20/09/2003 - Results
On 20th September 2003 a lifetime's dream became a reality for President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. According to her Latvia did indeed "cross over Europe's doorstep and took up the historic chance that had been offered to it" i.e. of coming back within the folds of Europe that it had never ceased to belong to. "We have entered a new historical era and I hope this period will last for a long time," she said the day after the Latvian referendum on membership of the European Union. "Today we may look to the future with confidence; the objectives we set ourselves, that is membership of the European Union and NATO will become a reality in 2004," the extremely popular Latvian president added. Latvia, that was the last country to vote on European integration, approved its entry into the EU by 67%, with 32.3% of the electorate who voted against.
At least half of the electorate who took part in the general elections on 5th October 2002 i.e. 497,543 people were to go and vote in order for the election to be declared valid, a participation rate that had been reached by 3pm on the day of the election. The total participation rate rose to 72.53% of those enrolled i.e. an almost equal level to that in the last national election (+0,04 point). The most Euro-enthusiastic voters were those living in Riga the capital (68.5% "yes" against 31.5% "no"), the least convinced were the people from Daugavpils, Latvia's second biggest town that is mostly Russian speaking (12% of Latvian origin) who voted "no" (52%) according to a survey by the Baltic News Service. We should point out that 22% of the population, that still does not have Latvian nationality, could not take part in the referendum.
The Latvian vote confirmed the most recent opinion polls that last week forecast a victory for the "yes" by 63% (a survey undertaken between 12th and 16th September by Latvijas Fakti). Since the Spring the Latvians, who have been longstanding Euro-Sceptics, have been showing a growing desire to be a part of the Europe. The electoral campaign, that was very lively and led by both the Latvian and European authorities, as well as the press and non-government organisations, explains this rise in pro-European feeling amongst the population. Hence a number of European personalities (the Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spilda, the Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas, the President of the European Parliament Pat Cox etc...) travelled to Riga to support European membership. Last week the President of the Finnish Republic, Tarja Halonen called on Latvia to make the right choice. "We are small countries and our history has been a difficult one. We know that we shall have to work hard and to find friends. By working hard within the European Union we can achieve results. In order to survive a storm it's better to be part of a fleet," she declared during a press conference in the capital. On Friday 19th September, the day before the referendum, the country's biggest daily newspaper Diena published a map of Europe on its front page where the Western part appeared in blue with Russia in red, encouraging Latvia, coloured in black, to choose its colour. Finally the Estonian "yes" on 14th September also contributed in convincing the last, sceptical Latvian voters. On Friday evening during a TV programme, that closed the electoral campaign, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga appealed one last time to her countrymen to vote in favour of European Union membership. "It is time for Latvia to choose and complete Baltic unity, I am sure that the country will join its neighbours and decide on Union integration," she said. At her side sat Prime Minister Einars Repse who also urged the population to turn out to vote: "To those of you who are expecting concrete words from a politician I say to you "go and vote". We'll meet up afterwards in Europe."
On Saturday evening the European party was disturbed by the eruption of a government crisis just an hour after the publication of the first projections. Eriks Jekobsons, President of First Party of Latvia (LPP), a movement that is part of the government coalition, decided to withdraw his support from the Prime Minister. "Mr Repse's government has failed. The only possibility for the coalition to continue is to change the captain of the boat," declared Eriks Jekobsons. The government coalition comprises four political parties: New Era (JL), Einars Repse the Prime Minister's movement; the Alliance of Greens and Farmers Union (ZSS) ; For Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK) and the First Party of Latvia (that has three ministers including the position of deputy Prime Minister held by Ainars Slesers and that of Economy Minister held by Juris Lujans). The crisis that emerged follows the differences in opinion that came to light within the government on the choice of a national manager to prevent and fight against corruption and last week's rejection by 51 votes to 42 by Parliament of the appointment of Juta Strike to this position - this was an unexpected rejection since, apart from the First Party of Latvia, all of the coalition parties had said they were in favour of this appointment. After this vote the Prime Minister accused the main opposition party, the People's Party (TP), of having influenced the MP's vote. The crisis also follows the government's desire to oppose the decisions made by the town hall of Riga on the management of the town's autonomous port. According to Einars Repse this is contrary to State interests. Since 1991, when Latvia regained its independence, the country has been particularly subject to government crises; coalitions have succeeded one another to lead the State but without ever managing to last to the end of the parliamentary mandate. In the face of the crisis started by the First Party of Latvia the Prime Minister has not ruled out the creation of a minority government.
"Latvia is completing the circle and the result of all these elections on enlargement is a grand slam for Europe," Noëlle Lenoir, the French delegate Minister for European Affairs jubilated on Sunday 21st September. "Europe has now re-established its two faces, both Western and Eastern," she added. The European Union has successfully completed its enlargement by 10 new countries who mainly lie in the former Communist part of Europe (in the nine States called on to vote by referendum, the "yes" was victorious, mostly by a wide margin.)
The reunification of the European continent, that started at the beginning of the 1990's, after the demise of Communism that had divided Europe into two hermetic, hostile blocks for fifty years, is now complete. The membership treaty now has to be ratified by all 15 member States of the Union for the enlargement procedure to be officially completed and for the EU to add to its wealth 10 new members, thereby fulfilling the greatest enlargement in its history welcoming within its folds Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia on 1st May 2004.
Results of the referendum of 20th September 2003 on European Union Membership in Latvia:
Participation : 72,53%
Source Agence France Presse