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Tons of homework done for EU Presidency duties

Three months from now Latvia will assume the Presidency of the Council of the EU, both a ceremonial and agenda-setting role that member-states take on a rotating basis roughly every 14 years. This will be Latvia’s first time leading the Union, which is why enormous bureaucratic preparations have long been underway and will only intensify in the coming weeks, reported daily newspaper Diena Thursday.

However, the State Audit agency warned Thursday that the budget resources allocated for gearing up to the Presidency this year and assuming it next year are at more risk of being squandered illegally, inefficiently or for unrelated purposes than before, information agency LETA reported.

In overseeing the audit of the 2013 state budget, State Audit concluded that €276,546 of monies granted by the EU Council have been spent against the law and principles of effective economic management.

Out of 14 sectors concerned, 9 have been cited for spending Presidency funds on unrelated cost items, in some cases up to 33% of the entire provided financing.

The Agriculture and Health ministries were the least-effective of the state institutions preparing for the EU Presidency, while the Defense, Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries were at least 99% fiscally focused on the huge preparations task at hand.

Latvia’s performance as leader of the multinational union will depend on the professionalism and readiness of the thousands of civil servants that will implement and coordinate with EU institutions.

Inga Skujiņa, deputy state secretary for the Foreign Affairs Ministry told Diena that the “homework” for the practical side of the Presidency is mostly done.

“Finally we’re able to harmonize processes with the new European Parliament and hope the same will be said for the European Commission,” she said.

“It’s one thing to come to Brussels, leaf through some paperwork and enjoy somebody else’s prepared program free of stress, but completely another story when you have to be on the other side, make the opening statements when every move you make is being watched.”

The greatest burdens during the Presidency are incumbent on the Foreign Ministry, particularly the minister. The soon-to-be elected 12th Saeima, after a majority coalition can approve the next government, will have the responsibility of accepting the right person for this job.

The costs for leading the Council of the EU range into eight-digit figures. So far in the two years leading up to Latvia’s looming Presidency, more than €7m have already been spent. Altogether €34m are allocated in next year’s state budget for events and programs taking place in Riga, while the EU Council pays for most all events and programs taking place in Brussels and Luxembourg.

Private firms are urged to donate to Latvia’s Presidency of the Council of the EU as well, because the reputational and other benefits of visibly supporting the nation that will be “at the center of Europe’s attention” for the first-half of 2015 should be obvious. For instance, the BMW auto dealership has already announced a gift of 218 vehicles to provide the fleet needed for running the Presidency.

As reported, the National Library building will host most of the central events, thus serving as one of the Presidency’s prime symbolic sites.

On her part, Marta Rībele of the European Parliament’s Information Office in Latvia told Diena she hopes the people of Latvia will have a better understanding about how to affect the EU’s legislative process after the Presidency is concluded.

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