IPN News Agency interview with Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis
You recently made an official visit to Chisinau. The visits of such a level cannot be paid without certain special reasons. Have problems that cannot be solved in working regime accumulated or new prospects appeared that required a tête-à-tête meeting?
I can say with pleasure and satisfaction that there are no problematic matters in the Latvian-Moldovan relations, which would create a negative background to the bilateral relations. The major goal of my visit to Chisinau was to transmit our support for Moldova’s European integration course. By this visit, Latvia wants to show its political support for the efforts made by Moldova to come closer to the EU and to justly appreciate your state’s accomplishments in the field of reforms.
Besides, within the visit we examined definite cooperation directions between the two countries, especially in passing on our European integration experience that I hope will help you to achieve the goal you set – to have more intense cooperation relations with the European Union. The official delegation consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environment Protection and Regional Development that already had efficient cooperation and experience exchange. The delegation also included the head of the Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau Iaroslav Strelcionok, who had a meeting with his Moldovan counterpart and discussed the cooperation prospects between the two institutions. For example, the Latvian Bureau already shared its experience in controlling the spending of political parties within the cooperation with the State Audit Bureau of Georgia. I think this positive experience can be of interest to the Moldovan colleagues.
What issues did you discuss with Moldovan officials in public meetings and what other subjects did you raise behind closed-door meetings, if there were such?
Special attention in the meetings with Moldovan officials was paid to the intensification of economic cooperation between the two countries. Though trade between Latvia and Moldova increased over the last few years, it is evident that there is economic potential that should be developed in the interests of the two countries. One of the mechanisms for developing the economic-commercial cooperation is the Latvian-Moldovan commission for economic, industrial, and technical-scientific cooperation. In a recent meeting of the intergovernmental commission held in Riga on February 6, 2013, it was decided to develop cooperation in such areas with prospects as trade in agricultural and food products, construction and transportation, information technology, and energy efficiency.
It is clear why a large number of Latvian entrepreneurs accompanied the official delegation to Chisinau. The delegation of businessmen included about 30 entrepreneurs who already have experience of cooperating with Moldovan partners or plan to establish cooperation relations. They represented different areas of the national economy, including car building, electronics, construction, pharmaceutics, and food industry. A business forum involving representatives of business circles from the two countries took place on February 20. I hope that this event will represent a stimulus for strengthening the economic-commercial cooperation between Latvia and Moldova.
How would you characterize the current stage of the Moldovan-Latvian relations? How do they develop?
If characterizing the bilateral relations in a few words, I would say that they are very good, are open and have developed dynamically, especially over the last few years. A confirmation of this fact is the active political contacts between the representatives of our states. Last year, Latvia was visited by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration and by representatives of the Parliament of Moldova. Also last year, the Latvian Minister of Environment Protection and Regional Development paid a visit to Moldova. The fact that a parliamentary group of cooperation with the Parliament of Moldova was constituted in the Saeim (Latvia’s legislative body) is very important. In order to show the important place occupied by Moldova in Latvia’s foreign policy, the Chancellery of the Embassy of Latvia started work in Chisinau in April 2012. I think we should develop our relations in this direction in the future.
One of your diplomats told IPN in an interview last year that the Government of Latvia chose Moldova as a top priority. Can you elaborate on this? This option may cost you rather dear in the conditions of a tight budget and the general crisis that affected your country too?
I want to emphasize that Moldova is one of Latvia’s foreign policy priorities in the context of the Eastern Partnership initiative. Latvia takes an active part in the realization of the Eastern Partnership as this region (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) is in our immediate vicinity. Besides, Latvia has historical relations with these countries. We are sincerely interested in having democracy, peace and welfare in this region.
Moldova, which made considerable progress in democratizing society and in the area of internal reforms and visibly intensified the relations with the EU, is considered today a success story within the Eastern Partnership. Indisputably, Moldova’s achievements should be justly appreciated by Moldova’s partners, first of all by the European Union. In this connection, Latvia actively supported and will continue to support Moldova so that it signs the Association Agreement that also ensures deep and comprehensive free trade. We hope that by the Eastern Partnership Summit that will take place in Vilnius in November, Moldova and the EU will manage to close the negotiations on the Association Agreement so that this document could be signed in the near future. We also assist Moldova in obtaining a liberalized visa regime with the European Union.
What are the main areas of the Moldovan-Latvian cooperation and of the Latvian assistance, and why? Are you more powerful in these areas or we need assistance more?
Over the last eight years, Moldova successfully implemented different projects to the value of €1.4 million with the support of Latvia. As regards the spheres where these projects were implemented, they are rather diverse. Surely, when choosing the projects, we took into account the Moldovan side’s wishes. Among the successful projects implemented in Moldova in 2005-2009 are the transferring of our experience in securing the state border, implementing the EU veterinary standards and quality standards for food products, doing reforms in the area of self-management, and the supporting of civil society in Moldova. Especially successful and useful can be considered the projects within which the Border Service of Latvia passed on its experience in developing canine culture and in monitoring persons who arrived in the country to their Moldovan colleagues. Last year, Latvia, in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European partners, implemented two projects in Moldova: in the area of justice reform and in the area of regional development. Latvia intends to continue the two projects this year.
