EU talks offer timely review of Latvia's progress and problems

  • 2001-09-20
  • BNS
RIGA - At the opening of a European Union-Latvian Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting in Riga on Sept. 17, Latvian officials emphasized their intention to complete pre-accession talks with the EU by the end of 2002.

"Latvia is strongly committed to complete the talks by late 2002. This goal is attainable, because, firstly, Latvia has no principal questions in problem areas that may slow down the talks and, secondly, Latvia is a small country, which means that the costs of our admission will be small," said Latvian Parliamentary Speaker Janis Straume.

Forty-five laws are left to be adopted or amended to fully harmonize the country's legislation with EU requirements.

Latvia has made "excellent" progress toward EU membership, Alfred Gomolka, head of the EU's committee delegation, said Sept. 18 at the end of the two-day session.

The committee adopted several recommendations to the effect that the EU approves of Latvia's progress in the pre-accession talks, launched Feb. 15, 2000, and calls on it to proceed at the same speedy pace.

Latvia was urged to pay attention to deficiencies still to be found in the judicial system and lengthy pre-trial detention periods. A uniform payment system should also be introduced for public servants.

Despite positive feedback about a new corruption prevention system, World Bank assessment still indicates high corruption levels in Latvia, so more efficient anti-corruption measures are needed.

As for economic criteria, the EU delegation praised Latvia's rapid development while pointing out the need to improve the business environment when examining Latvia's accomplishments in harmonizing Latvian laws with EU requirements.

Special attention should be paid to legislative improvements at the regional and local levels.

The EU representatives also expressed hope that a new commercial law adopted in April 2000 only to have the date it comes into effect postponed, will take effect in January.

The head of the European Commission's delegation in Latvia, Gunter Weiss, said Sept. 17 that a large part of harmonizing EU legislation has already been done. But there are still "stumbling stones," for example the long-awaited parliamentary elections in October 2002, which could reduce the Parliament's legislative capacity.

"I am worried about the slow speed of legislation in relation to passing the new commercial law, already postponed a number of times. I suggest that the Parliament act faster and more bravely," said Weiss.

He added that problems in Latvia are related to administrative abilities, as well as regional development. "There are not enough professionals in the country to work with regional development. Riga is not all of Latvia," said Weiss.

Meanwhile, Louis Engelen, the ambassador of Belgium - currently holding the EU's rotating presidency - said Latvia has already closed 16 negotiation chapters and that it must continue its high level of progress. "Latvia can speed up the negotiations still further, while the EU can help by increasing Latvia's legal capacity, as well as financially," said Engelen.

Gomolka told reporters that he had received the most positive experience of his stay during a visit to a Russian school in the central Latvian town Jelgava. He said that hearing the Russian children speak not just Latvian but also German and English made him understand the young generation in Latvia has no problems with integration.

The European Commission is currently working on a report on Latvia's success in the EU membership talks.

More than half of the populations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania support integrating with the European Union, with support significantly up in both Estonia and Latvia, according to polls recently carried out by local social research companies.

Estonian support for EU integration in August reached the highest level in the past four years. With 54 percent of the population ready to vote "yes" to joining the EU, 39 would vote against. Only 7 percent are unsure of the issue, the lowest in the region.

Latvian support for the EU has increased since the last poll in May to 42.7 percent in support of joining the EU and 30.7 percent against. In general, 55 percent of the population have a positive attitude toward the EU, while 26.6 percent have no opinion on which way they would vote.

The latest polls in Lithuania, carried out in April, show that 51 percent would vote for joining the EU and 28 percent are against, while 21 percent have no opinion.