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Valdis Zatlers

Valdis Zatlers

Annual Report 2009

Foreign policy

The Latvian Constitution states that the President of Latvia represents the state at the international level, appoints ambassadors, receives diplomatic representatives from other countries, and implements Parliamentary decisions on the ratification of international treaties.  In 2009, President Zatlers accredited 21 foreign Ambassadors to Latvia and issued letters of accreditation to 14 Latvian Ambassadors to other countries.  The President’s priorities in foreign policy have been the following:

1)  Promoting the state’s external security and its strategic partnership with the United States;

2)  Promoting the country’s external economic links and partnerships;

3)  Promoting co-operation among the Baltic States;

4)  Supporting the development of democracy in the member states of the EU Eastern Partnership programme.

 

 

Strategic partnership with the United States

 

2009 was a year in which there was active work on strengthening the bilateral relationship between Latvia and the United States. During the most recent NATO Summit, President Zatlers and US President Barack Obama discussed the strategic partnership between Latvia and the United States, as well as the matter of Latvia’s security within NATO.

 

 

The dialogue with the new US administration was continued in May, when President Zatlers met with US Defence Secretary Gates and the US President’s national security advisor, General Jim Jones. The focus at that meeting was co-operation in security issues, the mission in Afghanistan, and the transit of non-military US cargoes via Latvian ports.

 

 

In May and September of 2009, President Zatlers met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, talking to her about the bilateral relations between the two countries, the areas in which America and Latvia are working together in Afghanistan, and the development of relations with the European Union’s neighbouring countries. The US-Latvia partnership in the area of security and the transit of non-military cargoes was also the primary subject during the President’s meeting with Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives.

 

 

The transit of non-military US cargoes via Latvian ports on the way to Afghanistan has been a very important achievement, and it has not occurred without the involvement of President Zatlers. The matter was discussed by the President during the meetings mentioned above with US government officials, as well as in talks with senior US military officials who visited Rīga to discuss the issue. This is fundamental support for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, it expands Latvia’s co-operation with the United States as a strategic partner, and it creates new opportunities for businesses in Latvia.

 

While in New York in September 2009, President Zatlers attended the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative, which is the brainchild of former US President Bill Clinton. The main topic this year was climate change.

 

 

Strengthening economic co-operation 

 

In his 2009 New Year’s address to foreign ambassadors, President Zatlers said that a key emphasis in foreign affairs activities during the course of the year would be placed on promoting Latvia’s economic interests and exports. Among other things, Latvia continued to develop the economic and political contacts that were launched in 2008 with countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

 

 

During the course of 2009, President Zatlers went on 20 foreign visits. In five of these, he was accompanied by business delegations – to Estonia (representatives of 19 companies), Tajikistan (19), Azerbaijan (59), and Georgia and Armenia (48). The President also received the president of Tajikistan and the Royal couple of Spain in Latvia. During these visits, more than ten agreements on the delivery of goods and services were concluded. The true economic benefits of the visits, however, will become evident in the next few years, as trends related to mutual trade between Latvia and the various countries will become visible.

 

 

In September 2009, President Zatlers met with the prime minister of the People’s Republic of China, Wen Jiabao to discuss further co-operation between the two countries, particularly in terms of Latvia’s exports to China. In November, the President met with the President of Germany, Horst Koehler, to discuss economic co-operation between the two countries and the enhancement of Latvian exports to Germany.

 

 

Latvia’s recovery from the crisis and restoration of economic growth were the main topics for President Zatlers when he met with Swedish Prime Minister Frederick Reinfeld at Davos and in New York, as well as with the European Commission’s Commissioner for Economic and Monetary affairs, Joaquin Almunia in Davos and Rīga.

 

 

While attending the opening session of the UN General Assembly in New York, President Zatlers focused on bilateral contacts aimed at promoting economic partnerships. He discussed these matters behind the scenes with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and he also met with financial experts. Among them were representatives of international ratings agencies which are responsible for determining Latvia’s credit rating. The President sought to explain Latvia’s economic and political situation to them.

 

 

President Zatlers’ contribution toward economic contacts for Latvia was also reflected in other foreign trips, particularly in terms of his participation in international conferences devoted to economic issues. During 2009, the President attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and in Dalian, China. He also took part in the Brussels Forum, where he described Latvia’s economic situation and also spoke about investment opportunities in Latvia.

 

 

While in the United States in May 2009, President Zatlers delivered addresses at the influential think thank that is the Brookings Institution, as well as at Yale University and the University of Washington, discussing Latvia’s accomplishments in the area of structural reforms at all three locations.

 

 

Another important part of the visit to America was the President’s ability to meet with foreign journalists and opinion leaders to talk about economic issues. Influential media outlets which interviewed President Zatlers included The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, CNBC, BBC, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, and others.

 

A successful example of how President Zatlers facilitated economic issues while travelling abroad is the relationship which he developed in 2009 with the Microsoft Corporation. This involved the “Language Shore” project in Latvia, which helped to develop technologies related to the use of small languages on the Internet and in various kinds of software. The project was presented while the President was in Seattle to meet with Microsoft Director Steven Ballmer. After six months of preparations, the Latvian government, Microsoft and the Tilde Company in Latvia began to implement the project.

 

 

There were two pilot projects – establishment of an automatic translating system from Latvian to English and from English to Latvian, as well as an expansion in the EuroTermBank.com database. President Zatlers said that the ‘Language Shore’ project will undeniably help our country to shape a positive image, bringing Latvia’s name into the world and demonstrating the professionalism of our IT and language sectors. It will also demonstrate that we are prepared to create products with a high level of added value in this niche of small language technologies – a niche that remains free at this time. The project will also represent an economic impulse in Latvia, because it will mean investments, jobs and the training of highly qualified professionals in the fields of information technologies, languages and translation.”

