Latvia’s priorities at the Baltic Council of Ministers will be the strengthening of security in the region, development of regional connectivity and protection of common interests in the EU.
On 26 October 2018, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edgars Rinkēvičs, took part in the annual Baltic Council in Vilnius and met with his Lithuanian counterpart, Linas Linkevičius, for a discussion on the enhancement of security in the region, the development of energy and transport infrastructure projects, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (EU), the Eastern Partnership, and the protection of the Baltic States’ interests in negotiations on the EU Multiannual Financial Framework.
In his remarks to the delegates of the Baltic Council, Edgars Rinkēvičs highlighted the efforts made so far towards strengthening of the region’s security. In the North Atlantic Alliance, the Minister noted, the Baltic States present a successful example of how to streamline procedures so that the allied troops could receive, within days or even hours, the permits they need to enter or move freely in the Baltics. He added that our host country support to allied soldiers who ensure the NATO enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States was highly appreciated.
The Minister also drew the Council’s attention to the increasing role of the Baltic States in maintaining the transatlantic link, which faces new challenges. The EU and the US should maintain close unity and build a positive agenda of their relationship. Everybody should also be aware that there is no alternative to an all-embracing transatlantic cooperation, especially in the field of security and defence.
Rail Baltica is no doubt the largest and most important project in the region, said Minister Rinkēvičs. He underlined that accordingly the Baltic States’ common position and a coordinated lobby action were more important than ever, in order to achieve the most favourable conditions possible for the project under the European Union’s new financial perspective.
Edgars Rinkēvičs also expressed his confidence that it was vital to move ahead with work on the establishment of a regional natural gas market and ensure the highest market liquidity possible, thereby also strengthening security in energy supply and reducing energy dependence on a dominant supplier.
Work on a joint memorandum of the Baltic natural gas transmission system operators should be completed in the near future, which is a vital condition for a regional market to become operational by 2020. For a successfully functioning regional market, the planned investments should be made into the reinforcement and modernisation of gas interconnections between the Baltic States.
In discussions with partners in EU Member States and institutions on the EU’s multiannual financial framework, the Latvian Foreign Minister called on the Baltic States to demonstrate a constructive approach. We agree, said Foreign Minister Rinkēvičs, that appropriate financing is required for the new challenges and priorities – internal and external security, migration and climate. At the same time, we must further maintain our traditional lines of defence concerning both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Cohesion Policy. It is unacceptable that cohesion policy funding is reduced so markedly for countries that have not yet achieved the EU average living standards. The current proposal for the Common Agricultural Policy – in terms of both the convergence of direct payments to farmers and support for rural development – does not promote the reduction of socio-economic disparities in the European Union, Edgars Rinkēvičs noted.
In conclusion, the Minister drew the participants’ attention to the fact that Latvia would take over from Lithuania the Presidency of the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers in 2019. We have set our priorities, and they are the strengthening of security in the region, development of regional connectivity, and protection of common interests in the European Union, said Edgars Rinkēvičs.
The Baltic Council convenes once a year and brings together members of parliament and foreign ministers of the Baltic States. The Baltic Council is a valuable cooperation format and an effective platform for discussions between the parliaments and governments of the Baltic States.
On 1 January 2019, Latvia will take over from Lithuania the presidency of the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers, and consequently the next Baltic Council is to gather in Riga.