23/01/2014 Foreign Affairs debate in Latvian parliament

Intervention by Atis Lejiņš, MP

“After meetings with NGO representatives were held by both the European Affairs and Foreign Affairs committees, one must conclude that the Report by the Foreign Minister is getting better each year. This is heartening, since foreign policy must be anchored in society. I will return to this self-evident truth at the end of my intervention.

In our every day rush and the building of the new coalition we could easily forget that only a year ago, when we debated the previous Foreign Minister’s Report, we were faced with a real war threat between the USA and Iran. Then I allowed a 50% chance that war could break out.

If war had broken out, how would our rapid economic growth look now? Gasoline prices would have shot up to four lats, that is, close to six euros! One can only guess what the nature of our debate would be today…

A diplomatic solution was achieved instead. An interim agreement for six months was reached with Iran and the implementation plan was put into effect three days ago.

Here we see the success of our foreign policy working together with the other EU member states. The negotiations were led by the Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy High Representative, speaking for all 28 EU member states. That is power. At the negotiating table with Iran three EU great powers Great Britain, France and Germany were represented together with three more permanent members of the UN Security Council, the USA, China and Russia. This format is called E+3+3.

The European Affairs Committee of the Saeima discussed and mandated Foreign Minister Mr. Rinkevics on several occasions to present Latvia’ s position on Iran before he participated in the EU’ s Foreign Council meetings in order to find a common policy on Iran.

The diplomatic process will continue until a comprehensive agreement will be reached which will allow Iran to produce atomic energy for  civilian purposes only. Subsequently Iran will be able to sell its oil and gas freely on the world market. Needless to say, Iran has no shortage of these raw materials.

One must note, however, that there are two powerful states that are resisting the interim agreement, mainly, Israel and Saudi Arabia. It is also not clear how far Iran is ready to go in arriving at a compromise.

There is one more piece of good news. It seems that talks for the establishment of the Palestine state next to Israel have moved forward. This is not only thanks to the USA. The EU can also credit itself with some points in pushing forward a resolution to a half-century – in fact, now more than half-a-century – long conflict.

Unfortunately, there is also bad news. The sudden turn of Ukraine to the east compels us to remember the “Clash of Civilizations” theses which were put forth by Samuel Huntington some twenty years ago. That is, about the geopolitical fault-line that stretches from Finland’ s eastern border down along our eastern border to the Adriatic sea dividing the west from the east.

This border was drawn already in the 14th century and has changed little since then. The big question now is if Ukraine can shift this fault-line beyond its eastern border. Does the Free Trade Agreement, which wasn’t signed in Vilnius, show that Ukraine is unable to do this because Russia will not  allow it?

Russia has shown that it can do whatever it takes in order to safeguard “her” geopolitical space, but the EU does not quite feel up to take part in such a naked  power game. The EU’ s approach is based on values, talks, agreements reached. It cannot hand out money not knowing where it ends up in the final analysis. We all know that the free trade agreement with the EU would have saved Ukraine half-a-billion euros annually.

It seems to me that the dramatic events in Ukraine will demand much more attention from us than we have been paying until now for the simple reason that they impact us directly and that at least half of Ukraine’ s population look more to the west than the east.

In conclusion, as I mentioned in the beginning, I will quote the first sentence in the Foreign Minister’ s Report:

“Latvia’s foreign policy goals are to guarantee the security and stability of the state, and in shaping international preconditions for Latvia’s economic growth and the well-being of its inhabitants.”

But how can we achieve this if our governments cannot work longer than two years and two months?

Our large diaspora will by now have noted that in the west coalitions, in spite of internal arguments, mostly last until the next elections. This will have been noted also by the voters here in Latvia.

We have been fortunate that we have had a prime minister who, despite changing governments, has nevertheless presented a positive international image of Latvia among our allies and has cultivated good personal contacts with countries such as Germany and Poland.

We cannot set goals in our foreign policy after which with frequent government changes we ourselves put up barriers against reaching these goals.

We ourselves, one hundred MP’s, are most likely responsible for such a situation.”