Presidency 'priorities' under fire from MEPs

Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma on Wednesday introduced the priorities of Latvia's EU presidency - which is already two weeks old - to the European Parliament at a sitting in Strasbourg.

Speaking to a sparsely-attended chamber, Straujuma delivered a familiar round-up of her three priorities: digital Europe, engaged Europe and competitive Europe.

However, at a subsequent press conference, Straujuma indicated that in the light of events in Paris a fourth priority had been added: "“Recently as an additional priority we have formulated internal security of the European Union and other issues related to that.”   

She also called for a unified EU stance on relations with Russia saying:

“Russia's aggression against Ukraine is a threat to the European foundations of peace and justice. It is out of the question that the European Union will recognize the right of the strongest that violates the territorial integrity of countries.”

"Europe has to stand by its principles," she said.

"Structural reforms, fiscal responsibility and investment are the 'three whales' guiding growth of the European Union over the next years. Growth that creates jobs but does not impose new debt on future generations," Straujuma said.

However, despite the very low level of attendance, those that were present lined up to ask increasingly pointed questions, among them most of Latvia's MEPs.

Several  MEPs voiced suspicions that the Latvian agenda was over-ambitious and should be pared down and there was heavy criticism from left-leaning MEPs of plans to push ahead with a planned free trade agreement. 

Others said they feared too much attention was being given to eastern countries at the expense of southern countries.

Latvian MEP Roberts Zile of the right-wing National Alliance called on the EU to be more dynamic or risk losing influence at the expense of the Russia-led Eurasian Union.

The weaker the EU is going to act, the stronger the Eurasian Union is going to get," Zile said.

Predictably, Tatjana Zdanoka of the Latvian Russian Union party called for Russian to be made an official language in Latvia, while Greens And Farmers Union party member Iveta Grigule said relations with Central Asia were important without elaborating in any detail.

British UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall savaged Latvia's presidential ambitions, saying the country was "A microcosm of all that is wrong with the EU," citing depopulation, brain drain, poverty, and migration, saying that 1 in 30 Latvians now lives in the United Kingdom.

But the most notable intervention came from Dutch MEP Sophie In't Veld. After warning that Presidencies tend to be matters of much talk and little action she also requested the Latvian Presidency to work on a Europe-wide civil rights law for EU citizens "in response to homophobic and derogatory remarks [made by the] President of Latvia," referring to a recent interview President Berzins gave.

However, proceedings ended on a high note with EU Commissioner Franz Timmermans recalling a visit he made to Riga 24 years ago as Latvia struggled for its independence:

Violence was used in the streets of Riga – I was there, I witnessed it... it is a moment of pride and joy to be standing here today... if you had told me in that cold January in 1991 that this was going to happen in 2015 I would probably have called medical services to have you committed."

The Commission had "full trust" that the Presidency would deliver on its promises, he said.


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