You can be justly named the Premier of the periods of political crisis because you kept the position after the three parliamentary elections held in your country in 2009-2011. The early elections all over the world are held as a result of political crises. Even if only two early legislative elections took place in Moldova after 2009, this period was marked if not by the political crisis, at least by permanent bitter political confrontations inside the ruling alliance and between the power and the parliamentary opposition. What lessons can Moldova learn from the relevant experience of your country?
The main reason for the dissolution of the Parliament of Latvia in 2011 that was followed by early elections was the excessive influence of several rich people with close relations between them, so-called oligarchs, on the political process. These were the first early elections that took place in Latvia ever. As a result of them, the oligarchs lost a considerable part of their political influence. If speaking about lessons, each country is unique and the experience of one state cannot be fully put into practice by another state. At the same time, I think everything depends on the voters’ will and their decision who should represent their interests in the state institutions. The larger the number of demands the voters have towards the politicians, the harder they will work in order to meet voters’ expectations and to keep their support.
You are a recognized expert in saving resources and optimizing their use. They say you have saved several million euros for the European Parliament earlier. How and where can Moldova save time and resources for hastening the country’s modernization and improving the living standards? How useful can Latvia’s experience in this respect be?
I think the greatest attention should be devoted to the process of concentrating the resources in the most important fields. In Latvia, this is an evident fact. After the restoration of independence, there was a consensus in our country according to which Latvia’s integration into the EU and NATO was the only possibility of securing our future. Therefore, most of the available resources were used to achieve the given goal. As to Latvia’s experience in the area of European integration, I think that one of the decisive aspects was our decision and the broad social consensus on this issue. It is important that the Government and civil society make progress in achieving the set objective.
Besides, a lesson that can be learned from Latvia’s experience is the need to maintain the capacity to critically treat the situation and not to lose the head when the economic development is too fast. For the economies of such small countries like Latvia and Moldova, this can create serious problems like those that we experienced in 2008 – 2009. In order to avoid such situations, society and the nongovernmental sector must demand that the Government promote rational and balanced fiscal polices.
What priorities did your country have and what vulnerable points existed (if they existed) on the path to European integration? What area Moldova’s chances, with all its strong and weak points, of succeeding on this path?
I will repeat: Moldova made significant progress during the last few years. My opinion is that your country’s current accomplishments are due to the will expressed rather clearly and the sincere wish of the political elite and Moldovan society in general to become part of the EU. Moldova’s wish to integrate into the EU as closer as possible shows that your society shares the values that are fundamental for the European Union, namely democracy and the respect for the human rights.
I wish you to continue the reforms initiated in a concerted way so that the EU’s values are implemented in Moldova. In this connection, special attention should be paid to the principles of autonomy of the judicial power and the rule of law. An expression can be read on the wall of the meeting hall of the Latvian Government, which explicitly characterizes the principle of the rule of law: "A law and a truth for everyone". It is important that this principle woks not only in theory, but also in life so that the law is applied equally for everyone, without exception.
Unquestionably, an important criterion in implementing the EU values is the observance of the freedom of expression that guarantees the right of the political opponents or the opposition to state their opinion on topical problems through the media and to familiarize society with it. I consider that Moldova should more actively continue work in this respect as this will surely have a positive effect on the relations between Moldova and the EU.
Moldova and Latvia form part of the area where Russia plays a very important role in the regional policy, enjoying the support of a large number of Russian ethnics and Russian speakers in pursuing its goals. How do you manage to keep a balance between the political interests of your country and the economic interests that imply a high level of economic cooperation? What can we learn from each other in this respect?
In a few words, our objective is to establish and maintain constructive relations with the neighboring countries, based on mutually advantageous cooperation. It is evident that it is easier to achieve this goal with some of the states. Though the EU member states account for about 70% of the volume of foreign trade, Russia for us is also an important commercial partner, with which we want to cooperate. As regards the situation of the Russian community in Latvia, I think we must continue to develop common values and identity for all the ethnical communities. The Russian community, as the Ukrainian, Polish, Belarusian, Estonian and Lithuanian communities in Latvia, is an inalienable part of our state. But we must strengthen our common foundations, like for example the understanding of our common history, values and identity.
Your recent visit to Moldova took place amid the political crisis related to the relations between the ruling parties. Did you consider postponing the visit ore even canceling it? But I have one more important question I want to put to you: To what extent can this crisis that is possibly the most serious ever influence Moldova’s European course?
Latvia’s experience shows that the efforts made by the Government to implement reforms is very important in the European integration process. It is important that regardless of the divergence on certain issues, the coalition partners should not allow the subsequent misunderstandings to have a negative influence on the reforms and on the progress made by Moldova on the path to European integration. That’s why I can only voice hope that the coalition partners will manage to cope with the difficulties, will ensure stability and will continue the initiated reforms.
It is important that when following this path they should understand that the efficient communication with society is a component part of the success in the European integration. The people should be explained the necessity of the reforms implemented in the country in an accessible and convincing language and what advantages they will obtain from them and from the European integration in general.