No particular reaction to Commission’s Communication but general support for EU enlargement in South Eastern Europe

Latvian Institute of International Affairs

 
There was hardly any reaction in Latvia to the Commission’s Communication on „Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2007-2008” of November 2007. The explanation lies in the internal affairs of Latvia at that time, rather than in general lack of interest in EU enlargement and the progress made by the candidate countries. The issues preoccupying all of Latvia were how long the unpopular government of Prime Minister Kalvitis would last and who would head the new government. Further complicating matters was the internal strife in the People’s Party, chaired by Kalvitis, and the resignation of Artis Pabriks as Minister of Foreign Affairs on 19 October 2007 and as member of that party on 8 November 2007. Maris Riekstins, a career diplomat and a newcomer to the People’s Party, became the new Minister of Foreign Affairs on 8 November 2007.
 
All this, however, did not alter Latvia’s foreign policy. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Latvia supports EU enlargement in South Eastern Europe, which, of course, includes the candidate countries – Croatia, Turkey, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – and the potential candidate countries – of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. At the same time, Latvia is fully aware of the thorny internal problems confronting many of these countries and these should not be underestimated. Consequently, Latvia supports the various EU assistance measures (whether to maintain peace and stability or help establish practices of good governance and justice) in the Balkans. These were also among the topics discussed by Latvia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maris Riekstins, during his working visit to Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia from 19 to 22 February 2008.
 
Diplomatic relations with Turkey go back to the 1920s when Latvia was an independent republic; they were re-established in October 1991 after Latvia regained its independence. Latvia opened its embassy in Ankara in April 2005.
 
Latvia’s active interest in the Balkans is of recent vintage. During the nearly five decades of Soviet occupation, Latvia could not develop its own foreign relations; consequently, bilateral relations with other countries could be re-established or could begin only in late August 1991. Latvia re-established diplomatic relations with Albania in April 1992 (diplomatic relations with Albania began in 1928 and could not be continued from 1940 to 1991).
 
As for the former Yugoslavia, the 1990’s was a period of civil wars and disintegration as a state. Already as an aspiring member of NATO and the EU, Latvia assisted in the international missions to keep the peace and maintain public order. The development of Latvian relations with each of the countries emanating from the former Yugoslavia started as peace and stability was established there and in tandem with the EU policies. Consequently, the relations that are developing now are not coloured by past enmities, preferences or friendships.
 
Therefore, when considering EU enlargement in this region, or anywhere else, Latvia believes that the most important question that the EU must answer positively when considering new members is: does the candidate country fully meet the existing membership criteria before admission into the Union?[1]
 
Concerning Serbia and Kosovo, on 20 February 2008 Latvia announced its recognition of the independent Republic of Kosovo[2]; it was the eleventh country to do so. Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins also stated that the plan developed by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari should be considered as the guidelines for Kosovo’s future development. Taking issue with Latvia’s step, Serbia reacted on the following with a diplomatic note.
 
Latvia had hoped that the EU member states would act with one voice on this matter, but this did not happen. The Latvian decision was not based on any special interests of its own. It was also not directed against Serbia or any other country opposing Kosovar independence. The principal motive was the conviction that the will of the overwhelming majority of the people should be respected. The Latvian Foreign Ministry’s statement emphasised that the situation in Kosovo is unique and should therefore not be seen as a precedent-setting case that could be utilised in other parts of the world.


[1] All the information just presented comes from Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, available at: http://www.mfa.gov.lv (last access: 18.03.2008); see the sections on the EU, ENP and bilateral relations.

[2] For the full text, see http://www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/Jaunumi/PazinojumiPresei/2008/Februaris/20-4/ (last access: 18.03.2008).