Latvia and its membership in the European Union
In March 1993, the EU began trade and commercial economic negotiations with Latvia
In order for Latvia to enter the EU, it needed to illustrate that it could meet the obligations of membership. Latvia created a schedule identifying when it would meet certain steps necessary for accession. Some of the objectives included elimination of its tariffs and quantitative trade restrictions for all goods. Latvia needed to open public procurement markets and liberalize its fisheries.
In the mid-1990s, Latvia received large amounts of funding to support its transition from democracy and market economy. Most of the funds supported institution building, which aimed to strengthen public administration and institutions. In 1995, Latvia officially applied for EU membership.
In 2003, the European Parliament signed the Accession Treaty at Athens, and Latvia entered the EU in 2004.
Latvia has 9 members represented in the EU Parliament. It has 4 votes in the Council of Ministers. In a number of sectors, Latvia has been provided special transitional periods in order to completely harmonize with EU standards. The EU continues to closely monitor these transition periods.
In 1992, Latvia first received funding under Poland and Hungary Assistance for Restructuring of their Economies (PHARE). The PHARE initially began as a means to assist Central European countries in their transition to market-based economies and democracies. By 1997, Latvia created new departments within its Ministry of Finance to decentralize the finance industry, which was an essential preliminary step towards accession. Because Latvia’s markets had formerly been controlled, Latvia needed to illustrate its ability to decentralize its bank and finance institutions.
Funding through the Instrument for Structured Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA) began in 2000. ISPA financed major environment and transport infrastructure projects. Financial assistance was granted for environmental projects, which enabled Latvia to comply with the requirements of the EU’s community-based environmental laws. ISPA financed transportation infrastructure initiatives that promoted sustainable mobility.
The Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development (SAPARD) assisted in the harmonization of the EU’s agricultural policy and in identifying agricultural and rural sector problems. SAPARD supervised the improvement of the competitiveness of the Latvian agricultural sector, focusing on environmental protection, and enhanced the adaptation capabilities of rural areas. Some projects financed included investment in agricultural holdings, improvement of agricultural and fisheries products, financing and marketing, development and diversification of economic activities providing alternative income, improvement of general infrastructure and environmentally friendly agriculture methods.
Public Opinion and Awareness
The Latvian referendum on EU accession was held in 2003. Of those who participated in the referendum, 69% voted in favor of Latvia joining the EU. Before the referendum, Latvia launched a public awareness campaign through town meetings and public debates. One of Latvia’s most unique tactics was its launching of a reality TV show, which aired for several weeks in the country before the referendum. The reality program focused on eight Latvian individuals from different professions and social groups. The reality “stars” included a waiter, a German language teacher at a Russian school, a farmer, an agriculturalist, two pensioners and two businessmen. The program was a very large success and attracted many viewers.
Latvia also opened the Eurolibrary, which offers more than 2,100 publications on different EU-related subjects. The Eurolibrary contains all EU legislation, a number of periodicals and multiple magazines that focus on the EU. Latvia has also launched a program designed to educate young people. The targeted audience is between 15 and 25 years old. The program promotes youth exchange programs with other EU countries. Also, the program works to promote democracy and independence of young people.
Political system: Republic
Capital city: Riga
Total area: 65 000 km²
Population: 2.3 million
Official EU language: Latvian
Latvia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Situated on the Baltic coast, Latvia is a low-lying country with large forests that supply timber for construction and paper industries. The environment is rich in wildlife. Latvia also produces consumer goods, textiles and machine tools. The country attracts tourists from all over Europe.
Ethnically, the population is 59% Latvian and 29% Russian, and more than a third live in the capital Riga. Founded in 1201, Riga is the largest city in the three Baltic states with a population of 730 000. Its Freedom Statue is one of the highest monuments in Europe, at 43 metres.
The 100-seat unicameral Latvian Parliament, the Saeima , is elected by direct, popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Parliament, also every four years.
Among the best-known Latvians are the expressionist painter Mark Rothko and the contemporary composer Peteris Vasks.
Characteristic specialities of Latvian cuisine are speķapīrādziņi (bacon pies) and a refreshing, cold sour cream soup.