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Latvia steers EU into 2015

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Latvia steers EU into 2015

Latvia EU presidency logo

(RIGA) - Latvia takes over the rotating EU presidency on Thursday, putting the tiny Baltic state in the front line of EU efforts to tackle issues ranging from Greek political uncertainty to Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

Its half-year stint at the helm of the 28-nation bloc begins on January 1, but the main launch event will take place a week later, when the European Commission gathers in the capital Riga.

Latvian schoolchildren will take part in a simulation game on January 5 to test out facilities at the National Library -- host to dozens of high-level meetings, summits and conferences in the coming months.

Presiding over the EU is expected to cost Latvia 70 million euros ($85 million).

Its turn as president will culminate with the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit on May 21-22, which could redefine the EU's relations with ex-Soviet states Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The programme was designed to draw the six countries closer to the West, much to Moscow's dismay.

"My benchmark of success for Riga would be that there is a strong political signal the Eastern Partnership is relevant and will continue," Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told AFP.

The nation of 1.9 million people will take over the presidency from Italy exactly a year after joining the eurozone, which fellow Baltic state Lithuania enters on Thursday.

"From now on the Baltic states will also be united by another symbol: the euro, which will contribute to strengthening and consolidating our peoples," Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said Wednesday.

Latvia will hand over the EU presidency to Luxembourg on July 1.

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