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  • 2002-10-24
A collective sigh was almost audible across Central and Eastern Europe on Oct. 20 when it became clear that Irish voters approved the Nice Treaty.

A few pubs in Riga offered discounts on Irish beer and whiskey. At least a few young people were seen dancing what passes for a jig outside the establishments, which probably had more to do with cheap booze than a sincere statement of EU support.

Politicians rejoiced. Latvia's foreign minister returned reporters' phone calls personally - on a Sunday.

He and others talked about the vote being the last major obstacle to membership, as if the wrangling over farm subsidies, judicial reform and corruption were just a way to kill time before the Irish went to the polls.

An issue that still niggles Latvia is reforming the justice system. Simply put, people are jailed way too long before they are tried - longer on average than any other candidate country. Justice officials in the country announced last week that they would release 91 prisoners who have yet to be tried.

Officials assured that those released were "not murderers." That's comforting. But it seems like putting a Band-aid on a bullet wound.

This is not an effective or politically intelligent way to deal with a logjammed justice system in desperate need of meaningful reform. That's an obstacle.

The outgoing government didn't get much done in that regard and yet the European Union and Latvia managed to close the EU chapter governing the justice system.

And then there are those pesky EU approval polls. An EU poll hasn't shown majority support of joining the union for more than a year. One released last week in Latvia showed 46 percent in favor, 36 percent opposed and a lot of undecideds.

The referendums on joining the EU that will be held in the Baltic states will undoubtedly pass, but it's by no means certain at this point.

Perhaps most galling is a proposal scheduled to go before the Latvia's Saeima legislature after this issue of the newspaper goes to press that would pay each outgoing member of parliament - those who didn't retain their seats after the Oct. 5 election - three months salary as compensation. That's 2,000 lats (3,075 euros) each for 67 members for losing their seats.

That is legalized corruption passed by a lame duck parliament that has preached fiscal responsibility and a tightening of the public purse strings for the last four years. While open plundering of tax money is likely not addressed per se by a specific EU chapter, it is likely frowned upon in Brussels.

Faced with these few obstacles, the Irish vote seems like a minor bump in the road.