Latvian Foreign Policy: Technocracy Versus Interests of European Citizens

Speech at the Foreign Policy Debate in the Saeima on 23 January 2014

As a member of the Saeima and the Head of the Latvian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) I am interested in the policy that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has planned on several issues: non-citizens and citizenship, temporary Latvian residence permits, specific actions and the interest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in defending national interests abroad, as well as explaining historical issues of great importance to the Latvian titular nation to the international community.

To my mind, the identification of long-term foreign policy goals is an essential part of the report by the Minister for Foreign Affairs; however, this report does not contain such a section. Compared to reports from previous years, this report is, as always, a technocratic one. I hope that eventually the report on foreign policy will also include the strategic tasks in Latvia’s foreign policy and a long-term goal for at least up to 2020.

In May 2013 at the conference on OSCE Security Community from Vancouver to Vladivostok: Reality or Illusion, which I organised together with Inese Vaidere, Member of the European Parliament, and the Centre for East European Policy Studies, it was advised that scientists, members of the Saeima and the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should cooperate more. This conference was the first attempt to hold a debate in Latvia about new security risks, challenges and threats with the involvement of academics and politicians. The debates at the conference acknowledged that Russia’s soft power is becoming an increasingly important threat and destabilising factor when used to doubt the legal succession of the state of Latvia and to undermine the constitutional foundation of Latvia. In this way the soft power is attempting to change the security structure of Europe, which was created after the Cold War, by restoring the lines of separation and areas of influence of the USSR. Therefore, I cannot agree with those members of the Saeima who say that Latvia is not facing any threats.

Today, Latvia’s fragmented education and media scene is the firing range of Russia’s soft power, which is facilitating disassociation among communities thus creating a significant threat to the country. The participants of the conference supported the idea that Russia’s soft power could be limited by forming a unified education area with unified history and social studies curricula for all schools, as opposed to a linguistically and ideologically fragmented school system. Insufficiently active reconfirmation of the principle of legal succession at the national level leaves Latvia in an uncertain status in the security grey zone on the outskirts of the EU and NATO.

In 2013 in the Saeima I met with Lamberto Zannier, Secretary General of the OSCE, who welcomed the aforementioned conference viewing it as a continuation of the Security Days event in Vienna, which he initiated and where non-military security was discussed with historians, diplomats and representatives of other sectors. Zannier expressed interest in attending the next such conference in Latvia, which I am planning to organise again this year. I shared the conclusions from the conference regarding socially unifying education and many other issues related to the Latvian language policy with Astrid Thors, High Commissioner on National Minorities, when we met with her in the Saeima while her candidacy for this post was being evaluated.

I witnessed the fact that Latvia is being left in the security grey zone in Warsaw in the autumn of 2013 at a conference on human rights organised by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Latvia’s situation was objectively described by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, myself, as a representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and two other representatives of non-governmental institutions. The Warsaw conference was attended by representatives of many human rights NGOs from Latvia, Russia and other countries, who stated many distorted facts and expressed unfounded admonitions for Latvia and the other Baltic States regarding the status of national minorities. Valery Engel, representative of World Without Nazism, who has appeared at events in Latvia together with politicians of Concorde Centre, spoke against Latvia’s policy on language, citizenship and minorities. Spiegel, Kuzmin, Solopenko and others were among the registered participants. The Anti-Fascist Committee of Latvia was represented by Joseph Koren, who spoke together with Engel on aggressive nationalism and xenophobia in modern Europe. (see also )

My advice to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to purposefully seek out other real (instead of foreign government financed) NGOs and urge them to take part in the annual conference in Warsaw and other similar events.

I would like to share my experience regarding a letter I sent as an MP in September 2013 asking the Minister of Foreign Affairs to answer several questions regarding amendments to the Immigration Law on temporary residence permits, which were adopted on 1 July 2010 and are currently one of the hot topics on the agenda of the Saeima. Unfortunately, the acting State Secretary on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs did not answer several of my questions, but thanked me for my interest in the issue and offered data from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs on the situation on 1 August 2013.

As foreign policy is an extension of internal affairs, I would like to see an interest shown in solving issues that are existential to Latvia. It is known that resolution of the temporary residence permits issue (alongside the national security policy and education in the official language, which would unify society) is one of the most pressing and crucial factors affecting the existence of Latvia as a national state. Immigration is an increasingly important issue not only in Latvia, but throughout the EU. It will be one of the main topics in the coming elections and further agenda of the European Parliament. Values and interests must be balanced within foreign policy. Technocrats are interested in the banking union and other economic issues, whilst European citizens are interested in their civic hopes – immigration trends, language, identity, self-determination, welfare and democracy. There are contradictions between the technocratic approach to EU policy and the hopes of European citizens not only in Catalonia, but also in Scotland and elsewhere. It is important for Latvia to understand this and include it in the long-term goals of foreign policy.

In foreign policy at EU level, there is a great need for closer cooperation with other national parliaments.

European citizens are also interested in employment and actual jobs, instead of the abstract numbers of GDP and national debt. We must ask whether direct foreign investment, which has been deemed a panacea that will save the world, will really aid Latvia’s growth. If a new crisis hits, will the foreign investors not migrate to economically more active regions thus deepening the crisis in Latvia even further?

As a member of the Saeima, I am not clear on whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wished to take part in solving crucial internal issues with the help of foreign policy. How does it plan on doing so during the term of this government?

It is also unclear what the actors of Latvian foreign policy plan to do regarding the rapid integration among post-communist countries – the already existing Customs Union and the emerging Eurasian Union, which aims to expand up to the borders of the former USSR. Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kirgizstan have, in effect, already agreed to participate in the bloc lead by Russia. What will happen with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine this year? It is evident that neither the Eastern Partnership, nor Association Agreements can hinder the expansion of the post-communistic empire. The events in Ukraine demonstrate this very clearly. What will happen next? How far will Europe allow this process to go? Where are Latvia’s new ideas and proactive measures? What are our proposals as we approach our presidency of the Council of the EU?

Failure to answer these questions seems like an ostrich policy, and the results could be grave. The fact that this government will only be in office until the end of the year is not an excuse for inaction.

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