Latvia favours European Economic Governance and the Europe 2020 Strategy

The eco­nom­ic and finan­cial sit­u­a­tion in Europe is undoubt­ed­ly an issue of high inter­est in Latvia. The prin­ci­pal rea­son for such inter­est has lit­tle to do with the dra­mat­ic erup­tions of pub­lic sen­ti­ment in Greece, the dis­putes between some Euro­peans and the Ice­landers over the con­se­quences deriv­ing from the bank­ing and finan­cial cri­sis in Ice­land or the var­i­ous efforts in oth­er Euro­pean cap­i­tals to cope with deficits and deep bud­get cuts, but rather with Latvia’s own eco­nom­ic reces­sion and the painful deci­sions that are being made in order to deal with the myr­i­ad of prob­lems. Fac­tu­al reports appear reg­u­lar­ly in the Lat­vian media about the eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion in oth­er EU coun­tries, but com­men­taries are rare. The sen­ti­ment in Latvia towards Greece and oth­er EU mem­ber states fac­ing seri­ous eco­nom­ic and finan­cial prob­lems appears to be that of an inter­est­ed observ­er, and clear­ly not that of a crit­ic or an advi­sor. Lat­vians are too deeply aware of their own dif­fi­cul­ties to pass judge­ment on oth­ers encoun­ter­ing sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties. This is true both in the offi­cial and the pub­lic domain. At the same time, through­out this peri­od of eco­nom­ic down­turn, what has been stressed by many Lat­vians is the impor­tance of EU sol­i­dar­i­ty and the Union’s readi­ness to come to assist those mem­bers hav­ing prob­lems. All these con­sid­er­a­tions should help explain why both Lat­vian offi­cials and the media have avoid­ed mak­ing assess­ments of the EU finance pack­age for Greece, or express­ing opin­ions about the way the agree­ment was reached. For those very same con­sid­er­a­tions, there have been no pub­lic dis­cus­sions to speak of con­cern­ing the lessons that could or should have been drawn from the Greek case for fur­ther reforms of the Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact. In this con­text, how­ev­er, some Lat­vian observers have posed anoth­er ques­tion: would a more con­sis­tent obser­vance of the guide­lines and pro­ce­dures stip­u­lat­ed in the exist­ing Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact not have pre­vent­ed some of the eco­nom­ic and finan­cial prob­lems cur­rent­ly beset­ting many of the EU mem­ber states?

All these con­sid­er­a­tions, how­ev­er, have not dimin­ished Latvia’s crit­i­cal inter­est in the idea of “a strong coor­di­na­tion of eco­nom­ic poli­cies in Europe”, eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance, and improve­ments in the Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact. On 15 June 2010, the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment announced its sup­port for mea­sures pro­mot­ing stronger coor­di­na­tion and fis­cal dis­ci­pline at the EU lev­el. So as not to fos­ter a Europe of “two speeds”, the Lat­vian gov­ern­ment also urged that such mea­sures be applied to all EU mem­ber states, regard­less of the cur­ren­cy each state uses.11Delfi dis­patch, 15 June 2010, avail­able at: http://www.delfi.lv/news/business/budget_and_taxes/latvija-atbalstis-ieceri-valstu-budzetus-vertet-es.d?id=32510559 (last access: 14 July 2010). These mea­sures should serve to strength­en the func­tion­ing of the Growth and Sta­bil­i­ty Pact and macro­eco­nom­ic sur­veil­lance. Thus, Latvia favours across-the-board appli­ca­tion of all mea­sures, rather than sin­gling out the Euro­zone or any oth­er group of coun­tries for spe­cial roles. In gen­er­al, Latvia also backs the idea of a “Euro­pean semes­ter”, and the notion of annu­al­ly pre­sent­ing Sta­bil­i­ty and Con­ver­gence Pro­grammes to the Com­mis­sion for the upcom­ing years, start­ing in spring 2011. How­ev­er, the back­ing comes with a note of reser­va­tion and some spe­cif­ic rec­om­men­da­tions.22For a more detailed report about the var­i­ous views of the Lat­vian par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, see the Delfi dis­patch, 4 June 2010, avail­able at: http://www.delfi.lv/archive/print.php?id=32310879 (last access: 14 July 2010). In a nut­shell, the right bal­ance should be found between EU sur­veil­lance and the prepa­ra­tion process of the nation­al bud­get so as not to encroach upon the rights of the insti­tu­tions of mem­ber states to deter­mine and imple­ment their cho­sen pol­i­cy. Latvia, there­fore, antic­i­pates fur­ther dis­cus­sions in the High Lev­el Task Force about the strength­en­ing of the coor­di­na­tion of eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy before the Task Force presents its final report in Octo­ber 2010.33Ibid.

