Latvians’ Principal Concerns in Spring 2010: Economic Recession and Parliamentary Elections

Dzintra Bungs

Despite the fact that Latvia has been a member of the European Union for six years, despite Latvia’s endorsement of the Lisbon Treaty and simultaneous acceptance of the collective responsibility to implement it, and despite the relevance for all EU member states of the decisions made in Brussels, most Latvians remain much more concerned about what is going on in Latvia than in the rest of Europe. In 2010, their attention has been especially focussed on two issues:

European Energy Community discussed

Katia Hristova
The policy proposal “Towards a European Energy Community”[1] by Jacques Delors provoked an intense debate in Bulgaria, where the issue of a future EU energy policy and the role Bulgaria should play in it is a salient one. Being situated at one of the important crossroads between East and West, Bulgaria is frequently seen as a country that could help improve the EU’s overall energy security. However, the country has not yet done much to live up to this expectation. Since the beginning of the transition period, the national strategy for energy sector development has been one of the most disputed documents that never saw the light of day.
Jacques Delors’ policy paper idea, that the most radical, but also the most promising option, for the EU would be to create a European Energy Community with its own rules and methods specific to the energy field, triggered a lively debate. The proposal for the implementation of a differentiated approach provided arguments from the energy experts’ community criticising Bulgarian policymakers for their lack of a clear position on the issue. The prevailing opinion in this regard is that Bulgaria, being a new EU member state, will have to prove itself as a positive factor for European energy security and take part in the establishment of the European Energy Community.[2]

6th anniversary of Poland’s EU membership and approaching EU presidency

Anna Jedrzejewska
Since April 2010, the public debate and media coverage in Poland were to a great extent dominated by the issues related to the crash of the President’s plane near Smolensk, the discussions over the Katyn mass-killings during World War II and mutual relations with Russia. Consequently, the pre-term presidential elections dominated in media coverage and political discourse after 20 April 2010. Additionally, May 2010 saw the problem of flooding and, therefore, media and political debates have been predominantly preoccupied with the domestic topics mentioned above.

The mission in Afghanistan and the recent federal and regional elections

Christoph Kornes
Since the German parliament has sent soldiers to Afghanistan, there has been a controversial debate in Germany about the meaning and purpose of the mission of the Bundeswehr (German armed forces). The Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan, which was regarded as relatively safe, has developed into a dangerous area for German soldiers. Since 2002 a total of 43 soldiers of the Bundeswehr have died.[1] In April 2010 seven German soldiers were killed whereby the operation is becoming increasingly unpopular in the German population. A poll conducted by ARD television in April showed that 70 percent of the respondents demand a withdrawal from Afghanistan.[2] The Bundestag, however, agreed on a new Afghanistan mandate for one year in February 2010 and increased the staff ceiling of 850 soldiers to 5,350.[3] In a government statement from Thursday, 22 April 2010, Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union – CDU) defended the operation and called voices for an immediate withdrawal, as demanded by the Left Party (DIE LINKE), irresponsible. She also called for more support from society for the soldiers.[4]

The domestic assessment of the Spanish Presidency

Ignacio Molina
The very high domestic expectations linked to the Spanish 2010 EU Presidency and the highly challenging economic context that emerged after the Greek debt crisis – which hit Spain very harshly – make for an overall evaluation of the semester that is far below what would be expected from simply adding up what was achieved in the different areas of the Presidency’s programme.
The scenario of the EU after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty required ambition, and Spain – a mid-size or even large country within the expanded EU, with solid pro-European convictions and organisational and leadership skills that were proved by its earlier turns as EU President – seemed to be one of the states willing to take on the challenge. In fact, leading government officials and the ruling Socialist Party, rather than opt for a moderate approach as to what could be expected from this six-month period, chose to raise expectations by stressing the historic importance that the challenge held for Spain and for Europe. However, it soon became clear that the challenge – perhaps not quite historic but in any case quite important – was a very difficult one to meet.

The direct trade regulation and other new developments on the Cyprus issue

Nicoleta Athanasiadou, Costas Melakopides and Christos Xenophontos
Inevitably, the cardinal issue preoccupying Cyprus, hence being constantly discussed by politicians, academics, the business world and the general public, is Cyprus’ “existential” problem caused by Turkey’s 1974 invasion and the ongoing military occupation of 37 percent of the Republic’s territory.

Current issues in Portugal

Luis Pais Antunes
2009 was a peculiar year in Portugal, with the country focused on an ongoing electoral process as three general elections (European, national and local) took place within a short 4-month period between April and October 2009. At the same time, the impact of the economic downturn became more visible with a clear increase of unemployment figures and of the number of companies becoming insolvent.
The political landscape has also suffered a slight, but significant, change. After having lost the European elections in June 2009 to the main opposition party (centre-right PSD), the Socialist Party managed to win the national elections in September 2009, although without a majority in the parliament, as was the case during the five preceding years. In the absence of real conditions for the setting-up of a coalition government, the Socialist Party and Prime Minister José Sócrates were “forced” to form a minority government and to negotiate the budget for 2010 (which was finally approved at the end of April) and the new Stability and Growth Programme .

Current issues in Macedonia

Biljana Janeva
According to the official “Programme for work of the Government of Republic of Macedonia”, Macedonia’s foreign policy for the current period was devoted to five strategic priorities: NATO membership, starting accession negotiations with the EU and membership in the EU, liberalisation (abolishing) of visas for Macedonian citizens, overcoming the name dispute created by Greece, and strengthening its economic and public diplomacy. Also, these were the questions and issues most discussed by the Macedonian media and institutions in the past period.
NATO membership remains a very painful burden for Macedonia. After the fiasco at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, when Macedonia did not get its promised (and earned) membership because of the name dispute with Greece, it still continued with its army reforms and contributions to NATO missions abroad. The Republic of Macedonia has completed the longest preparations for membership in the alliance’s history and is the fifth largest contributor to NATO’s international missions, with regard to population, compared to all NATO members.[1]

European policy of the new British government

Brendan Donnelly
The most important current development in British policy towards the European Union is the agreement of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties to form a coalition government after the British general election of 6 May 2010.[1] European policy formed an important element of the coalition agreement and the relevant section of the agreement will set the terms of British policy within and towards the European Union over the life of the coalition, which the partners hope will be five years. As the senior partner of the coalition, the Conservative Party has seen much of its own European policy incorporated into the coalition’s political programme, but the Liberal Democrats have also seen some of their own ideas reflected in the document.
Conservative policies of the coalition

The upcoming general elections

Gunilla Herolf
The Swedish political discussion was already, during the spring, dominated by the general elections to be held in September 2010. Both the opposition (the Social Democratic Party – s, the Green Party – mp, and the Left Party – v) and the governing Alliance for Sweden (the Moderates – m, the Liberal Party – fp, the Centre Party – c, and the Christian Democrats – kd) have put forward their main ideas for the future government. Prominent areas of the ongoing discussion have, as usual, been jobs, welfare and taxes.[1] This year, proposals dealing with the environment have been more prominent than before, most probably due to the more important role of the Green Party in the opposition, following sharp increases for this party in opinion polls.
Reactions to the economic crisis in Europe have not become a divisive issue thus far. In the first big debate, both Fredrik Reinfeldt and Mona Sahlin (social democrat and opposition leader) agreed that, while the Euro countries had the primary responsibility, Sweden should do what it can to help.[2] Even though Sweden is outside the Euro, its small, open and global economy makes it vulnerable to crises in other countries and it is therefore in Sweden’s interest to do so. Since the Swedish economy is in very good shape, there is no discussion on austerity measures.