I thank the members of press and media who are present.
I have to say that it is my pleasure to welcome His Excellency President Edgars Rinkēvičs on this visit to Malta.
The President and I last met in Riga, during my outgoing visit in March 2023, in his former capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and we also knew each other for years in the Foreign Affairs Council.
Today I had the honour of receiving him as Head of State of Latvia. I took this occasion to congratulate him and wish him every success in his onerous role.
We have just finished our official talks, during which I was accompanied by the Hon. Foreign Minister Ian Borg, to discuss opportunities to further deepen relations between Malta and Latvia and to exchange views on both bilateral and international issues.
I will touch upon the most salient points we discussed.
On bilateral matters, we reflected on the fact that Malta and Latvia are celebrating 34 years since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations.
Since then, very good progress was made in terms of political contacts, also in light of our membership of the European Union, both of us in the year 2004. Malta has positive trade relations with Latvia, and a good number of Maltese businesses have expanded their operations to Latvia.
People-to-people contacts have been consolidated along the years, through tourism and a sizeable Latvian community residing in Malta.
There is potential for increased contacts in the fields of information technology, financial services, food processing, metalworking, and aviation.
During our talks I shared my views on a number of pressing international matters, and the active role that Malta is taking to resolve them.
I naturally referred to Malta’s work at the UN Security Council as an elected Member for the term 2023-2024.
The general global situation remains a very tense one. Malta remains committed to the value of multilateralism, a rules-based international order, and ensuring that our institutions remain relevant in the contemporary world.
We have continued to ensure that the priority areas identified in the run-up to our tenure remain high on the agenda.
I expressed my gratitude to President Rinkēvičs for Latvia’s support to Malta’s appointment as OSCE Chair-in-Office for the year 2024. This for us is a historic moment, and we are assuming this role with a sense of commitment and responsibility, as we recognise that this is a critical moment in the international arena.
President Rinkēvičs and I talked in detail about Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war in Ukraine.
Russia’s continued wide-spread attacks on civilian population and Ukraine’s infrastructure is yet another reminder of its illegitimate war of aggression being waged in full violation of international law.
We will equally remain unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have been vocal in condemning these acts and maintain that perpetrators must be held accountable.
Within the current context, the sustained provision of humanitarian assistance remains paramount. We reiterate the need to ensure the sustainability of our aid, particularly through coordination with our international partners.
We also had discussion on the Middle East. Since October 7, as you all know, Malta has consistently denounced the horrific acts of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas, which have resulted in the abduction, torture, and death of hundreds of civilians, and we reiterate our solidarity to the families of the victims.
The indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, as well as the horrors described by the released Israel hostages, must not go unnoticed.
At the same time, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is desperate.
The thousands of civilian casualties in Gaza, as well as the targeting of civilian structures, are equally concerning, and cannot simply be dismissed as collateral damage.
Likewise, the increased violence, demolitions, forced displacement and the murder of innocent civilians in the West Bank cannot go unnoticed. It is imperative that all parties comply with international law, including international humanitarian law.
Dialogue is the key to these issues.
It is imperative that all parties, including the EU, work together with regional and global partners to promote a genuine political horizon which safeguards a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders, addressing the legitimate concerns and aspirations of both sides, in line with relevant UNSC Resolutions.
Moving on to European affairs, I recalled how the European Council decided on 14 December 2023 to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, grant candidate status to Georgia and to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, once the necessary degree of compliance is achieved.
This decision was made against the backdrop of ongoing discussions about the Future of the EU. There is a general consensus amongst EU Member States that countries with a clear European aspiration need to be offered a realistic perspective of joining the EU.
There is also a consensus that enlargement should remain a merit-based process and be geared towards full membership of future members.
The push for a reflection process on internal EU reforms has been gaining steady ground over the past months. This discussion, and any possible enlargement, need to proceed on two separate but parallel tracks.
We also touched on the issue of irregular migration, and I underlined how Malta remains concerned by the migratory pressure from the Central Mediterranean route, with the significant increase of arrivals since 2020.
This is a challenge for the EU and not just a matter for a few frontline Member States.
There is a need to strengthen the southern borders and to combat human trafficking and smuggling.
Malta continues to underline the need for ongoing support to Libya and Tunisia now more than ever. The EU needs to address migration management both along the borders used to depart towards Europe, as well as along the borders used by smugglers with the aim to cross to Europe.
In conclusion, I once again welcome President Rinkēvičs to Malta and thank him for our fruitful and in-depth discussions. I am sure his visit will be a successful one.
Your Excellency, dear colleague, the floor is yours.