Latvia. In June, former Canadian national Vaira
Vīke-Freiberga was elected new president, the first female
president of any of the former Soviet republics. Her
election was preceded by a series of votes in Parliament
without a candidate getting a majority. The new president
declared that L's accession to the EU and NATO would be her
foreign policy priorities. In December, Vīke-Freiberga made
an official visit to Sweden.
In early July, Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans resigned
because of what he called an "atmosphere of mistrust" within
the coalition government. While Kristopans had been abroad,
the Conservative Party of Fosterland and Freedom (Tcvzemei
un Brivibai) had on their own made up the largest opposition
party, including the Conservative People's Party (Tautas
party), on economic policy. Kristop's departure led L. to
his eighth reign in as many years. Former Prime Minister
Andris Skele formed in mid-July a coalition between his own
party, the People's Party, the path of liberal Latvia
(Latvija cels) and Fosterland and freedom. The new
government was supported by 62 of Parliament's 100 members.
Countryaah official website, the previous year's Russian financial crisis saw a sharp
decline in exports, and during the first half of 1999,
growth fell by a few percent. The budget deficit grew and
the government saw itself forced to make drastic cuts. In
August, Parliament voted in favor of a proposal to reduce
pensions and raise retirement age. The decision sparked
strong popular protests, and the opposition managed to push
a referendum before the proposal was formally approved.
Prime Minister Andris Skele, who feared speculation on the
Latvian currency if the proposal was voted down, took the
unusual step of urging people not to take part in the
referendum. He received harsh criticism for this, but the
result was that only a quarter of the population voted,
which was not enough for an approved result. Otherwise, 94%
said no to the pension reform.
In December, the EU decided to open negotiations with L.
on membership in the Union in 2000 - a long-awaited message
for the government in Riga. At the same time, it was stated
by the EU that much remains of adaptation for L.A. the
reform of the judiciary and the intensified fight against
corruption are required.
In time for the EU summit, the Latvian Parliament tried
to remove an obstacle to membership by adopting a milder
version of a controversial language law, which requires the
use of Latvian at public gatherings. The earlier version,
adopted during the summer, was considered discriminatory for
the Russian minority and criticized by the Russian
Federation and the EU.
President Vīke-Freiberga did not approve it and sent the
proposal back to Parliament, which in December decided that
Latvian is coercive only in the context of "the legitimate
interests of society".