Global Independent Analytics
Normunds Grostins
Normunds Grostins

Location: Latvia

Specialization: Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

Eurocritical Republic of Latvia

Since EU accession in 2004, Latvia has ranked as one of most eurocritical EU member states.

Let's take a look why Latvia is so eurocritical and what developments we can expect.

In Latvia decision to join European Union was formally approved by referendum. Campaign funding for YES side (paid by state) was not only larger than funding available to NO side. Campaign funding was 120:1 in favor for YES side. Referendum results were 2:1 in favor of joining the European Union. As a NO side leader during referendum campaign, all time since referendum I’ve been constantly told by people the same story: "I voted against joining EU and I do not know anybody, a single person who voted YES. How was it possible, that according to official referendum results majority voted in favor of joining the EU?"

Whatever the ballot counting methods applied by government were, according to Latvia's Election and referendum law, original voting documents are destroyed 10 days after results are declared legal. Blindly and without proper discussion accepting  proposed conditions of EU Accession Treaty, resulted for Latvia in receiving two times smaller EU funds per capita, comparing for example with Poland. EU demanded to impose value added tax on heating, food for infants and medicine. Agricultural subsidies received were lowest in the whole European Union.

In twelve years since accession referendum, the euro-propaganda arguments in Latvia still are basically the same manipulations which were initially used during EU accession process:  if we do not join EU/obey every demand made by Brussels... than Russia will come and eat us. 

Or: if we do not accept refugee quotas, we'll be isolated. Than Russia will come and... you know.

Or: If NO side wins the EU accession referendum, tomorrow Russian army will be in Riga (this argument was used by the Prime Minister of Latvia one day before referendum).

Or: Latvia's national currency is small boat, and because of that we should join big ship (Eurozone). By the way, the counterargument for the latest was the name of big Eurozone ship - eurosceptics argued, that correct name for that big ship is "Titanic".

By ordinary people and experts, the euro changeover is often compared to Latvia’s situation in the Soviet Union.  In the Soviet times, Latvia also had its own flag, its own constitution, its own parliament, its own anthem. But of course, this was only an illusion of independence and sovereignty. During the Soviet regime, Latvia didn't have its own currency. What is different is that Soviet ruble had text in Latvian language on its notes, but euro notes don't contain even that minor polite gesture towards national feelings and sentiments of the small Baltic nation. 

Latvia joined Eurozone on January 1, 2014 without referendum, with large majority of population in opinion polls showing no support for it or directly opposing this step. 50 per cent of Latvians still opposed the transition from lats (national currency) to euro at the end of 2013, a survey conducted by the Latvian research company SKDS showed. Only 25 per cent answered that they were in favor of joining Eurozone.

Now payments made by Latvia are used to bailout Greece and stabilize Eurozone. That ongoing contribution means fast additional increase of Latvia's foreign debt by hundreds of millions of euros. Now Latvia is borrowing significant funds just to give them to bailout Greece and stabilize Eurozone.

External debt in Latvia averaged 16236 million of euros from 1995 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 35496 million in the first quarter of 2015.  It started from a record low of 825,57 million in the fourth quarter of 1995. Please pay attention: 1995 is when EU accession process started.

Currently we don't hear so much about euro, because immigration crisis is taking media headlines. But problems in Eurozone continue to grow and soon enough Greece in need of bailout will be joined by Portugal, Spain or Italy.

During European Union's  sugar  policy reform, imposed production quotas lead to closure of both sugar factories in Latvia, so contributing to the country’s negative trade balance. Latvia has maintained large negative trade balance with European Union every year since 1995.  During the last years negative trade balance of Latvia has been stabilized slightly over minus three billion euros per year.

Given all facts mentioned, how do the pro-EU parties manage to keep Latvia's eurosceptics out of both the national parliament and European Parliament? While, for example, Denmark elected first eurosceptical members of European Parliament as early as in 1979.

All Latvia's mainstream parliamentary political parties, both parties representing Latvian voters or Russian-speaking minority, supported joining the European Union. Taking into account widespread popularity of eurocritical ideas, during election campaigns they often pretend to be rather eurocritical on some obviously negative impacts of EU membership. But in real life they never do anything this way. Whatever eurocritical rhetoric pro-EU parties use during election campaigns, when they vote about accepting Lisbon treaty, joining Eurzone or accepting EU-dictated immigration quotas, every parliamentary party  - no matter whether it is based on Latvian or Russian-speaking electorate, left wing or right wing - every parliamentary party voted in favor of everything proposed by Brussels. This is huge difference both from Scandinavia and even from Eastern European Visegrad group states.

But what about eurosceptical parties in Latvia? Do they exist at all? So far political party "Euroscepics" (founded in 1998) scored 1% of the votes in European Parliament elections in 2004. A year later center-left eurocritical coalition "Dzimtene" (Fatherland), including abovementioned party "Eurosceptics", scored 11,5 percent in the capital city of Riga’s municipal elections. But after that breakthrough mainstream pro-EU parties managed to keep eurosceptics below 5 per cent barrier for impressive 10 years. Worth to mention that eurocritical movement despite of being not represented at parliamentary level, was active in both Russian- and Latvian-speaking media of the country.

This situation started to change after huge success of eurocritical parties in elections to the European Parliament in 2014. Despite the fact that not one eurocritical candidate was elected from Latvia itself, eurocritical movement in Latvia since 2014 benefits from cooperation with stronger European eurocritical parties. Abovementioned party "Eurosceptics" has changed its name to Rīcības partija (Party of Action) and successfully cooperates with parliamentary eurocritical parties from Austria, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK.

Party of Action has recently organized successful anti-immigration protests in capital city of Riga, has huge influx of new party members and now has active branches in all largest cities of Latvia. So it is quite reasonable to expect that municipal elections in 2017 will again bring in some eurocritical members first at municipal level and than this political trend will continue to national parliament at its elections in 2018. Followed than by 2019 elections to the European Parliament. 

Pro-European parties and their policies are losing ground in Latvia and upcoming elections will definitely bring huge changes to the country’s political landscape. So as we see there is one positive effect of EU membership. It is increasing  cooperation between eurocritical political forces all over Europe.

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