On 23 November 2021, the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affair, Edgars Rinkēvičs, took part in the meeting of the European Union’s (EU) General Affairs Council, which dealt with preparations for the European Council of 16-17 December 2021, and the state of play of the EU–UK relations.
In a discussion on the upcoming European Council, Edgars Rinkēvičs underlined that the situation at the border with Belarus must be put on the agenda of the December meeting. The European Council should discuss the inclusion of the aspect of instrumentalisation of migrants in the new proposal for the Schengen Border Code. In addition, the Council should address the strengthening of the EU external eastern border. The Minister also called for efforts to be made at the EU level, in particular to ensure a uniform approach to the validity period of vaccination certificates, given that a booster dose, or a third dose of the vaccines is currently being actively administered in many EU Member States. Accordingly, there should also be a uniform procedure in place concerning the validity of the digital vaccination certificate and the possibility of movement within EU borders.
Next, the meeting featured a discussion on the rule of law situation in five EU Member States: Croatia, Cyprus, Italy, Latvia, and Lithuania. The discussion drew on the second annual report on the rule of law published by the European Commission this past 20 July.
The Latvian Foreign Minister highlighted a number of key measures taken to improve the independence and quality of the justice system in Latvia since the publication of the report in 2021. The level of perceived judicial independence in Latvia has improved due to a new procedure for selecting candidate judges that has been set up and is being applied. The process has been fully entrusted to the judiciary excluding the involvement of executive power. Trust in the justice system and each individual judge is of utmost importance in a democratic society, the Minister underlined, adding that it strengthens the authority of the justice system. Being aware of the importance of ethical standards in the justice system, Latvian judges have adopted a new Code of Ethics for judges. In addition, the Judicial Council in its new strategy for 2021-2025 has set the objective of increasing judicial independence, for instance, through involving the Judicial Council in procedures related to the approval of the court budgets, Edgars Rinkēvičs noted in his remarks.
The Foreign Minister also expressed Latvia’s support for the strengthening of the rule of law, including the preparation of the European Commission’s annual Rule of Law Report on the situation in Member States. Latvia welcomes the 2021 Rule of Law Report produced by the European Commission, the Minister said. He added that the report offers solid grounds for a constructive and open dialogue to promote a common understanding of the rule of law situation in the EU. A dialogue on the rule of law helps accentuate the shared and individual challenges in order to avoid an unnecessary aggravation of the situation, Edgars Rinkēvičs noted.