Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Priorities of Latvian Presidency of European Council: Latvian Ambassador to Ireland
I welcome the ambassador and wish Latvia well in its EU presidency. The ambassador said in his speech earlier that the Latvian Presidency will be focused on jobs and growth. Ireland's EU Presidency was also focused on jobs and growth, but unfortunately unemployment, specifically youth unemployment, is a significant problem not only in Ireland but right across Europe. A €300 billion investment package has been announced by the European Commission, but many see that as one leg of the stool. Does Latvia see the area of youth employment as a priority for the Presidency?
The question of Greece was touched on earlier. There are a few debates in Europe on how we move forward. Some are pro-austerity and others are pro-stimulus. The Greek Government has called for a debt conference. Would Latvia see that as part of its EU Presidency or would it have a view on that idea of a debt conference and bringing together people, not only the public representatives, but civic society groups and so on that are impacted by debt and poverty and deprivation? Greece is looking for a write-down again. It is outside the EU Presidency, but I am interested in Latvia and where it positions itself in that debate within Europe.
The ambassador said TTIP is one of the priorities. There are huge concerns about this, which we have discussed at this committee and at the European Affairs committee. There are aspects of TTIP with which people are very uncomfortable. Ireland has concerns about the impact on our agricultural and food sectors, whether it is about regulation and deregulation and so on. The big area people are concerned about is investor-state dispute settlement. There is significant concern about it right across Europe. The Commission stated recently that it had received 150,000 replies to its consultation and 145,000 related to opposition to this matter. The ambassador says he wants to push ahead with the negotiations, but the concern from civil society and across Europe relates to the secrecy surrounding the negotiations themselves. Are there similar concerns in Latvia on aspects of that agreement - the change in work portfolios, people moving from jobs, trade within countries, within Europe and so on? Are those concerns shared? Some are calling for the suspension rather than the prioritisation of the talks.
The ambassador says Latvia strongly supports the European common security and defence policy and he would like to see enhanced co-operation with NATO and the increased use of training and battle groups. I do not share his enthusiasm. I accept that Latvia has historical reasons for this, and it is a member of NATO, but many of us see NATO as a relic from a previous time. Would the ambassador see the interaction there as complementary rather than competitive? Ireland is not a member of NATO. How do countries like Ireland figure in this closer alignment? Does the ambassador not believe issues like the common security and defence policy, CSDP, are driving some of the scepticism in Europe? Some would say it is an attack on sovereignty. Is CSDP entirely framed in the interests of larger EU countries? I am more concerned about the debate on where we fit into this moving together with NATO, as a neutral country. There are concerns. Latvia is very concerned about the issues in Ukraine, as are others, and the Eastern Partnership. Is there a role for those countries that have decided to stay outside the partnership? The ambassador mentioned people having an independent role and so on. How does he see outreach to those countries, like Armenia and Azerbaijan, that have decided to stay outside the partnership developing?
Is the Presidency thinking in terms of conferences or how is it going to pull that together? Does it favour an increase in military involvement in the Ukraine? Some people say there is still potential even at this late stage with the initiative from France and Germany.
On the European Year for Development 2015 can the ambassador detail any specific plans in this regard? How will the Latvian Presidency advance many of those issues? The ambassador mentioned the implementation of regional co-operation programmes in central Asia and the whole area of drug trafficking. After we returned from Iran some were keen that it should have a relationship with the European Union. Previously the European Union had a relationship with Iran and countries in that region to try to stop the flow of drugs from Afghanistan. Figures were given for the growth of the poppy and it will all end up on our shore. Does the ambassador see the Iranians or other countries in that region as having a role and what can Latvia, during its presidency, do in this area? The Iranians complain that they are not getting support. One of the reasons given for this was the death penalty. We co-operate with other countries around the world, despite the death penalty, as it is flowing straight to Europe.
On the issue of minority languages, I understand there are many minority languages and community groups throughout Europe which the European Union supports. Given the tension with the Latvian and Russian minorities, do the representatives see that as a contradiction in terms of the direction in which the European Union is going?