RIGA - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) spring session is scheduled to take place in Kipsala Hall, in Riga, from May 28 to June 1. More than 700 participants from the other Alliance states, including Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO Secretary General, are invited. This hospitality will cost Latvia’s cash-bleeding budget 1.3 million lats (1.8 million euros).
There are many important topics on the agenda, such as the unity of the Alliance, maritime safety issues as well as economic concerns for several of the members from Central and Eastern Europe. It is also planned to discuss the special relationship with Russia, especially matters related to nuclear safety and energy.
Latvia applied for hosting the NATO PA in 2005, when nobody could foresee today’s financial crisis and drastic budget cuts. However, the current economic climate has prompted a political debate on whether or not the country should throw in the towel and not host the Assembly, but it was quickly decided that the small nation’s image and reputation could suffer and so plans forge ahead to remain as host country.
“This option was debated at the highest level involving the president and, as a result, it has been unanimously decided that we should tighten our belts and manage to host the NATO PA. If we refused, that would be the first case in history. We should not lose face,” said the chairman of the parliament, Gundars Daudze, at a news conference.
The event will cost around 1.3 million lats, most of which will be spent on renting the venue and computer equipment, said Daudze. The organizing committee has calculated that the session’s participants will spend at least one million euros in Riga, as their accommodation, transportation and food will not be covered by Latvian tax-money.
Most of Riga’s residents will not feel any discomfort due to the session, as happened in November 2006 when the NATO summit took place in the capital. For safety reasons, the Old Town and large center city areas were closed off by fences and military personnel, which caused a lot of problems and inconvenience for local businesses and businesspeople.
“We hope that no extra safety measures will be needed and the city center will be open for cars and pedestrians. Only those people who live near Kipsala could have some problems,” said Daudze.
The parliamentary opposition is sure that Latvia, suffering its dramatic economic crisis, cannot afford such luxury as hosting the NATO PA and is seizing the moment to jab at the government. “Latvia’s authorities suffer from a deep-seated inferiority complex. They [the government] want to prove at any cost to the other NATO members that Latvia is a powerful and wealthy country. We think too much of how we’ll look in our partners’ eyes and forget about our own country. Still, the result is quite the opposite, because the other states are aware of our financial problems and are astonished at these actions,” said Boriss Cilevichs, an opposition MP and a member of the Council of Europe.
“Everybody would respect Latvia more if we explained that, for the good of our people, this money will be spent on different purposes,” said the politician.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is a consulting inter-parliamentary organization founded in 1995, which unites MPs from all 28 member states. Sessions take place twice a year - in spring and autumn. The last one took place in Edinburgh, Scotland; the next one will be hosted by Warsaw, Poland.