Thank you, Krišjānis, for this very warm welcome. Indeed, it is a great pleasure to be visiting Latvia on a trip, which, as you know, we have been planning for some time. Thank you also for your kind words. Indeed, we managed to win a second term focused on politics that actually make a difference in people’s lives. We have demonstrated that these true progressive centrist policies can actually resonate with our electorates and fight the empty promises of populism. I do think that there is also a broader message coming out of our recent electoral victory in Greece.
Last year, we celebrated the centennial of our diplomatic relations, and I think we have excellent prospects to develop and give new impetus to these relations. We may be at different ends of our continent, there is significant geographical distance between our two countries, but I think we’re facing, in a sense, very very similar geopolitical but also economic challenges. I would first of all, like to highlight the fact that we’ve had an excellent level of communication and understanding at the European Council for the past four years, where we have debated critical issues of importance for our common European future.
I think we saw eye to eye when it came to issues such as the energy crisis, where we fought hard for what Europe eventually decided to do, which was to impose a cap on the price of natural gas. But we also passionately share this need for the European Union to move towards the green and digital transition at a very fast pace. But of course, there is no prosperity without security and freedom, and that is why the Russian invasion in Ukraine was discussed. We have a common understanding that we need to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, with whatever means we can make available to the Ukrainian people in order for them to actually prevail in this conflict. And of course, these issues will also be discussed in the upcoming NATO Summit in Vilnius.
On NATO, we both hope for a swift accession of Sweden to the Alliance and of course, the adoption of the new posture which will significantly strengthen the Organization, something which is also of critical importance for Latvia, but for all our Baltic friends.
You mentioned the need to spend more on defense. I think this is an understanding that is shared by more and more of our European partners within NATO.
And that is why I think it is important to also come back to the issue of how we actually treat defense expenditures in light of the negotiation regarding the new Stability and Growth Pact. I think that defense spending is qualitatively different from every other type of spending because it is the one type of spending that allows us to remain free and prosper as free societies.
And as we will all spend more on defense, the European aspect of defense cooperation, also within the NATO umbrella, becomes, in my mind, more and more important.
Krišjānis, you mentioned the challenges of migration. We both sit on the external borders of our Union. We face different types of challenges, but I think we both agree that without protecting our external borders effectively, we cannot have a comprehensive migration policy as a European Union.
Nor can we hope to maintain the freedom of movement within Schengen unless we protect effectively our external borders and we essentially become the masters of our own destiny, rather than “outsourcing” this task to the smugglers and those who will systematically exploit human suffering to allow desperate people to embark on a very perilous trip to enter our Union.
We’re happy with the fact that we’ve made progress regarding the new Migration and Asylum Pact. I’m happy that, at least at the level of the Council, there is a shared understanding regarding the importance of the external aspect of migration.
Of course, it is not the only solution to the problem, because we need to work hard also on the Pact itself. But unless we solve that problem, we will never be able to come up with a comprehensive European solution to a problem which in our minds is fundamentally a European problem and it is very unfair for countries such as Greece, that sit on the external border of a very dangerous crossing, and I’m referring to the Mediterranean crossing, A, to be burdened with the task of managing this problem, or being accused of actually not saving people at sea, when this is what our Coast Guard does every day. We should be placing the blame squarely on the smugglers and on those who facilitate them. They are the ones who are, at the end of day, responsible for whatever tragedy takes place in the Mediterranean.
We have been imposing a tough but fair migration policy, and I think we’ve demonstrated that the less boats you actually have at sea, the less the risk of people losing their lives at sea. We have effectively broken the smugglers business model in the Eastern Mediterranean route. And I think this is what we should be doing across the Mediterranean.
Let me again thank you for the warm hospitality and for the fact that we have significantly strengthened our bilateral relations. And I think we have a much better understanding now regarding your geopolitical concerns. And you have a much better understanding of our geopolitical issues in our part of the world. At the end of the day, this is what the European Union and NATO is all about. It’s about understanding each other and stepping up to support each other in times of need. So thank you again for the welcome.
And we’ll be seeing each other again tomorrow in Vilnius.
The Prime Minister then visited the Parliament of Latvia, where he met with the Speaker of the Parliament Edvards Smiltēns, followed by a visit to the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence.