The experience of the Latvian Presidency of the EU Council in the field of external relations

Published 2 October 2015

On 29 September, H.E. Ilze Rūse, Ambassador of Latvia to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, gave a lecture on the experience of the Latvian Presidency of the EU Council in the field of external relations. The event took place as part of the CLEER Presidency Lecture series and was chaired by CLEER Coordinator Dr. Luca Pantaleo.

Ambassador Rūse highlighted the country’s first presidency was a strong challenge, especially considering Latvia’s small size. She outlined that the strategic agenda in the field of external relations aimed at creating an engaged Europe, with actions to be taken in fields of external trade, development, climate and security. However, unforeseen events such as the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo or the migration crisis in the Mediterranean needed to be addressed immediately and thus provided an additional challenge. The Ambassador evaluated the response to these crises as a success. For example, in the field of migration, an extraordinary Council meeting was initiated, Frontex support was tripled and first EU action was taken against smugglers and towards burden sharing. In the cause of her speech, she highlighted that negotiations on the TTIP progressed, pointing out that some 8 rounds of negotiations took place under the Latvian Presidency. Moreover, the European Neighbourhood Policy in general and the Eastern Partnership in particular were of particular importance to Latvia. Here, the progress made during the Eastern partnership summit, which took place in May 2015 in Riga were evaluated as a success. Overall, the ambassador was satisfied with her country’s ability to ensure a smooth functioning of the Council, the agenda-setting during the presidency as well as the interaction between the Council and other EU bodies.

The discussant, Dr Bruno Vandecasteele spoke about how, in his view, the success of a presidency should be assessed. Rather than measure the success by the number of legislative acts adopted, it would be sensible to pay attention to the principles of neutrality, effectiveness and consensus. Dr Vandecasteele also emphasized the multiple functions that the Presidency plays, for example, that of an agenda-setter, broker and representative of the interests of Member States. One of the contentious points was whether and to what extent the country in the driving seat may pursue its own national interests and whether that would contradict the principle of neutrality. The key to the success, however, is to “play the right role at the right moment” which Latvia has succeeded in doing, especially given the nature and scale of the unforeseen events, such as the migratory influx, that unfolded in the first half of 2015.

The lecture was concluded by underlining the importance of having the rotating presidency to ensure the smooth functioning of the EU legislative process and in delivering on EU’s actorness on the global scene as well as the positive experience that Latvia has gained as a result of performing its multiple functions during the presidency.