The Latvian Presidency

At the start of the year Italy handed over the rotating Presidency of the European Council to Latvia, which holds the role for the first time, having joined the EU in 2004.

Overshadowed by recent events in Paris and concerns about the economy, the Latvian Presidency will have to focus on foreign policy and growth, relegating other areas such as agriculture and environment to the margins.

The new Presidency’s priorities are very much in line with those of the European Commission: enhancing competitiveness, digitization of the economy and reinforcing the role of the EU on the global stage. Nonetheless the well-being and safety of EU citizens is a common thread across those three main priorities.

At the same time, the Latvian Presidency will have to deal with the new, more politicized Commission and a more bitterly divided Parliament.

A Presidency agenda overshadowed by security concerns

Latvia’s Foreign Policy agenda with regards to security is expected to overshadow other key priorities included in the Presidency’s work programme. In this regard, external aspects of counter-terrorism where the Presidency may address the issues of foreign fighters, the financing of terrorism, radicalization and recruitment for terrorism will most likely take centre stage.

For its part, the EU internal affairs agenda will also be disrupted by the recent developments in Paris. Key issues will consequently revolve around the finalization of the legislative framework to protect the financial system against money laundering and terrorist financing, the Network and Information Security (NIS) Directive and the Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive.

Growth still high on the Presidency agenda

Latvia’s three priorities aim overall at sustaining the continent’s growth. The Presidency therefore places trade, financial services, competitiveness, the digital single market and energy high on its agenda.

Concrete outcomes are likely to happen in trade negotiations, in particular with respect to the conclusion of a trade deal with Vietnam. The Presidency may also be willing to push for negotiations to make progress with regards to the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) although no deal is expected to be brokered before next year.

Regarding Economic and Financial Affairs, a number of measures are expected to be implemented by the Presidency, including the European Fund for Strategic Investment, the Stability and Growth Pact, the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure, Banking Union Mechanisms, the Revised Payments Services Directive, the MFF revision, and amendments to the budget for 2015.

The Latvian Presidency also stresses the need for enhanced competitiveness across the EU in order to revive growth. While the Presidency calls for better industrial competitiveness, no implementing measures are expressly mentioned to support its stance. However, improvements are possible in the financing of SMEs as well as in the intellectual property field, especially with regards to the finalization of the negotiations on the trademark package.

Latvia aims at fostering the Digital Single Market as another means to unlock growth in the EU, with a high priority set on the timely delivery of an agreement with the European Parliament on the NIS Directive proposal, the proposal for a single market for electronic communications a connected continent (TSM) and the delivery of a programme on interoperability solutions for European public administrations, businesses and citizens (ISA).

Energy will be a major area of focus for the Latvian Presidency, commencing with the delivery of a definition for the Energy Union by the first quarter of 2015 and the development of a subsequent implementation plan. The Presidency would also like to make progress toward completing the internal energy market by asking the Commission to provide monitoring data on the recently adopted PCIs, implementing network codes and accompanying measures on the retail market.

To emphasize these priorities, the Latvian Presidency will host a various set of events, most important of which are the Innovation Enterprise Week, the Digital Assembly and the annual eHealth week.

Traditionally emphasised areas out of spotlight

Sidelined from Latvia’s top priorities are Agriculture, Health, Education, Culture and Sports, Transport, and the Environment (although the latter two in particular will nevertheless see plenty of activity, regardless).

As regards Transport results may be reached as regards the technical pillar of the 4th Railway Package and the development, implementation and financing of key Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) projects.

On the environmental chapter, the Presidency may mainly deal with the legislative proposal on the Market Stability Reserve for the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) and the proposal on Medium Combustion Plants. The international agenda is rather busy: the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris and the entry into force of the Minamata Convention on Mercury will be major areas of activity for the Presidency.

The Presidency may also examine the review of the Regulation on Organic Farming in light of simplification of administrative procedures and safeguarding of quality. Other subjects of interest will be animal health, official controls along the food chain, novel foods and caseins.

Finally, in order to support the ongoing work on animal health, there will be an event of interest held in Riga on the need for increased biosecurity.

An ambitious Presidency

The implementation of the Commission’s investment plan and measures to fight terrorism will be particularly urgent matters that could involve lively discussions within the EU Council.

Unlike the Italian Presidency, hamstrung by the re-election of the Commission and domestic politics, Latvia, with an economy that has been on a straight path to recovery with one of the EU’s fastest growth rates, should be able to commit itself at the EU level without being distracted by domestic concerns.

Although coordinating the work of the EU Council will be for the Latvian government and is always more challenging for small countries, new members of the EU are usually very keen on delivering significant results as Lithuania and Poland did during their respective presidencies.

With its priorities closely attuned to those of the new Commission, and an ambitious work programme, the Latvian Presidency can be expected to deliver more.