18 February 2004

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Two countries, many common goals, one vision
Latvian President Dr Vaira Vike-Freiberga, speaks at Monday’s state dinner hosted by Maltese President Prof. Guido de Marco. In her address, Dr Vike-Freiberga focuses on future co-operations between the two soon-to-be EU members

It is a true pleasure to be on an official State visit in your beautiful country, and to be received with the legendary warmth and hospitality for which the people of Malta are widely known.
I am particularly pleased that this first ever State visit by a Latvian President to Malta is occurring on the eve of a historic event that will be of tremendous significance to both of our countries. On May 1 of this year, Malta and Latvia will become full member states of the European Union. Side by side and shoulder to shoulder, we have taken a lengthy and difficult journey to reach this milestone event. Last March, Latvia’s attention was focused on the events that were occurring on this island, when the people of Malta became the first of the EU’s new member states to say a decisive “yes” to the European Union. At that moment, we in Latvia felt as close to Malta as never before. Your vote presented a positive example that other countries would soon follow. Six months later, in September of last year, Latvia closed the series of referendums with a convincing manifestation of its people’s will. The cycle of national voting from Malta to Latvia was completed.
As fellow travellers on this common journey to EU membership, the people of Malta and Latvia have come to know each other better, to share their experiences and to support each other when necessary. Once our countries join the ranks of the European Union’s smaller member States, we will need to co-operate even more closely in the achievement of common goals and in the defence of common interests. We will need to have a clear vision about our role as small States within the new and expanded European Union and within the international community as a whole. And we will need to remind others that it is not the size of a country’s territory or its population that matter most, but rather the quality of its contribution to the common good.
Malta is known as a country whose activities have been focused on the promotion of security, stability and constructive co-operation in the Mediterranean region and in the world at large. The strategic position of Malta in the heart of the Mediterranean, as well as its sincere and active concern about the well-being of the region, along with the contribution that Malta is providing within the framework of the Barcelona Process and other forums, make the role of your country in this region extremely significant. With Malta’s accession to the European Union, Europe’s Southern Dimension will be strengthened still further, and Malta’s ability to promote the stability and well-being of the Mediterranean region will continue to increase.
Latvia, for its part, lies in a strategic position on the shores of the Baltic Sea. My country places great importance on increasingly close co-operation between the ten countries of the Baltic Sea region, which has become one of the most promising and dynamic regions in the continent. I am convinced that Latvia and her neighbours’ accession to the EU will contribute significantly to Europe’s Northern Dimension. Just as Malta is working to promote well-being and stability in the Mediterranean, so Latvia wishes to see prosperous, stable and democratic countries in the vicinity of the new and expanded European Union. Latvia is eager to pass on its accumulated experience in democratisation and economic growth to its eastern neighbours.
This year, Latvia will also accomplish another important foreign policy goal and accede to the NATO Alliance. This historic event will represent a significant milestone in consolidating Latvia’s national independence and security. As a NATO member State, Latvia will assume new duties and responsibilities, not only for the well-being of its own people, but also for the benefit of a larger international community. Latvia will have to work for the establishment of peace and stability in places that are not in close proximity to
its own borders. I am convinced that Latvia is ready to assume its new responsibilities, as it has already shown through active participation in international peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Even though Latvia and Malta are separated by a considerable geographic distance and lie in different parts of Europe, we can find numerous elements that unite us. We are united by the same overriding values and ideals, and by a common concern for the prosperity and security of Europe and of the world at large.
Malta, as a small country that has suffered lengthy periods of subjugation by foreign powers, has shown a special empathy with the Baltic States in their struggle for independence. Bilateral relations between Malta and Latvia began on August 26, 1991, when Malta became one of the first countries to recognise the reestablishment of Latvia’s statehood. Since January 1, 1992, when official diplomatic ties were established, Latvia and Malta have enjoyed good and friendly relations. I am convinced that the relations between Latvia and Malta as new EU member States will grow even closer in the years to come. As two small, European nations that are closely linked to the sea, we share a common mentality, as well as common areas of interest and mutual understanding. These provide a solid foundation for further co-operation.
The people of Malta can be proud of their country’s historical and cultural riches, of its unique architectural monuments and ancient temples, of Valletta and other towns, which are not frozen museum pieces, but living, genuine treasures waiting to be discovered. Latvians, for their part, take pride in the historical centre of Riga, their capital city; in its stately Art Nouveau buildings and romantic medieval streets, in their country’s unspoilt natural environment, in their unique song and dance festival traditions, and in their traditional folk songs, which embody the soul of the Latvian nation.
I would like to raise my glass to the strengthening of a genuine and growing friendship between Latvia and Malta. To our countries’ well-being and prosperity. To the health and happiness of President Guido de Marco and Mrs. de Marco. And to the health and happiness of the resilient people of this beautiful island nation.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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