(From BBC Monitoring International Reports)
Latvia's ability to influence events in the European Union will depend entirely on the country's own efforts, the deputy state secretary of the Latvian Foreign Ministry has said. In a newspaper interview, Andris Kesteris also said that Latvia will have chances to form alliances with other countries on the basis of various factors - size, geography, poverty and so forth, in pursuit of its own aims. The following is the text of the interview conducted by Voldemars Krustins, Juris Lorencs and Aija Calite, entitled "It is not a game called `Latvia versus the EU'" and published in the Latvian newspaper Lauku Avize on 29 May; subheadings inserted editorially:
In order to find out whether Latvia will be able to preserve its sovereignty in the European Union and whether the sovereignty will be more than just a formality if our small country is represented by a proportionally small number of people at the most important decision-making institutions there, we asked the deputy state secretary of the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Andris Kesteris, to grant us an interview. Journalists Voldemars Krustins, Juris Lorencs and Aija Calite spoke with him.
[Correspondent] One of the most important issues which applies to everyone in Latvia, not just to individual groups, is the question of our country's sovereignty. People are saying that we escaped one union and are now in a rush to join another. There are arguments in support of these fears. The president of the European Convention, [Valery] Giscard d'Estaing, has been talking about the establishment of the "United States of Europe". Another reason is that we are constantly being told by the opposition that "through Europe we will force you to do this and that, in the end we will force you to accept the zero option for citizenship [meaning the automatic granting of citizenship to everyone who is a resident of the country at a specific period in time]". All of this suggests that our state's independent decision-making rights are being limited. How can we explain the true situation? Perhaps you have arguments to demonstrate that these doubts are not justified?
[Kesteris] I also think that despite all of the benefits which the EU is promising, the matter which brings everyone together and the question to which we must all respond is the question of our country's sovereignty. My formulation of the question is this: Will Latvia will be stronger or weaker in the EU? My answer: Latvia will be stronger. It will have much greater weight in Europe, both in terms of third party countries which are outside of the EU - Russia first and foremost. Let me cite an example. In January, Mrs [Sandra] Kalniete [the Latvian foreign minister] wrote a letter to the EU's external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, about the problems in Ventspils [a Latvian port town which is being boycotted by Russian oil exporters for what Latvia considers to be purely political reasons]. That is not the first time that we have approached the EU institutions on those cases when Russia seeks to politicize economic relations. No response had been received before, but this time we were very surprised to receive a letter from the commissioner in which he promised to bring up the issue of Ventspils in ongoing dialogue between the EU and Russia. Why such changes? We had concluded membership negotiations with the EU in December, there were no more external obstacles against our becoming a member country. The EU, for its part, does not allow attacks against its member states on issues which relate to the common market. This time we gained a very real understanding that even before our accession to the EU, we had taken on a whole new weight category.
The second question focuses on our weight within the EU itself. The issue …