Latvian talks focus on defence and Europe
Swiss President Samuel Schmid has wrapped up an official visit to Latvia after talks with Defence Minister Einars Repse on Tuesday.
European issues, specifically Switzerland’s agreement with the European Union on the free movement of people, were the focus of discussions during the two-day visit.
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told Schmid she hoped Swiss voters would agree to extend the treaty to the ten new EU member states, which include Latvia, when they go to the polls on September 25.
"A yes vote would be in the interests of Switzerland and the EU," Vike-Freiberga told a joint news conference on Monday.
Addressing Swiss fears that an extension of the accord could lead to a mass influx of workers from eastern Europe, she said there was nothing to indicate that Latvians would descend on Switzerland in large numbers. She pointed out that the country’s population was just 2.3 million.
According to figures from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), unemployment in Latvia last year stood at 8.5 per cent. Gross national product (GNP) per head was $5,822.
In talks with Vike-Freiberga and Latvian premier Aigars Kalvitis, Schmid also spoke about Switzerland’s contribution to the social and economic development of the enlarged EU.
Kalvitis said he hoped to sign an accord soon with Bern over Latvia’s share of the funds.
Switzerland has pledged SFr1 billion (nearly $0.8 billion) over the next five years to the adhesion fund. But discussions are continuing with the EU, with Portugal, Greece and Spain also laying claim to a share of the money.
Aside from EU issues, the two delegations discussed the burgeoning trade ties between Latvia and Switzerland, which have increased ten-fold over the past decade to reach SFr134 million last year.
Army reform and military cooperation were the central issues at Tuesday’s meeting between Schmid, who also holds the defence portfolio, and Repse.
The Latvian army is 17,600-strong, including 4,600 professional soldiers.
Within the framework of the Partnership for Peace accord, Bern contributes towards the training of Latvian army officers. Five officers visit Switzerland every year.
Latvia has been a member of Nato since 2004, the same year as it joined the EU. The Baltic state has sent 120 soldiers to Iraq as part of the United States-led mission.
To end his visit, Schmid visited the museum of Soviet occupation in the Latvian capital Riga with his wife.
swissinfo with agencies
Figures from seco (2004):
Population of Latvia: 2.3 million.
GNP per head: $5,822.
Annual increase in GNP: 8.0%.
Latvia joined the European Union in 2004.
Commercial exchanges have increased ten-fold in the past decade, from SFr14.6 million in 1995 to SFr134.1 million in 2004.
The trade balance is tipped in Switzerland's favour with Swiss exports including pharmaceutical products and machinery, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (seco).
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