For the European Union, the year 2014 has begun with Latvia becoming the 18th member of the euro zone and with Greece taking over from Lithuania the rotating presidency of the EU.
Among the most significant events in the EU in 2014 will be the European Parliament elections to be held from May 22 to 25.
The accession of Latvia to the euro zone on January 1 2014 meant that the number of Europeans sharing the currency was about 333 million people, the European Central Bank said.
“On behalf of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB), I welcome this further enlargement of the euro area. Latvia has earned its position as an integrated part of the Economic and Monetary Union,” ECB President Mario Draghi said.
Following the adoption of the euro by Latvia, Latvijas Banka, the national central bank of Latvia, becomes a member of the Eurosystem, the central banking system of the euro area, which comprises the ECB and, as of January 1, the 18 national central banks of the EU member states that have adopted the euro.
In accordance with the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank, Latvijas Banka has paid up the remainder of its contribution to the capital of the ECB and transferred its contribution to the foreign reserve assets of the ECB.
The euro will gradually replace the lats as the currency of Latvia. There will be a dual circulation period of two weeks, during which the two currencies will circulate alongside each other in order to allow for a progressive withdrawal of Latvian lats. When receiving a payment in lats, the change will be given in euro.
A total of 800 000 starter kits with euro coins bearing Latvian national sides have been available to the general public since December 10 2013. Moreover, 70 000 dedicated starter kits have been offered to retailers.
As of January 1, the Bank of Latvia will change unlimited amounts of lats into euro at the official conversion rate (1 EUR = 0.702804 LVL) for an unlimited period of time and free of charge. Commercial banks will provide unlimited cash exchange services free of charge until June 30 2014 and post offices until March 31 2014.
Prices have had to be displayed both in lats and euro since October 1 2013 and this rule will apply until June 30 2014.
In order to address consumers’ concerns about price increases and abusive practices in the changeover period, a “Fair Euro Introducer” campaign was launched in July 2013. It calls on businesses (e.g. retailers, financial institutions, internet shops) to commit not to misuse the changeover for their own profit, to respect the changeover rules and to provide the necessary assistance to their clients.
Greece assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union as the Greek government led by Antonis Samaras continues its efforts to revive the country’s battered economy and to contend with growing political and social unrest, the European Jewish Press reported.
Since last summer, Samaras has been insisting that Greece is on the road to recovery. After deducting all the costs of borrowing, the national budget is indeed just about in the black: revenues are slightly higher than expenditure, the result of raising taxes and setting up a proper tax authority.
At the last EU summit in December, Samaras proudly declared that his country had done what the Troika asked of it.
“Greece starts the EU presidency on a positive record, with a primary surplus and an imminent recovery,” he said. “This is going to be a presidency of hope – hope for more Europe, and hope for a better Europe.”
Samaras’s deputy and coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos, who is also foreign minister, focused on Greece’s goals at the helm of the six-month EU presidency.
The chief priorities of the Greek presidency will be to create jobs, work toward a European banking union and curb undocumented immigration, Venizelos said.
Samaras is to present these priorities in a speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 15, a week after hosting EU officials at a ceremony inaugurating Greece’s assumption of the EU presidency at the Zappeio Hall.
But Greece’s presidency will really last only three-and-a-half months, according to its deputy EU representative, Andreas Papastavros, as elections for a new European Parliament are due to be held at the end of May.
The upcoming European elections will prove decisive for the Greek presidency, said Papastavros. “Europe is at a crossroads,” he said.
He warned that Europeans had started to lose faith in Europe’s core values such as democratic governance, economic and social cohesion and solidarity. “Euroskepticism has spread across the European capitals.”
“So Greece cannot limit itself to only carrying out the tasks of the presidency: Greece, as the country holding the presidency of the council needs to make a meaningful contribution to the public debate regarding Europe’s future.”
The European Parliament elections will be from May 22 to 25, with Bulgaria expected to hold them on the last of these dates. Voters will be electing a total of 751 MEPs.
For the 2014 election, according to the Lisbon Treaty, the number of MEPs ranges from six for Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Estonia to 96 for Germany.
In line with EU rules, EU citizens may vote and stand in Bulgaria’s European Parliament elections, under certain conditions.
Each national of a member state of the European Union, who is not a Bulgarian citizen, shall have the right to elect members of the European Parliament for the Republic of Bulgaria if the said person has attained the age of 18 years by polling day, is not interdicted, is not serving a jail sentence, is a long-term or permanent resident of Bulgaria, has resided in the Republic of Bulgaria or in another member state of the European Union at least during the past three months, is not deprived of the right to elect in the member state of which the person is a national, and has stated in advance, by a declaration in writing, the desire o exercise his or her right to vote within the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria.
To be an election candidate, the rules are largely the same, except that the person must have resided in Bulgaria or another EU member state for the past six months and is over the age of 21 by voting day.
(Photo: Steve Ford/sxc.hu)