On May 26-27, 2006 the Baltic Forum held its 11th international conference. This year, the conference was devoted to the processes of globalization in the European context. It brought together scholars, politicians, civic society leaders, diplomats, officials and statesmen from Latvia and other European countries, including Russia and other CIS states, as well as from the US.
The conference sessions were dedicated to the global security agenda, the future of the European Union, especially with respect to enlargement and relations with its neighbourhood and particularly with Russia, while other sessions dealt with national and European identities in the process of globalization and the economic issues.
The different aspects of "European globalisation" were discussed in five main sessions:
Several participants shared their thoughts on different aspects of the role and place of Latvia in global world.
The conference has brought together distinguished experts, politicians, diplomats, and representatives of non-governmental organizations. Among them were Karina Pētersone, Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration of Latvia; Dimitri Simes, President of the Nixon Center, USA; John Palmer, Member of the Governing Board of the European Policy Centre, UK; Robert Nurick, Senior Fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, USA; Carlos Closa, Research Director of the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies, Spain; Members of the European Parliament Helmut Kuhne, Giulietto Chiesa and Justas Paleckis; representative of the Council of the European Union Charis Xirouchakis and others.
As has become a habit, the conference was attended by a strong team of influential politicians and experts from Russia, including Igor Yurgens, the Executive Secretary of the Russian Union of Industrialists & Entrepreneurs (Employers); Eleonora Mitrofanova, Director of the Russian Center of Scientific and Cultural Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Sergey Oznobishchev, Director of the Strategic Assessments Institute; Deputy Chairman of the Russia-USA Association; Marina Lebedeva, Head of the World Political Processes Department, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
The Baltic Forum together with the Representation of the European Commission and Representation of the European Parliament in Latvia, 28 April 2006, organized the seminar Turkey in the EU: What Does Latvia Have to Say?
The year 2005 has brought a major development in the history of the European Union: after more than forty years of hesitant rapprochement between the EU and Turkey, a full Turkish membership in the Union has finally become a matter for accession negotiations.
Both eventual Turkish EU membership and the inevitably difficult path to it, raises a lot of discussions in Europe. This makes it even more important to explain the endeavour to the EU citizens, including Latvians, and to address the numerous concerns voiced over the recent years: can Turkey be expected to adapt to the set of political and social values the Union claims to stand for? How will a possible immigration from Turkey influence the already challenged multicultural balances in the European nations? Is the process of internal reforms, meant to bring Turkey closer to the EU, evolving successfully enough?
On 7 December, 2006 the Baltic Forum, in co-operation with the Turkish Embassy in Latvia, held a press lunch on the occasion of the Turkish State Minister and Chief EU negotiator H.E. Ali Babacan's visit to Latvia. Mr. Babacan was on a working visit in Latvia to discuss with the Latvian government representatives the current situation in the EU - Turkey accession talks. During the lunch Mr. Babacan answered questions from Latvian media and NGO representatives.
‘The Turkish EU accession is of critical importance for Turkey, but it is just as important for the Union itself. The EU is based on such fundamental shared values as open society, democracy and human right. The Union needs the highest standards in terms of these values, but it also needs to be open towards countries that live up to these standards. Bringing Turkey into the EU would prove that the Union is not a "Christian club" and that the Union takes its own principles seriously', the Baltic Forum's Research director Victor Makarov suggested in his introductory remarks at the lunch.
Among the issues raised were such much-debated topics as the Cyprus issue and the human rights situation in Turkey. Referring to the current problems in the EU-Turkey negotiations, Mr. Babacan confirmed the Turkish government's commitment to the accession and its willingness to reach an agreement on the difficult Cyprus question in the nearest future. The EU demands that Turkey opens its airports and ports to Cyprus as a condition for proceeding with the accession talks. Turkey insists that the EU delivers on its pledge to end the economic isolation of the mostly Turkish-populated Northern Cyprus after it approved the re-unification of the island in the referendum. The Greek part rejected it, but joined the EU in 2004, while the Turkish part remains outside the EU. The deadlock over the Cyprus question currently is the main obstacle to the accession negotiations.
The Baltic Forum research fellow Eldar Mamedov asked about the steps taken by the Turkish government in order to fully guarantee the freedom of speech. Mr. Babacan said that "it is unacceptable that columnists and intellectuals are being prosecuted on the basis of the infamous Article 301 of the penal code", which provides for criminal prosecution for insulting Turkishness. The government is engaged in the dialogue with the NGOs and civil society on this matter and is committed to the reform of this article.
Viktor Makarov asked about the relations between Islam and secularism, putting the Turkish experience in broader European perspective. Mr.Babacan said that in his view the experience of Turkey could be relevant for European countries with significant Muslim population. "The state should not interfere in daily religious practice of its citizens, but the government should not be based on religious principles" - this is the position advocated by the current Turkish government, said Mr.Babacan. At the same time, he cautioned against rising "Islamophobia" in Europe. The Turkish way of blending secular government and moderate version of Islam could be a useful antidote to both extremism and Islamophobia, he said.
The director of the Latvian Institute Ojars Kalnins asked about the ability of Turkey as a democratic country and the EU candidate to project the "soft power" in the wider region of the Middle East. Mr.Babacan said that the Turkish democratizing experience and its path towards the EU are observed eagerly by reformers in the Arab world. The implications of a successful European evolution of Turkey for the wider Middle East will be huge: it will show that a Muslim country can be fully democratic and free.
On March 25, 2006 the Baltic Forum wass holding an international scientific conference for doctoral students, aspirants and young researchers. Participants - representatives of Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Estonia. The conference was held with the assistance of the Economics and Management Faculty of the Latvian University, the Social Sciences and Economics Faculty of the Daugavpils University and of the Transport and Communications Institute. The official languages of the conference were Latvian and Russian.
The aim of the conference was to involve young scientists and professionals from different countries in the discussion of the following priority issues: