2015 will be a big year for Latvia. Following after its Baltic neighbour, Lithuania, Latvia will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2015. It was announced earlier this month that, the Latvian capital, Riga, will host the 2015 Eastern Partnership summit, just as Vilnius is doing this coming November. The summit will now be held as an integral feature of the presidency. Work is now underway to define Latvia’s priorities for its upcoming presidency. In discussions with experts and government institutions, the building of the EU’s relations with the Eastern Partnership states has been put forward as a foreign affairs priority.
Latvia has received a letter from the president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, supporting Latvia’s willingness to host the Eastern partnership Summit in Riga. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics has highlighted the fact that the letter received from van Rompuy can be seen as a testimony towards Latvia’s ability to organise such a large-scale and high-level meeting:
”We hope that during the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius later this year, that an Association Agreement will be signed with Ukraine. We also hope that initial documents to begin the Association Agreement procedure with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova will also be signed. At the same time, Latvia will also hopes that closer relations between the EU and Azerbaijan will be established, as well as with Belarus,” Rinkevics said.
The Vilnius summit is being tipped as the most anticipated and important events on the EU calendar this year, as it marks a crossroads in EU integration for many of the EaP countries. Particular media attention and speculation surrounds Ukraine, and the uncertainty of whether the nation will be prepared to sign the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU. This week, Lithuania called on Ukraine “not to waste time” before the summit–as the approach months are a critical time.
— LT EU Presidency (@EU2013LT) August 21, 2013
As Deputy Ambassador of Lithuania Marius Yanukonis stressed two days ago, little time remains before the Vilnius summit scheduled for November:
“…We have a lot of tasks on part of Ukraine and the EU. Ukraine has to prove that it is ready to sign the association agreement and is also active in presenting its achievements and explain the present state of affairs in the EU,” Yanukonis said.
Adding that Lithuania is ready to assist Ukraine in the process, but the initiative must come primarily from Ukraine:
“An effective campaign both at home and abroad is not possible without the concerted actions of the government, the opposition and the society,” he stressed.
Yanukonis also added that the broad coordination of strategic questions of foreign policy today has become one of the top priorities in Ukraine. In addition, he said that he expects the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine’s to work constructively:
“We call on all political forces and an active part of society productively use the time remaining before the Vilnius summit.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine is caught in a contentious trade war with Russia, after Russia imposed trade bans on major Ukrainian companies. Many are calling the move an act of pressure from Russia, to intimidate Ukraine into changing its EU-leanings. Commenting on the Russia’s pressure on Ukraine, the Eastern Partnership Parliamentary Assembly and EP Rapporteur on Eastern Neighbourhood ahead of the EaP Vilnius Summit, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP (Poland) explained:
“By blocking imports from Ukraine, Russia is waging a trade war with Ukraine. Pressure is increasing to deter Ukraine from entering into the Association Agreement /DCFTA with the EU. The EU, as a concerned party in the conflict, has to act to defend Ukraine, challenged by Russia’s action, while Ukraine should do everything that is required in order to sign the Association and DCFTA Agreement with the EU. Ukraine faces a choice of either surrendering to Russia’s pressure, designed to block Ukraine’s relations with the Western part of the continent, or turning to the EU and other markets.”
MEPs Elmar Brok and Saryusz-Wolski further elucidated, emphasising the EU’s concern:
“The EU is not just an observer in this case, but a profoundly concerned party. This act is hostile not only towards Ukraine but also to the EU. With Russia putting illicit pressure to undermine the EU‘s long negotiated treaty, it seems obvious that the EU should step in and undertake swift diplomatic and political action, defending Ukraine and its right of a free choice. The European Commission and the EEAS have so far been passive on the matter. Further lack of action on the Union’s side will only encourage Russia to continue with pressure and blackmail, possibly mounting until the Vilnius Summit and targeting other partner countries.”
Riga’s stint at hosting the Eastern Partnership Summit will potentially provide the opportunity to evaluate the achievements in the partnership dialogue since the previous summit in Vilnius in 2013, as well as define new objectives.