Latvian EU Presidency and Serbia’s European Path in the Next 6 Months

On 1st January 2015, Latvia will preside over 28 EU Member States for the first time since it became part of the EU.

EU Presidency: an Opportunity the Member States Cannot Miss

On 1st January 2015, Latvia will preside over 28 EU Member States for the first time since it became part of the EU. Presidency of the European Union represents a major organisational and logistical endeavour for a member state that requires very thorough preparations and strategic thinking about the focal areas in the 6 months of its presidency. For the member states, EU Presidency is equally a chance to promote its economic and touristic potential. Each presiding country wants to have a successful presidency, i.e. to demonstrate itself as a successful honest broker in the negotiations between the member states. In addition, the countries use their presidency to push the questions of their own national interest on the European agenda. Whether one country’s presidency is successful or not largely depends on the state’s mechanisms and capacities for coordination, as well as on the timely planning. Presidency experience can significantly help to improve knowledge and skills necessary for successful advocating of national interests in EU decision-making process. We analysed this issue in depth in our study “Policymaking and EU Accession Negotiations – Getting Results for Serbia”.

In this study, we explored among others policy making system and coordination mechanisms of EU affairs in Latvia. One of the most important insights to be highlighted from Latvia’s example is that small states with limited capacities must prioritise the questions of their interest, so as to have their voice heard in the EU arena. The backbone of agenda-setting and prioritisation is good analysis and evidence-based policy making. Latvia understood this early enough; therefore nowadays it has very successful mechanisms for coordination of EU affairs that will certainly be its asset in the next six months of the presidency.

Latvia’s Priorities

The priority issues of a presiding country are a reflection of the current circumstances in the EU. As in the case of previously presiding Italy, increasing economic growth and employment is equally an issue of priority for Latvia. Creation of a single digital market which is seen as a perspective branch that will bring new posts and economise resources is another priority during Latvia’s presidency. Perhaps the most noticeable differences in terms of prioritisation between the member states can be seen on foreign policy issues. Given its geographical position and history, Latvia wants to demonstrate itself as a proactive actor in fostering relations with the Eastern Partnership countries; it equally seeks to find alternatives to ensure energy efficiency of the Union.

Latvia and Enlargement Policy – What Can We Expect?

Latvia is one of the countries favourable of EU enlargement, and alike other Baltic states, it represents a bright example of how the accession process and EU membership can positively affect its development. However, it is unlikely to expect that this small country with such capacities will sponsor Serbia’s opening of accession negotiations as ardently as Italy did in the previous semester. Relations with its Eastern neighbors are Latvia’s priority, not enlargement.

When it comes to Serbia, Belgrade-Pristine dialogue, which are under negotiating chapter 35, are expected to be the dominant topic during Latvia’s presidency, as this chapter has to be opened first. Since opening of this chapter requires full implementation of the Brussels Agreement, Serbia will seek to open it in parallel with the chapter 32 – Financial Control, for which Serbia is fully ready. Screenings will end my March 2015, whereas the activities leading to opening the Chapters 23 and 24 (adopting the Action Plans, assessment reports, etc.) will be taking place. Moreover, one could expect higher pressure on Serbia to align its foreign policy positions with the EU. Overall, the EU membership seems rather far away from the current perspective. Therefore, it would be wise to invest more into explaining the citizens the benefits of the EU accession both to the Serbian and the European citizens, who are gradually losing interest and positive attitude towards the EU, i.e. enlargement.