 

The EU and NATO

 

In addition to his work in promoting economic development, President Zatlers also placed a great deal of emphasis on Latvia’s traditional foreign policy priorities, particularly in terms of its membership in the European Union and NATO. During the course of the year, the President appeared before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and he attended a meeting of EU and US leaders in Prague. The most important event in the context of the European Union in 2009 was the taking effect of the Lisbon Treaty, which enhanced Europe’s capacities in the field of foreign affairs. It must also be noted that one of the first trips taken by the new Chairman of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was to Latvia.

 

 

In the spring of 2009, President Zatlers attended the NATO Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl, where a declaration on the Alliance’s security was adopted. The document spoke to the drafting of a new strategic concept for NATO. President Zatlers stressed the need to strike a balance between the Alliance’s role in collective defence and its operations beyond its own region.

 

 

When it comes to Afghanistan, the President emphasised the need for NATO to spend more time in listening to the views of Afghanistan’s neighbours with respect to processes in that country. During the previous year, President Zatlers had met with the leaders of nearly all of its neighbouring countries, exchanging views about the role of NATO in Afghanistan with those government officials.

 

 

Two NATO secretaries general visited Latvia in 2009 – Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Anders Fogh Rasmussen. They came to Rīga to talk about the future partnership between Latvia and NATO, as well as to exchange views about the alliance’s future strategic directions.

 

  

Co-operation among the Baltic States

 

High-ranking officials from the Baltic States met more than 10 times during the course of 2009 to continue to promote greater co-operation among the three countries. President Zatlers visited Estonia and Lithuania, and his colleagues also visited Rīga. The partnership among the Baltic States in 2009 involved NATO, the co-ordination of Baltic interests in the EU, and a series of joint projects aimed at enhancing the energy independency of the nations.

 

 

The three Baltic Presidents also helped to organise a relay race from Tallinn and Vilnius to Rīga as part of the “Heartbeats for the Baltics” project in honour of the 20th Anniversary of the Baltic Way.

 

 

Support for the EU Eastern Partnership member states to promote democracy

 

In this area of Latvian foreign policy, President Zatlers met several times with leaders of the countries of the Caucasus in 2009 to discuss reforms of those countries in the context of the Eastern Partnership. The President also spoke before various audiences about these matters – at Yerevan University in Armenia, as well as at think tanks and universities in the United States. Latvia’s involvement in the development of the Eastern Partnership was one of the President’s main focuses when he spoke before the European Parliament in Strasbourg and the Brussels Forum.

 

 

Links to Latvian communities abroad   

 

Whenever President Zatlers visits a country in which there is a Latvian community, he meets with members of that community in order to strengthen people’s links to their motherland. In 2009, the President met with Latvians in Strasbourg, Washington, Seattle, New York, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Estonia. A tradition is his annual address at the congress of the World Federation of Free Latvians, as well as his wide address to Latvians on November 18, which is Latvia’s Independence Day.

 

 

The safety of foreign tourists in Rīga

 

In early 2009, there was a great deal of information in Latvia and abroad about fraud and physical attacks aimed at foreign tourists. President Zatlers spoke to the relevant government officials – the Interior Minister, the Economics Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Chairman of the Rīga City Council – emphasising that during a period of economic decline, this was a situation which was particularly harmful to the country’s image. The President demanded a specific plan of action to ensure the safety of foreign citizens in Rīga so that criminals would no longer go unpunished and the police would no longer be helpless in the face of these problems.

 

 

On June 3, the President convened a meeting about this matter at the Rīga Castle. Interior Minister Linda Mūrniece, Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš, Economics Minister Artis Kampars, Rīga Mayor Jānis Birks, acting National Police Commander Andris Dzenis, Rīga Local Government Police Commander Jānis Geduševs, Prosecutor-General Jānis Maizītis, and National Police Rīga Regional Department Commander Ints Ķuzis attended the meeting. All of the participants promised that they would come up with specific proposals for amendments to the relevant normative acts. As a result of this, a working group was set up to deal with fraud in taxicabs and other problems in this area. It operates under the wing of the Transportation Ministry and began its work on October 20. An updated version of 2005 Cabinet of Ministers regulations on the circulation of excise products also took effect in October, with the aim to prevent fraud against foreign tourists and local residents at entertainment locations. The amendments speak to those cases in which the Licensing Commission of the State Revenue Service can refuse or annul an alcohol licence for a specific enterprise. The commission was also given the right to annul the lease of a company which was found to be engaging in such fraud so as to remove it from the location while not limiting the right of the owner of the relevant building to rent the facilities to someone else. The point is that when fundamental and systematic violations are found, the bar or other entertainment facility which sells alcohol will simply be shut down.

 

Pending before the Parliament at this time are amendments to the Latvian Administrative Code that were prepared by the Economics Ministry to allow local governments to punish companies which exceed tariffs set by the relevant local government. The Ministry’s Domestic Market Department, the Consumer Rights Defence Centre and the Latvian Association of Hotels and Restaurants are to conduct a survey on proposed amendments to Cabinet of Ministers regulations on the presentation of the prices of goods and services.

 

Since September 2009, the State Tourism Development Agency, which runs a Tourism Hotline to offer consultations and support when problems occur and to receive complaints and recommendations, has not received any grievances about the fraud against tourists.

 

The Rīga City Council has also taken steps in this area. The local government police have established a Tourism Division which ensures public order in popular locations and, when, necessary, offers assistance to foreign guests. Members of the division provide information about behaviour norms in the city, help people to get a better idea of Rīga as a place which is safe for and responsive to tourists, and work very actively on dealing with the operations of businesspeople who are less than honest in relations with tourists.