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It has been a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you, esteemed President Bērziņš, on your state visit to Finland. Your visit underlines the excellent, close ties between our countries.
My wife and I have fond memories of our state visit to Latvia in September 2013. We engaged in interesting discussions, had the privilege of getting to know the beautiful city of Riga, which is brimming with history, and visited Jelgava and Inčukalns outside the capital.
Since that visit, we have met several times in various contexts, exactly as good neighbours and friends should. It could be said, however, that state visits provide a unique opportunity to review the full extent of cooperation between our countries.
As mentioned today, our relationship has a sound basis. We are close neighbours, connected by the Baltic Sea. Finland and Latvia are bound by a shared history and our current partnership, both bilateral and within the EU.
Since my state visit, Latvia has joined the eurozone. I am glad, but not surprised, about the fact that Latvia met the Maastricht criteria with flying colours and is committed to following a responsible economic policy. In this respect, Latvia has been a model country in Europe. Latvia has made excellent progress in the negotiations for OECD membership. We hope that the negotiations will come to a conclusion this year and Latvia’s OECD membership can be ratified next year.
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Latvia is now holding the EU Presidency for the first time. The agenda for your term of Presidency includes several major issues. Therefore, it is not insignificant to us that a close partner like Latvia is currently holding the EU Presidency.
The priorities chosen by Latvia – a competitive Europe, a digital Europe and an engaged Europe, that is, the EU’s external relations – are also high on Finland’s agenda. You have our full support.
Economic relations between our countries are also high on the agenda. Finland and Latvia’s trade relations have rapidly recovered to the level prior to the economic crisis, and, in fact, beyond. However, there is still plenty of room in both countries for growth in trade and new investments. There are also those willing to take the initiative, as proven by today’s business forum and the extensive interest it attracted.
More than 370 Finnish companies are active in Latvia. They are not focussed on one or two sectors of the economy only, but cover several lines of business from the energy sector that utilises the latest cleantech solutions, to machinery manufacturers and tourism services. The Latvian offering is equally diverse, as we have learned today here in Helsinki.
Our countries have common interests in the energy and transport sectors, such as the development of natural gas transport connections in the Baltic region and the natural gas storage facilities in Inčukalns, Latvia, alongside the progress of the Rail Baltica project, which is being followed with great interest by Finnish business and industry representatives.
In addition to political and economic relations, we share common neighbours. Events in our neighbouring region influence the security and stability of Finland and Latvia alike.
I regret to say that the Ukraine crisis and the thousands of human lives sacrificed therein have forced us to admit that Europe is not a safe haven of peace after all. Finland has followed a clear policy in relation to the crisis in Ukraine. Russia’s actions in the Crimea and East Ukraine, including the unlawful occupation of territory, the unlawful use of force and attempts to restrict the sovereignty of states, have been categorically condemned. We cannot accept the violations of international law that have taken place.
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Politics and the economy are the keys to our relationship, but as usual, it is culture that ultimately creates a deeper connection. I was delighted to hear that the Latvian Museum of National Art, due to reopen after renovations in autumn 2016, will begin by hosting the jubilee exhibition of Janis Rozentāls, Latvia’s national artist. This renowned painter was married to Finnish singer Elli Forsell. While living in Finland, he was inspired by Finland’s romantic nationalism. Rozentāls became familiar with the works of Akseli Gallen-Kallela – the Kalevala paintings prompted him to draw inspiration from Latvian mythology. Such connections, which create and process intellectual symbols, are another key element in the relationship between our countries.
Esteemed President Bērziņš, I would once again like to thank you for your visit to Finland and the fruitful discussions which we have held today. I would now like to raise a toast in honour of Latvia’s President Bērziņš and the excellent relations between Finland and Latvia!