Exclusive interview Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia
1. Would you please characterize current participation of Latvia in Baltic dimension of European integration?
We are very committed to the regional and European cooperation. Latvia is actively taking part in the Baltic-Nordic cooperation formats such as NB8, has keenly cooperated with the Nordic Council of Ministers, as well as will chair the Baltic Council of Ministers during the year 2013. For this important task we are putting forward three main priorities. First priority concerns the competitiveness of the region and the improvement of the business environment. Secondly, we want to strengthen even more the Baltic-Nordic cooperation. At last but not the least, advancement in the regional energy and transport issues is of the utmost importance for the Baltic States. In this regard, Latvia has also undertaken the co-operation coordination for the energy priority in the framework of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). We are aiming at an establishment of an integrated and well-functioning market for energy by implementing the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan (BEMIP). Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) are planning to carry out the joint platform "Baltic Infrastructure of Research, Technology and Innovation" (BIRTI). Accordingly, Latvia has already initiated a process to secure the EUSBSR flagship status for BIRTI.
Looking even further in the future at the Latvian Presidency in the EU Council in 2015, we are committed to intertwine European scale priorities with the regional ones and to raise a high-level attention to this EU internal strategy for the European macro-region.
2. How do you assess the state and prospects of the European Union's "Eastern Partnership" and participation of Latvia in it?
Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership, Latvia has been actively participating in its elaboration and implementation. Due to the geographical closeness and historical affinity, cooperation with our Eastern Neighbors is of particular importance for our foreign policy. We want to see our neighbors democratic, stable and prosperous.
It is important to note that all six partners of the European Union are different when it comes to their historical memories, levels of political and economic developments, human rights record and level of ambitions with regard to the European Union. Latvia is ready to work with all six states and support their efforts in strengthening their relationship with the European Union to the extent that they wish to do so. The EU Eastern Partnership region is defined as Latvia’s priority region in development cooperation. Latvia’s vast reform experience in the areas of political, social and economic transition is highly valued and demanded by our partners in the Eastern Partnership region.
During the 3 years of Partnership’s existence considerable progress in partner’s contractual relations with the EU has been reached: the Association negotiations including DCFTA have been finalized with Ukraine and are under negotiation with 4 countries, visa facilitation and readmission agreements are in force with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and under the way with Armenia and Azerbaijan; Visa liberalization process is well advanced with Moldova and Ukraine. The sectorial cooperation is developing. The multilateral dimension is showing good results, involving partner countries in peer-to-peer cooperation thus fostering regional cooperation and involving Belarus, too.
However, for the further progress of the Eastern Partnership we need to see sustainable reform results on the ground. Latvia supports the idea, that we should focus more of the individual progress of each partner country and use more for more principle, as decided during the last ENP review. Until Vilnius summit in 2013 our actions should be guided by the objectives agreed in the Eastern Partnership Road Map.
Latvia is willing to see more progress in relations between the European Union and Belarus and will be supportive to Belarusian efforts to seek closer partnership. But it is important to note that we need to have a single platform and understanding between us when it comes to the observance of human rights and democratic values.
3.In this respect, to your mind, what are the certain successes of Latvian diplomacy in post-soviet area, especially in South Caucasus and Central Asia regions?
As I mentioned earlier, it is in Latvia’s interests to facilitate the rapprochement of the Eastern Partnership countries with the European Union, creating preconditions for establishing closer economic and political relationship, as well as safeguarding democratic values in those countries. Latvia continues supporting the efforts of the political association and economic integration of the Eastern Partnership countries with the European Union. Our major goal is to be instrumental and helpful to our Eastern Partners and Central Asian states achieving their priorities. In this we have achieved a number success stories, including an active role in the EU-Central Asia and NATO-Central Asia dialogue through the EU Central Asia Strategy, NATO Northern Distribution Network, fight against terrorism and international security assistance. Adoption of the EU Strategy in 2007 has helped to define a common EU policy towards Central Asia region. It is important to build confidence with the Central Asia countries. Latvia has developed an active political dialogue, including exchange of the high level visits, and political consultations. By our activities, regular high level contacts, Latvia has gained valuable expertise which is shared with our partners in EU and NATO. Latvia has a diplomatic presence in all Central Asian countries and strongly supports necessity to open EU Delegations in all countries in the region. Latvia fully shares the EU interest in security, stability and the rule of law in the Central Asia. The areas of common interest are political dialogue on counter-terrorism, combating common threats and challenges, rule of law, respect for human rights, improving border management and fighting with drug trafficking.
Latvia has excellent relations with the governments of the Central Asia countries, thus playing an important role in the Northern Distribution Network. We truly hope that in future Northern Distribution Network will become a trade route linking Europe with Central Asia and Far East. Having an active cooperation with the countries in the Central Asia region, Latvia contributes to the EU-Central Asia dialogue including the areas of education, border management, trade and economic relations.
As regards South Caucasus countries, good progress has been registered in negotiations on EU-Georgia and EU-Armenia Association Agreements, which includes provisions for a deep and comprehensive free trade. Negotiations with Azerbaijan on the Association Agreement are under way. We launched a visa dialogue with Georgia leading to the visa liberalization as the goal. Negotiations on Visa Readmission and Facilitation Agreements are under way with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Latvia was supportive of all these initiatives.