Co-op with Azerbaijan priority for Latvia’s EU Council presidency, FM says

Politics Materials 21 January 2015 12:15 (UTC +04:00)
Trend Agency conducted an interview with Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics
Co-op with Azerbaijan priority for Latvia’s EU Council presidency, FM says

Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan. 20

By Jamila Jafarova - Trend:

Trend Agency conducted an interview with Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. His country will preside over the Council of the European Union from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2015.

Cooperation with Azerbaijan

Cooperation with Eastern Partnership countries, particularly with Azerbaijan, is among high priorities defined during Latvian presidency of the Council of the European Union, Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told Trend.

The minister said that on May 21, 2015, the Latvian capital of Riga will host the Eastern Partnership Business Forum.

"We look forward to Azerbaijani businessmen participating in this business forum," he noted. "We believe that this business forum will provide a new impetus to the business in our two countries."

"Given its excellent railway and port infrastructure, as well as its high labour competitiveness, Latvia has become a strong player in the European transport and logistics sector and we believe this aspect can be appealing to Azerbaijani investors," he added.

Minister Rinkevics also said that among other priority sectors for attracting foreign investment in Latvia there are metal processing and machinery, information technology, life sciences, health care, timber industry, green technology (CleanTech) and the food industry.

"Businessmen in Azerbaijan may want to consider work with successful franchises like Stenders, Dzintars, Madara Cosmetics, Lauma Lingerie, Attirance, Rosme," he added. "The products of these companies would do well in Azerbaijan."

Rinkevics further noted that Latvia considers Azerbaijan as an important partner in the South Caucasus.

"Bilateral relations have been on a good track and we are satisfied with them. The political dialogue between Latvia and Azerbaijan is active and constructive," the minister stressed.

He went on to add that Latvia is looking forward to welcome leaders from Azerbaijan to Riga during Eastern Partnership Summit.

Rinkevics also said it is necessary to put more effort in developing the economic cooperation since it will ultimately benefit the peoples and societies of both countries.

"We see a positive trend in this regard; our trade in first nine month of 2014 has increased by 25 percent," he noted. "Our trade is doing well and it could do even better."

The minister underscored that it is needed to continue unpacking the opportunities of economic cooperation.

"We believe there are good perspectives for businesses in both Azerbaijan and Latvia to get together in the specific areas of IT, health services, industry, ecology and environmental protection," he said.

Minister Rinkevics also noted that Latvia is interested to share its reform experience.

"One way to do this is by expanding our cooperation in field of education and to see more students from Azerbaijan in Latvia's universities," he said, adding that around 125 students from Azerbaijan are at the moment studying in Latvia.

"In 2015, we will continue to offer an advanced programme in European Law and Economics for Eastern Partnership Region and Central Asia, and students from Azerbaijan are welcome," he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Latvia believes that the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be resolved peacefully, Minister Rinkevics said.

"Latvia is convinced that this long drawn out conflict must only be resolved by peaceful means and in accordance with international law," he said. "Looking from the perspective of Latvia's EU Presidency, I can say that Latvia fully supports the OSCE Minsk group in its activities."

"It is crucial to maintain direct high-level contacts between Armenia and Azerbaijan in a conflict settlement process," he said.

The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan.

As a result of the ensuing war, in 1992 Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.

The two countries signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia, France and the US are currently holding peace negotiations.

Armenia has not yet implemented four UN Security Council resolutions on the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.

Latvia's presidency of the EU Council

Latvia's main goal during its presidency is strong and safe Europe, Minister Rinkevics said.

"At the helm of the Council of the European Union, Latvia will see that work actively continues on pending legislation and, in light of unexpected events or changes, we will be ready also to foster new initiatives to make Europe safer and stronger," he said. "Many issues require both immediate and long-term solutions."

"Latvia is proud to begin its first presidency in the EU," he said. The Council Presidency's six month programme has been published and we aim to focus on three priorities: Competitive Europe, Digital Europe and Engaged Europe."

