Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS, in cooperation with three regional organizations, held several meetings and talked to people living in small towns across Latvia. Altogether 95 people, living in West, East and North of Latvia, representing different age groups, attended PROVIDUS’ events.
In general people of Latvia’ s regions appreciate the benefits of the European Union membership – particularly the new infrastructure and beautification of towns funded by the EU. On the other hand, people living in the Latvian countryside noted several concerns as well. The main preoccupation in the regions were feelings that Latvian countryside is emptied out when people use the opportunities of the EU and leave to work in countries such as Sweden, UK, Ireland or Germany. This is sometimes a very painful process which splits families, leaves the elderly behind and makes towns and countryside lifeless.
The people of Latvia’s regions are also worried about Latvia being too diligent in implementing EU laws and recommendations, thereby making Latvia uncompetitive. Such a sentiment was combined with a distinct lack of sense of empowerment at the EU level – it was very clear in all five discussions that people of Latvia’s regions do not believe that the voice of Latvia or their own voice counts at the EU level. This sense of powerlessness is somehow attenuated by people of Latvia trusting EU institutions more than they trust national authorities – there is a belief that somehow “EU knows better”.
Another topic that surfaced in all discussions was issue of migration and refugees. This is a sensitive topic in Latvia where very few people are acquainted with a Muslim or a person of a different skin colour. Therefore there is sometimes a lot of fear when the issue of migration is raised.
In order to check whether Latvian citizens are ready for trans-European debate on issues that are of interest for the EU as a whole, in 4 discussions fragments from Jean Claude-Juncker’s State of the Union speech 2017 was shown to participants, along with comments by some Members of the European Parliament. Most participants found neither of those recordings interesting or relevant.