al reforms in these coun­tries. Ronis also empha­sised the impor­tance of pro­mot­ing active engage­ment of each EaP coun­try in the EaP process and the neces­si­ty to eval­u­ate the progress of each coun­try indi­vid­u­al­ly.66Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 24 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/maijs/24–03/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

Because of Latvia’s focus on the EaP, more spe­cif­ic obser­va­tions, based on actu­al expe­ri­ence, can be offered here only about the EaP. The most recent com­pre­hen­sive assess­ment by Latvia of the ini­tia­tive was offered by its Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Māris Riek­stiņš, on 8 Decem­ber 2009 at a ple­nary ses­sion of the for­eign min­is­ters of EU and EaP coun­tries in Brus­sels. The next such meet­ing is being planned for late 2010. At the ple­nary ses­sion, Riek­stiņš argued that the achieve­ments of the EaP are con­nect­ed with the joint abil­i­ties of the par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries to cre­ate tan­gi­ble results of prac­ti­cal coop­er­a­tion, thus also deep­en­ing the polit­i­cal rela­tions. The results achieved so far serve as a good foun­da­tion for fur­ther action, whether bilat­er­al or mul­ti­lat­er­al. Not­ing the progress of the East­ern part­ners in the realm of eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion, Riek­stiņš urged for a speedy con­clu­sion of the talks regard­ing the deep and com­pre­hen­sive free trade area.77Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 9 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/decembris/09–01/ (last access: 14 July 2010). In the realm of ener­gy, Riek­stiņš wel­comed the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of coop­er­a­tion between the EU and EaP coun­tries and report­ed about the con­fer­ence for experts on ener­gy effi­cien­cy and renew­able ener­gy, which took place in Riga on 26 Novem­ber 2009.88The con­fer­ence pro­gramme is avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/novembris/16/programma/ (last access: 14 July 2010). Con­cern­ing the com­pre­hen­sive insti­tu­tion build­ing pro­gramme, Riek­stiņš affirmed his country’s readi­ness to con­tin­ue its suc­cess­ful­ly launched projects of shar­ing bilat­er­al­ly with the EaP coun­tries Latvia’s expe­ri­ence and know-how in areas such as bor­der con­trol and cus­toms, envi­ron­ment, phy­tosan­i­tary stan­dards, and con­sumers’ rights.99Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 9 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/decembris/09–01/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

    Footnotes

  • 1Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 26 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/februaris/26/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 2Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 28 March 2008, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/marts/28–2/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 3Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 28 March 2008, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/marts/28–2 (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 4Māris Riek­stiņš, Lat­vian Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, address­ing the GAERC of 27 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/aprilis/27–2/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 5More infor­ma­tion is avail­able in the secions on bilat­er­al rela­tions and exter­nal eco­nom­ic rela­tions of the inter­net site of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Arpolitika/divpusejas-attiecibas/ (last access: 14 July 2010) and the Min­istry of Eco­nom­ics, avail­able at: http://www.em.gov.lv/em/2nd/?cat=30113 (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 6Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 24 May 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/maijs/24–03/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 7Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 9 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/decembris/09–01/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 8The con­fer­ence pro­gramme is avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/novembris/16/programma/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 9Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 9 Decem­ber 2009, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2009/decembris/09–01/ (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.