View from Riga: Consensus weakened, but holding

 A turn against the “European party” is unlikely in Latvia

The results of the Polish elections in Latvia were met with rather predictable sentiments. The “national conservative” politicians and pundits celebrated the victory of Law and Justice as a sign of Europe “changing back to a union of strong nation states” while liberal and pro-EU actors in politics and civil society expressed their disappointment, pronouncing Poland to be “a new Hungary” and foretelling harder times ahead for the European project.

Short of being seen as something “epochal” the victory of Law and Justice strengthens the emerging sense that Europe as a “liberal federalist, values-based Union” is being replaced by Europe “of hard-nosed national interests”.

The commentariat agrees that the disappointing election result of the Civic Platform in Poland is a bad omen and a wake-up call for “the European party” in Latvia – embodied in the political sphere by the prime minister Laimdota Straujuma’s political party Unity.

Since 2009 Unity has been the leading partner in five successive coalition governments and after six years in power is widely perceived to have become arrogant and self-serving. The party has strongly linked its identity to “Europe”, has led Latvia’s drive to join the eurozone and is now supporting the principle of European solidarity on the refugee crisis. Despite strong criticism from both its coalition partners and the parliamentary opposition Unity has pushed through the decision to accept a limited number of asylum seekers in Latvia as a part of the European resettlement scheme.

And while Unity is credited for its role in Latvia’s strong economic recovery and seen as the most competent party on foreign and security policy issues (which helped to win the elections against the background of war in Ukraine) it is now losing the public support.

Having received the most votes among the coalition parties in the parliamentary elections a year ago Unity has since fallen in opinion polls behind its openly euro-sceptic coalition partners – the Greens and Farmers Union and the National Alliance.

While this drop in ratings was initially caused by political scandals and personal tensions within the party, Unity’s ownership of unpopular decisions on the migration crisis has reinforced it. After the victory of Law and Justice in Poland it will be harder to achieve consensus on these solutions both within the Latvian government and at the European level.

However, an electoral victory of a “national conservative party” or an emergence of a strong openly anti-European party is not really on the cards. The importance of European solutions to any challenge – either economic or security – is still very high among Latvians and they are not going to risk them for the sake of protest against the government.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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