RIGA - German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Latvian President Andris Berzins on Oct. 25 and urged Latvia to support solving eurozone issues, reports LETA. Berzins and Merkel exchanged views about the situation in the European Union, various aspects of the eurozone, the way in which Latvia overcame the economic crisis and the resulting consequences, the future of the EU, as well as bilateral areas of cooperation and the successful partnership between Latvia and Germany till now.
Merkel welcomed the fact that Latvia has overcome the crisis and is seeking to join the eurozone at a time when there are great difficulties therein. “We are focusing very seriously on dealing with the problems of the eurozone, and when we talk about the crisis, it is very important to think about the competitiveness of the EU as such,” said the chancellor. “Support from such countries as Latvia is much needed in these discussions. Only Estonia is currently in the eurozone, but it would be very good to feel Latvia’s support in this situation, because we do not have to explain to your country what it means to overcome the crisis and to implement reforms as a result,” emphasized Merkel.
Berzins thanked the chancellor for the meeting and said that the most important thing for Latvia in the wake of the crisis is to seek its own path toward competitiveness and development. The president also noted that the price which Latvia paid for the crisis was quite high - the third highest unemployment rate in the EU, an average wage that is at 40 percent of the bloc’s average, and emigration of more than 300,000 people over the past ten years. In this context, the president emphasized that Latvia must urgently deal with issues related to competitiveness and economic growth, including the country’s ability to earn more, because it is a matter of survival and ongoing existence for the country.
The president also spoke about direct agricultural payments during the next EU financial planning period, emphasizing that this is not just an economic, but also a political matter which relates to the future of Latvia’s countryside and its residents. Merkel said that she supports Latvia’s efforts in relation to the next financial planning period, adding that it is particularly important to ensure that growth in Latvia is preserved in the long term, because at this time per capita income remains comparatively low.
“I believe that the European Commission’s approach to direct payments is very sensible,” said Merkel. “We promise that we will lead the negotiations on the basis of what we know, and we will do everything that is in our power. Latvia can rely on that.”
Merkel also asked about Latvia’s domestic situation in terms of relations between Latvians and the Russian minority, the demographic situation in Latvia, and the possibility of improving cooperation between Latvia and Germany in the area of education and science, including support for higher, professional and technical education.
“I can tell you with certainty that relations with the Russian minority are very good in Latvia at the human level,” replied Berzins. “There have been attempts to exacerbate the relations at the political level, but there are no problems on an everyday basis between Latvians and Russians.” The president also pointed out that among Latvia’s schools, there are ones which teach lessons in eight different languages, thus allowing children to study in their native language. This, he said, is a unique case in the EU.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the German chancellor said that the EU, which has a population of around 500 million people, must work very closely together to defend its positions and to facilitate competitiveness. Merkel said that this does not have to do only with economic cooperation, but also with the way in which people in the EU get along with one another. She sent greetings to the people of Latvia, expressing much satisfaction in the fact that Latvia and the other Baltic States are among the free countries of the world today.
Berzins in turn pointed out that he and the people of Latvia support the German chancellor and her country’s efforts to resolve issues that are of importance for all of Europe. “We know that we will all do well if your country does well,” he said. The president also invited Merkel to visit Latvia in 2014, when Riga will be the European Capital of Culture.