Latvia and Lithuania nix idea of euro referendum

  • 2013-03-29

VILNIUS - Lithuania and Latvia on Thursday rejected the idea of a referendum on joining the crisis-struck eurozone, fearing a proposal raised this week in neighboring Poland could derail what they termed a strategic decision, the AFP news agency reports.

Following in the footsteps of neighbor Estonia which became the first Baltic state to switch to the euro in January 2011, Latvia aims to adopt it in January, while Lithuania is eyeing 2015.

This, despite polls showing that public opinion in both states is skeptical about the switch.

"I think this issue should be decided not among the population but among the real decision makers," Latvian Finance Minister Andris Vilks remarked in Vilnius alongside his Lithuanian and Estonian counterparts. A referendum would make for a "difficult environment" and "a lot of different types of provocations," insisted Vilks.

Latvians and Lithuanians already agreed to the currency switch in successful votes endorsing membership in the European Union a decade ago, Lithuanian Finance Minister Rimantas Sadzius added.

Unlike Poland which has a freely-floating currency, Lithuanian litas and Latvian lat have been on a fixed peg to the euro for over a decade. It has required them to assume many of the burdens of the single European currency without reaping its benefits, the AFP points out.

"After adopting euro, we will be more visible to investors", Sadzius said.

Both ministers dubbed the euro a "geopolitical goal" for their countries.

The comments came as Poland's government floated the idea of a binding referendum on the euro as fresh opinion polls showed nearly two-thirds of Poles oppose abandoning the zloty amid the eurozone's lumbering debt crisis.

Boasting central Europe's largest economy, Poland avoided falling into recession amid both the global financial and eurozone crises, thanks in part to its free-floating currency which slumped sharply against both the euro and dollar thus boosting exports.

"I can't imagine any government would want, or indeed could, steer Poland into the eurozone without Poles accepting the move," Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski told commercial broadcaster TVN24 late Wednesday.

Warsaw has vowed to meet all marco-economic targets for eurozone entry by 2015 but has not yet pegged a target entry date.