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Latvia readies for its first EU presidency

Posted by Nick Prag at 04 December 2014, 19:05 CET |

This week Latvia's Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma and members of the Latvian government visited the European Commission in Brussels to discuss the priorities of Latvia's upcoming Presidency of the EU.

On the agenda also was action to implement the new 'Investment Plan for Europe', with a view to ensuring that economies and public can feel real benefits quickly.

The first six months of 2015 will be Latvia's first EU Presidency since its accession to the Union - a big moment in its history and an opportunity to cement its place in the European family, and a symbol of its journey away from the embrace of the former Soviet Union.

Latvia joined the European Union in 2004 as well as NATO, with active participation in international organisations playing an essential part in shaping the country's foreign policy.

Latvia's transition from a centrally planned Soviet republic to a market economy has not been without pain. Mirroring the crisis-hit eurozone, the country of two million people was hit hard by the 2008-9 world financial crisis, suffering the world's deepest recession with GDP shrinking by nearly a quarter over the two years.

But with the help of a EUR 7.5 bn international bailout to avert bankruptcy, and deep austerity cuts, Latvia bounced back well from the crisis, and is now held up as an example of the success of austerity.

So it seems a good moment for this Baltic state to take on the EU presidency mantle.

The first half of 2015 will not be short of challenges, and is important for the EU as a whole, as the EU legislative process clicks into full gear with a new European Parliament and a new European Commission.

Targets for Latvia's Presidency include the Commission's EUR 300 billion investment plan, the digital internal market and strengthening Europe's energy independence.

The presidency also allows a country to bring its own character and initiatives to the EU table, and Latvia's concerns with regard to Russia will no doubt feature highly.

The country's position as a gateway between the European continent and the EU in the west and Russia and the countries of the Independent States (CIS) in the east gives it a unique slant on the tug-of-war between Vladimir Putin's aggressive, expansionist foreign policy and the country's membership of the EU and its system of democratic values and principles of international law.

Russia has pursued its former satellites in all sort of ways since the fall of communism. People in the street are worried about Russian expansionism, and especially the unpredictability of Russia in its foreign dealings. Yet much of the country's trade remains with Russia. 100 per cent of its gas comes from Russia.

We can expect Latvia's presidency to reflect concerns of the Baltic region with regard to Russia' recent actions, and a key priority is the EU's Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership Summit in May and related events (Business Forum, Civil Society Forum, the Media Freedom Conference and the Youth Forum, etc.) gives Latvia an opportunity to address these concerns with efforts to forge closer cooperation between the EU and its eastern European partners.

The EU will look to 2015 to bring a change in the fortunes in the eurozone and its economy. The Latvian presidency will hope for stability and security for its own economy, but also for its relations with Russia and its eastern neighbours.

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.