Book chapter

Latvia and the European Union (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

How did the European Union (EU) shape Latvia's formal institutions and policy? How has this influence varied across policy domains and over time? Furthermore, how has it shaped domestic politics? The state-of-the-art literature offers only partial answers to these questions, falling short of providing a broader perspective on the effects of Europeanization. EU influence on Latvian institutions and policy has been profound, going beyond the rather technical adoption of acquis and concerning highly contentious issues of domestic politics. The influence has varied in substance and extent over different integration phases, depending on policy agendas and conditionality mechanisms at hand. Assuming a two-dimensional political space, the EU notably pushed Latvia's policy to the left—both on economic and cultural issue areas. If during the 1990s the EU forced Latvia to liberalize its language and citizenship laws, in the early 2000s it played a major role in building state institutions. During the crisis, the EU not only imposed austere fiscal targets but also found itself playing the role of a social advocate, as domestic authorities pushed fiscal stringency to the extreme. EU's criticisms regarding Latvia's social policy eventually contributed to a marked policy change. Furthermore, by shaping Latvia's institutions and policy, the EU shaped Latvia's politics as well, as local actors strategically used various EU issue agendas—notably, (anti)corruption—for their own political purposes. Put on the domestic political agenda by the EU (and other international actors) in the early 2000s, (anti)corruption became the second most polarizing issue/area after ethnicity for the decades to come.