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Passing the Baltic Litmus Test

Artikel i lettiska tidningen Diena

Few thought it would ever happen – and we need to remind ourselves that it hasn’t yet happened. I’m thinking – of course – as Latvia along with Estonia and Lithuania as full members of both the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance. A decade ago, Latvia was still in a precarious situation. There were very substantial ex-Soviet military forces in the country. We all knew about the plots and dreams of reactionaries wanting to turn the clock back. There were serious disagreements among Latvians on the attitude towards the Russians living in the country. In Washington, relations with Moscow were more important than anything else. And in most European capitals, the situation of the three Baltic countries was not an issue high up on the agenda. But some of us saw the question of the three Baltic states as “the litmus test” of the new Europe we were seeking to build. If Russia wholly and fully accepted the independence of these countries, and if they were wholly and fully accepted in the western – Atlantic as well as European – systems of integration, we would have secured stability not the least in the important relations between Russia and the rest of Europe. And gradually, others come around to this position as well. Today, everyone seems to share an opinion that a decade ago was shared by only very few outside the borders of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. What paved the way for this? Decisive was the reform process in Latvia and the other Baltic states. On many economic issues, it was inspired and driven by the process of rapprochement with the European Union. On the crucially important issues of human rights, multi-national integration and citizenship, the fact that Latvia and Estonia were striving to adhere to the high European standards defined by the OSCE was of decisive importance. Had they failed in this, everything else would have failed as well. But important was also the progress of reforms in Russia. Yesterday, there were dark threats concerning the consequences of any enlargement of NATO, and particularly to include the Baltic states. Today, one can hear spokesmen for the Kremlin saying that the enlargement to include the Baltic states is likely to improve relations between them and Russia. Cooperation with the West – the European Union, NATO and the United States – has developed into one of the firmest of the pillars of the foreign policy of Russia. In view of the other problems the country faces, there simply isn’t any alternative. Now, Latvia has been invited to join NATO, and in Copenhagen one would hope that the accession negotiations with the European Union will be concluded. That does not mean that everything is decided. There follows a negotiation with NATO as well as a lengthy process of ratification in both the EU and the NATO parliaments during which the performance of Latvia will be closely watched. Parliamentarians and governments of no less than 24 nations in Europe and North America will watch and assess the performance of Latvia and other countries during these important months. But if this is fully recognized, on May 1st 2004 there is a very good possibility that Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania will enter both NATO and the EU. In June of that year, you will elect your own members of the European Parliament and then be part of the building of the new federation of nation states of Europe - in a close security alliance with the United States and in an evolving relationship with the Russian Federation. Then, we will all truly have passed the litmus test. Then, your agenda will change. Then, your task will be to create the most favourable conditions possible for economic and social development in order to gradually close the gap with the nations of Western Europe. This generation of political leaders of Latvia will by their actions decide if the next generations of Latvians will live in a country rapidly approaching the levels of other EU countries, or whether the country will be locked at a level half the one in these countries. This will not come by itself. It will require the creation of a truly corruption-free and truly competitive climate for domestic as well as foreign investors. Everyone knows that there is a lot that needs to be done in both these respects. Administrative and judicial systems must be continually improved. And you must develop the big advantage you have in your closeness to Russia and the fact that more than a million persons of Russian nationality will now become citizens of the European Union. Firmly anchored in the West of Europe, Latvia has a unique possibility to be a bridge also to the East of the continent. Throughout Europe, we are faced with the different issues that arise when different nationalities, cultures and traditions are living together. The situation of Latvia is uniquely important in these respects. The country has suffered not only from political and military but also demographic occupation during half a century. But it has also – with the city of Riga as the centre and symbol – a proud tradition of nations and cultures working together in trade and culture during past centuries. This has always been the foundation of the greatness of Riga, and thus also of much of Latvia. Latvia thus has the possibility of becoming a true model of cooperation between nationalities in a Europe that will need far more of this in the decades to come. The appointment of Nils Muiznieks is an important recognition of the importance of the tasks that still lie ahead in this field. Here, Latvia can becoming a true model for the rest of Europe, thus strengthening its position in both NATO and the European Union. Those of us that supported you in your struggle for independence, and that tried to help to open the doors of Europe and the West to you, are proud that you are now close to becoming our true partners in our common quest for peace and prosperity in all of Europe.

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