Latvian MPs ratify EU constitution

  • 2005-06-08
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Latvia surprised many in Europe when Parliament ratified the EU Constitutional Treaty on June 2, despite the fact that the document suffered referendum defeats in France and the Netherlands.

The approval was described as anticlimactic in some circles, while others praised Latvia's move, claiming it slowed some of the negative, continent-wide momentum against the constitution.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso lauded the ratification, as did President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who said she hoped that other EU member states would follow Latvia's example.

The constitution, which was approved in its first reading on May 19, was supported by 71 MPs (out of 100). Only five members of the Socialist Party voted against.

Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks spoke before lawmakers calling for ratification, while his erstwhile party member Aleksandrs Kirsteins, current head of the foreign affairs committee who was recently removed from the People's Party for anti-Semitic statements, urged fellow lawmakers to put the vote off.

Commenting on the ratification, Pabriks insisted that, under the circumstances, the process was not rushed. Just the opposite, he said, ratification was good for the country.

"We are an independent country 's we make our own independent decisions. If Latvia had ratified [the Constitutional Treaty] before those two countries rejected it would anyone have reported on it?" he told The Baltic Times.

"This constitution may not be perfect, but it's still a step forward for the European Union, and this is the best compromise we can reach. Right now, after two countries voted 'no,' it's the right time to say 'yes' from our side," Pabriks said. (See interview on Page 18.)

Latvia's elite and the general public have virtually been unanimous in their outlook on NATO and EU membership since emerging from Soviet totalitarianism in the early 1990s.

Membership to these two organizations took precedence over nearly all other decisions. Ratifying the Constitutional Treaty was seen by many as a further guarantor of the country's integration in Europe.

Lithuania was the first country in Europe to ratify the treaty, and Latvia was the 10th state to do so.

"There are still countries that believe in the European project. We voted for the constitution 's it's not the best, but good enough for us," Pabriks added.

Initially, Latvia's ratification was delayed after it was discovered that the translation of the constitution was riddled with errors 's 160 substantial errors and 350 minor editorial mistakes as of January. When the document was resubmitted, many of the errors had been corrected, but some 140 still remained.

Other countries were also beset with translation problems, not least of all because the document runs some 420 pages. Indeed, the treaty has drawn criticism for its length and complexity.

For now, it is unclear where the treaty stands in Europe. Some have held out hope, while others have said it is dead. After the two "no" votes, Britain announced that it has shelved its own referendum plans.

Concerns have also been raised about future enlargement issues, particularly applying to candidate states Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Turkey.

Union leaders are now looking into which parts of the treaty can be salvaged. An EU summit beginning on June 16 in Brussels is expected to produce a strategy and iron out disagreements on how to proceed.

The Constitutional Treaty still faces referendums in Poland and the Czech Republic, whose president has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of the document.