"The terrorist attacks in Paris were a "wake up call" for security agencies across Europe and these attacks gave rise to a new priority for Latvia's Presidency, namely, ensuring the European Union's internal security," Rinkēvičs said.

"We must not let terrorists divide our societies," Rinkēvičs said. "We must work on how best to handle the phenomenon of foreign fighters. We hope to achieve agreement with the European Parliament on the Passenger Name Register directive, and to candidly ask if we have the necessary tools and measures in place for a robust counter-terrorist program."

As for the three original directions of the presidency, the minister said that first, a COMPETITIVE EUROPE.

"Here our aim is to enhance the competitiveness and growth of the European Union," he said. "This means working on the policies related to financing of the economy and strengthening of the Single Market. This means jobs. And it means an Energy Union."

"Next, we want a DIGITAL EUROPE," Rinkēvičs said. "Latvia's goal is to fully exploit the digital potential in the European economy. The EU policies to develop digital potential should steer into three directions - boosting the economy and growth, offering a safe digital environment, promoting modernisation of our public sector and developing our digital skills. In this context, the Digital Agenda Assembly takes place in Riga from 17-18 June."

"And third, we are promoting the concept of an ENGAGED EUROPE as a priority," he said. The objective is reinforcing the role of the European Union in the global arena. Latvia will fully support the High Representative and the European External Action Service in implementing the EU's foreign policy priorities. And we will pay particular attention to enhancing the EU's cooperation with the Eastern Partnership countries. So we will host the 4th Eastern Partnership Summit from 21-22 May."

"Looking still further to the East of Europe, I should mention that Latvia wants the EU's attention, presence, and political support directed toward the countries of Central Asia where encouragement stability and prosperity must be undertaken more actively in view of the withdrawal of NATO's forces from Afghanistan and the continuing threats posed by terrorism and trafficking," he said.

"Latvia's EU Presidency will be focussing on three areas with respect to Central Asia, namely security, education and sustainable development (transport and transit, energy, and the environment)," Rinkēvičs said. "Education Ministers of the EU and Central Asia will be meeting in Riga during our Presidency; students from Central Asia have chosen Latvia as a prime location to receive their higher education. As it has been doing now for several years, Latvia will be promoting and hosting discussions on improving and extending existing routes by rail and air with China and Southeast Asia via countries of the Eastern Partnership and Central Asia."

The European Council in the June 2015 will be a key milestone during the Presidency with its strategic discussion on the future level of ambition in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Finally, we will be reminding other members that it is in the EU's interests to strengthen the transatlantic partnership, notably by moving forward on the road to an eventual Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP).

Eastern Partnership policy

Latvia will focus its efforts on keeping the Eastern Partnership high on the EU policy agenda, Rinkevics said.

"The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a well-developed and comprehensive policy," he said. "Latvia will continue to use the policy for guidance in accordance with its responsibilities during its presidency of the EU Council in 2015."

As the minister said, his country, along with its Eastern partners, is interested in democratic, secure, developed and prosperous neighborhoods.

He added that Latvia, during its EU presidency, will focus on three key EaP objectives.

These objectives include asserting the strategic importance of the EaP policy; confirming that real progress in the EaP has indeed been made since the Vilnius Summit; and strengthening the EaP's attractiveness to partners with enhanced cooperation with the EU in both the medium and longer terms.

Rinkevics said the further political association and advancement of economic integration and trade relations, progress in the field of mobility, people-to-people contacts, stepped up engagement with civil societies, strengthening of the multilateral cooperation framework of the EaP are also important for the EaP's success.

"Latvia is convinced that in taking the EaP forward, it should remain a unified platform with greater opportunities for differentiation," the minister further noted.

He added that one of the future tasks will be to ensure appropriate differentiation to foster an individual partner's interests, as well as to maintain inclusiveness of the EaP up till the Riga Summit and beyond.