With 2015 coming to an end, Latvia can look upon the year with pride and a sense of accomplishment. Having presided over the Council of the European Union for the first half of a trying year for the Union, the country of 2 million showed that great things can be achieved as long as one is willing to work hard and work together.
We will not admire our success for too long, as the work quickly continues with the Latvian capital city hosting the 10th annual security and foreign policy forum – The Rīga Conference 2015, where many of the priorities of the presidency will continue to be discussed.
With the European Union showing signs of controlling the economic crisis, it is important to look towards the future for potential opportunities in order to remain competitive on a global scale. It is time to enter the 21st century and understand that things such as the extension of free-trade zones will allow for the European Union to sustain its role as a global leader in innovation and trade. Therefore, Latvia supports the ratification of Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would make the Transatlantic trade area the largest free market in the world – with more than 850 million people. It would allow for a competitive trade area, where innovators can reach out to more people and bolster the economy. There was a significant public interest in the two TTIP rounds of negotiations held in Riga during the Presidency, which is reflected in the programme of The Rīga Conference. The Vice President of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovsksi, will speak in a panel about the rise of Geoeconomics and the European Union’s role in it, together with H.E Mr. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Anthony Gardner, the U. S Ambassador to the European Union, and H.E Mrs. Laimdota Straujuma, the Prime Minister of Latvia.
The Transatlantic trade agreement would also deepen the Transatlantic cooperation on defence that today plays an ever increasing role in securing the European Union. For the second time since the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council has discussed European security and defence issues. Together with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the NATO Secretary-General, the EU Heads of State and Government reviewed the progress made since December of 2013 and decided on new goals for the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Among the major achievements were both the decision by the European Council on 26 June to initiate the review of the European Security Strategy by drafting the first EU global strategy on foreign and security policy by June 2016, and the task of mobilising all EU instruments to help counter hybrid threats, by intensifying cooperation between the EU and NATO. The Minister of Defence of Latvia, Raimonds Bergmanis, together with Vecdi Gönül, the Minister of National Defence of Turkey will discuss NATO’s role in the defence of global stability.
Cyberspace also plays an important role in promoting the freedom of press, although this digital freedom often comes with a price: the spread of misinformation to the masses. It is incredibly easy to spread propaganda online, fooling many people. Sadly, terrorist organisations such as Daesh are effectively using social media to recruit disillusioned youths to fight in Syria and elsewhere. It is imperative that as a Union we be able to tackle and oppose such disinformation, whilst not limiting the freedom of press that our continent values so highly. The Rīga Conference 2015 will assess the issues surrounding the propaganda war with the Director of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Jānis Sārts and the Editor-in-Chief of news outlet Meduza Ms Galina Timchenko.
We should also ensure that our external borders are protected and sustained against the large influx of refugees. Saying that, we should also stick to our humane values and accommodate those fleeing war – and not let them sink en masse in the waters off our shores. On 16 June, the EU Home Affairs Ministers unanimously supported the Commission’s Action Plan against migrant smuggling and guidelines for fingerprinting. Finally, the June European Council agreed on relocation and resettlement of 60,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and from third countries in the next two years, a return policy for migrants, and enhanced cooperation with the migrant countries of origin and transit. Whilst much has changed still – Latvia remains an active participant in the debate and it seeks to resolve the crisis. It is also this crisis that will play an important role in shaping the future of the European order which will be discussed by Miroslav Lajčak – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, Bogdan Lucian Aurescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania, Børge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway and Carl Bildt, the former Swedish Foreign Minister among others.
It is clear that 2015 has been a year filled with many events and has placed us directly opposite many difficult decisions that we have to take as a community. That is why for the 10th time the annual high-level security and foreign policy forum – The Riga Conference 2015 will convene experts and policy makers in the Latvian capital to discuss the most current issues on the agenda, seeking answers and provide solutions. The agenda includes the post-Presidency topics and issues, thus highlighting Latvia’s interest in continuing its role as a driver of various issues that will strengthen the union.
As per tradition, the conference aims to involve audiences beyond the walls of the conference venue through a live broadcast on www.rigaconference.lv and Twitter debate using the hashtag #RigaConf. This year, the conference takes place on the 6th and 7th of November. I welcome every interested individual to participate in the debate and drive the agenda alongside distinguished speakers and participants. The programme of the conference, together with the list of speakers and all other information can be found online at www.rigaconference.lv