Increasing security, boosting growth, creating jobs, establishing a digital single market: Latvia will have plenty to do at the helm of the Council presidency the coming six months. Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma discussed her country's priorities during a debate in the European Parliament on 14 January. Some MEPs welcomed plans to focus on passenger name record legislation to improve security, while others stressed the importance of investment.
Referring to last week's terrorist attacks in France, Straujuma highlighted the need to strengthen security in Europe, while still safeguarding fundamental values: "Our objective is to defend the European values, a space of freedom, security, justice and mutual tolerance, characterising Europe in the world."
She said her country's goals included "a competitive, digital and globally strong Europe" as well as better links with the European Parliament: "It is important for us to work in close cooperation with you. This is the main reason for my visit today – to strengthen our cooperation and to develop a coherent agenda of the Council and the Parliament."
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said: "The Latvian presidency is the symbol of reconciliation in the history of the EU. Thirty years ago no-one could have imagined this.” He said the Commission supported the presidency's goals of creating jobs, boosting growth, relaunching investment, deepening the economic and monetary union and completing the digital single market.
Manfred Weber, the German chair of the EPP group, pointed out that although Latvia experienced tough economic times in 2009, it now enjoyed economic growth and a drop in unemployment. “Latvia is a glimmer of hope in the EU,” he said, promising the country the support of his group on the passenger name record legislation and measures supporting economic growth and the creation of jobs.
Gianni Pittella, the Italian chair of the S&D group, said: "We want to answer the question about the protection of our citizens. We need a new security approach. We have to overcome the resistance of the member states and set up a regional strategy to clear away terrorism."
Roberts Zīle, a Latvian member of the ECR group, called attention to the situation in Ukraine, saying a stable, free and democratic Ukraine would be an important role model for other partnership countries, showing that EU values are for real. This could help to strengthen cooperation with other Eurasian partnership countries.
Sophie in ’t Veld, a Dutch member of the ALDE group, said: "I would call on the Latvian presidency to make the adoption of the horizontal anti-discrimination directive an absolute priority,” adding that the adoption of a European law would be the best response to homophobia.
Dimitrios Papadimoulis, a Greek member of the GUE/NGL group, commented: "The European Union needs to find solutions through diplomacy and democracy and it is in our interest to alleviate tensions, to build up friendly relations on the principles of democracy."
Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian member of the Greens/EFA group, invited prime minister Straujuma to revise her programme. “Have we been elected here to satisfy the markets?” he asked.
Rolandas Paksas, a Lithuanian member of the EFDD group, warned that large countries exercised a strong influence on the presidency programmes of small member states. "We need an EU security strategy, jobs and growth, but first of all a common energy market,” he added.
Iveta Grigule, a non-attached member from Latvia, said good relations with Central Asian countries were important: "Central Asia states need our support and attention to help them balance the increasing Russian pressure."