The Lat­vian gov­ern­ment has con­sis­tent­ly sup­port­ed the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy. It also sup­port­ed the Lis­bon Strat­e­gy, which pre­ced­ed the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy. The wide-rang­ing Lis­bon Strat­e­gy, how­ev­er, nev­er caught the imag­i­na­tion of the gen­er­al pub­lic and was of more inter­est to aca­d­e­mics and pol­i­cy advis­ers, rather than leg­is­la­tors and pol­i­cy­mak­ers. Because of its spe­cif­ic and time­ly head­line goals, the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy appears to have bet­ter chances of suc­cess than its pre­de­ces­sor. Already on 9 Feb­ru­ary 2010, the Cab­i­net of Min­is­ters announced that the EU 2020 Strat­e­gy deserves spe­cial atten­tion among Latvia’s nation­al pri­or­i­ties dur­ing the Span­ish Pres­i­den­cy of the EU.44Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 9 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/februaris/09–03/ (last access: 14 July 2010). Giv­en Latvia’s eco­nom­ic dif­fi­cul­ties, it is under­stand­able that stress is being placed on green growth and more jobs. In this con­text, Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Māris Riek­stiņš informed his Swedish coun­ter­part, Bir­git­ta Ohls­son, that Latvia sup­ports, in gen­er­al, the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy and not­ed that this Strat­e­gy should serve to dimin­ish the socioe­co­nom­ic dif­fer­ences between EU mem­ber states and raise the com­pet­i­tive­ness of all.55Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 3 March 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/marts/03–01/ (last access: 14 July 2010). Sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments were expressed by Prime Min­is­ter Vald­is Dom­brovskis at the Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union meet­ing on 25–26 March 2010. Empha­sis­ing the impor­tance of con­tin­u­ing efforts to reduce the eco­nom­ic dif­fer­ences between EU mem­ber states, Dom­brovskis observed that salient instru­ments for this pur­pose are the Union’s cohe­sion poli­cies and improve­ments in the Union’s com­mit­ment to com­pet­i­tive­ness. Dom­brovskis called for more atten­tion to be devot­ed to issues, such as infra­struc­ture, inter­nal mar­ket and entre­pre­neur­ial envi­ron­ment, and urged for the con­tin­ued analy­sis of the issues relat­ed to social inte­gra­tion.66Cab­i­net of Min­is­ters; Press Release, 26 March 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mk.gov.lv/lv/aktuali/zinas/2010gads/03/260310-mp-04/ (last access: 14 July 2010).

While the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy has not yet caught the atten­tion of the gen­er­al pub­lic in Latvia, there is a clear aware­ness of the Strat­e­gy among the more informed pop­u­lace. Reg­u­lar reports by the media and some con­fer­ences, where the Strat­e­gy has been one of the top­ics of dis­cus­sion, have served to fur­ther dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion about it. For exam­ple, at the sem­i­nar organ­ised for jour­nal­ists by the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 28 April 2010, one ses­sion was devot­ed to an analy­sis of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

Among the seg­ments of soci­ety which have knowl­edge of the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy are also the farm­ers and the aca­d­e­mics. On 29 and 30 April 2010, Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sion­er Dacian Cioloş vis­it­ed Latvia to see the sit­u­a­tion of farm­ers, agri­cul­ture, and rur­al devel­op­ment for him­self and to pro­mote par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pub­lic dis­cus­sion and eval­u­a­tion of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy and how it should func­tion in the future. The Lat­vian farm­ers were remind­ed of the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy because one of the ques­tions that inter­est­ed the Com­mis­sion­er was: what will the con­tri­bu­tion of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy (CAP) be to the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy?77Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: Press Releas­es, 12 April 2010, avail­able at: http://ec.europa.eu/latvija/news/press_releases/2010_04_12_3_lv.htm (last access: 14 July 2010); Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: Press Releas­es, 29 April 2010, avail­able at: http://ec.europa.eu/latvija/news/press_releases/2010_04_29_3_lv.htm (last access: 14 July 2010).

Anoth­er exam­ple of the top­i­cal­i­ty and use­ful­ness of the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy in Latvia comes from the edu­ca­tors. In response to the news that the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund rep­re­sen­ta­tives were sug­gest­ing pro­found bud­get cuts in state fund­ing of high­er edu­ca­tion, the rec­tors of state uni­ver­si­ties issued a joint state­ment of protest on 15 April 2010. Argu­ing against the cuts, they point­ed out that the imple­men­ta­tion of such plans would jeop­ar­dise Latvia’s reach­ing of its high­er edu­ca­tion goals set in the Europe 2020 Strat­e­gy.88Full text of the rec­tors’ state­ment of 15 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.delfi.lv/archive/article.php?id=31262283 (last access: 14 July 2010).

    Footnotes

  • 1Delfi dis­patch, 15 June 2010, avail­able at: http://www.delfi.lv/news/business/budget_and_taxes/latvija-atbalstis-ieceri-valstu-budzetus-vertet-es.d?id=32510559 (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 2For a more detailed report about the var­i­ous views of the Lat­vian par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, see the Delfi dis­patch, 4 June 2010, avail­able at: http://www.delfi.lv/archive/print.php?id=32310879 (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 3Ibid.
  • 4Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 9 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/februaris/09–03/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 5Min­istry of For­eign Affairs: Press Release, 3 March 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2010/marts/03–01/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 6Cab­i­net of Min­is­ters; Press Release, 26 March 2010, avail­able at: http://www.mk.gov.lv/lv/aktuali/zinas/2010gads/03/260310-mp-04/ (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 7Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: Press Releas­es, 12 April 2010, avail­able at: http://ec.europa.eu/latvija/news/press_releases/2010_04_12_3_lv.htm (last access: 14 July 2010); Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: Press Releas­es, 29 April 2010, avail­able at: http://ec.europa.eu/latvija/news/press_releases/2010_04_29_3_lv.htm (last access: 14 July 2010).
  • 8Full text of the rec­tors’ state­ment of 15 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.delfi.lv/archive/article.php?id=31262283 (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.