It’s party time for Latvia’s pro-European liberals

Daniels Pavļuts, co-chair of the Development/For! Party, lists equality, health and education as country’s top priorities ahead of European Parliamentary election

Latvia’s general election in 2018 marked a major shift in the country’s policies and political orientation and led to a five-party coalition government under Krišjānis Kariņš, a former MEP.

The country faced scandals connected to its banking system and corruption. In addition, inequality constituted a top concern and now seems to be the reason why the traditional parties were defeated in the last elections.

Meanwhile, Russia’s pressure through cyberattacks and disinformation is also a threat.

And, after the last elections new parties emerged.

One of these new parties – one that presents a particular interest thanks to its pro-European views – is Development/For! (AP). The party emerged from an alliance of three parties in 2018 ahead of the parliamentary elections. It received a 12.04% of the vote and secured 13 seats in Latvia’s parliament (the Saeima).

In January 2019, Development/For! became a partner in the coalition government. According to recent polls, AP is expected to win one seat in the European Parliament.

European Interest caught up with Daniels Pavļuts, a former economy minister, who co-chairs the party, to discuss these issues.

The top priorities of the coalition government, according to Pavļuts, should be the fight against inequality, reforming the healthcare system and completing the ongoing school and education reform.

Asked about the fight against corruption, Pavļuts stressed the need to boost transparency.

Related to the Russian-speaking community and its status – a topic of intense social importance, Pavļuts said his party supports President Raimonds Vejonis’ initiative to grant Latvian citizenship to Latvia-born children of non-citizens. This is how a united society can be created.

European Interest: The alliance between your party and other two Latvian parties has proven successful since you elected 13 MPs. On the other hand, another two parties have celebrated success in the elections while traditional parties suffered electoral defeat. What do you think was the main reason for such a drastic change in Latvian politics?

Daniels Pavļuts: A government and politicians who seemed removed from Latvia’s biggest problems – brain drain, poor healthcare and income inequality – clashed with corruption scandals and bank crisis. All of this gave rise to anger and formed a platform for the new parties. “The new good forces” against “the old and incapable” ones.

How concerned are you about the rise of the pro-Russian party Harmony? Does the party’s links to Moscow present a threat for democracy in your country? Have you observed any attempts by Russia to interfere to the parliamentary elections?

Support for “Harmony” has been gradually declining. The parliamentary elections in 2018 marked the third time of such decline. There are not many links of this party to Moscow that would present any threat for democracy in Latvia. The government task force on election security has not reported any  relevant Russian interference to the Saeima elections. Although there is a lot of Russian propaganda and disinformation spread through social and mainstream Russian media in Latvia.

“Development / For!” believes that all non-citizens (from new-borns to 15 year olds) should be given Latvian citizenship. We need a strong and united society that supports each other

Although Russia has its own geopolitical agenda, in Latvia there exist a large Russian-speaking population. What is your party position on this issue? Do you think a real integration process is possible?

We believe that a united society is a top priority, thus “Development / For!” supports President Raimonds Vejonis’ initiative to give Latvian citizenship to the children who are born to non-citizens. “Development / For!” believes that all non-citizens (from new-borns to 15 year olds) should be given Latvian citizenship. We need a strong and united society that supports each other.

Latvia struggled with a serious bank scandal last year. What do you think should be the way forward for the reform of the banking system? Do you believe this is merely a matter of reform, or is Riga’s political and economic environment systemically addicted to Russian black money?

Apparently, it is not an issue solely related to Latvia. Black money has been systemically laundered in the whole region – Latvia, Estonia and now Sweden too. It is concerning, and we need to strengthen the judiciary system and anti-corruption agency in Latvia also by raising the state support for political parties and increase a transparent political process and decision making.

Your party joined the coalition government. What do you think should be the priorities of this government?

The top priority is fighting inequality by completing the administrative reform, reforming the healthcare system towards a more inclusive one, and completing the school and education reform.

A new president of Latvia will be elected this year. If I understand correctly, your party is in favour of an open election procedure. Can you please explain?

Until now, in the public debate, only one candidate has been named for the highest representative position in Latvia. “Development / For!” has openly stated that there has to be a fair and transparent discussion about the best candidate for the office of president in Latvia. We have yet to decide which candidate we will support.

Has your party decided which European family it will join in the next European Parliament?

MEPs elected from the “Development/For!” will join the parliamentary group formed by ALDE and Macron’s En Marche.