Latvia endorses EU Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy

Dzintra Bungs

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.”[1] An important reason for this, as Riekstiņš has stressed on other occasions, is the significance of the enlargement policy in securing stability in Europe.[2] 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.[3] 

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”.[4] 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.[5] 

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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Press Release, 26 February 2010, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[2] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Press Release, 28 March 2008, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[3] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Press Release, 28 March 2008, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[4] Māris Riekstiņš, Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressing the GAERC of 27 April 2010, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[5] More 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: (last access: 14 July 2010) and the Ministry of Economics, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Press Release, 24 May 2010, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[7] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Press Release, 9 December 2009, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[8] The conference programme is available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).

[9] Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Press Release, 9 December 2009, available at: (last access: 14 July 2010).