Your Excellency, President Egils Levits.
Madame Andra Levite,
Sinjuri, ninsab bi pjaċir fostkom illejla, f’dan il-kastell storiku u prestiġġjuż ta’ Riga għal din iċ-ċena uffiċjali. Nirringrazzja lill-kollega tiegħi l-E.T. il President Egils Levits u s-Sinjura tiegħu Andra Levite għall-din l-istedina u lilkom kollha li għoġobkom tilqgħu l-istedina u tingħaqdu magħna llejla.
These were a few words of thanks and appreciation in Maltese to our hosts, and all distinguished guests present, for joining us at this auspicious event. I chose to convey this message in Maltese to honour our mother languages.
I was equally pleased to listen to President Levits addressing us in Latvian and thank him for his speech.
Allow me first of all to convey my appreciation, on behalf of Miriam and the rest of my delegation, for the hospitality afforded to us and for the detailed programme of events laid out for this visit.
This is my first visit to Latvia as Head of State of Malta and one which I am pleased to point out, is already proving to be very rewarding.
My previous visits were as Minister for Foreign Affairs, for the Informal Gymnich Meeting in March 2015, and then again when visiting European capitals before taking over the Presidency of the European Council in 2017.
I am particularly thankful for the open and constructive exchanges that I held during the course of the day with all my interlocutors.
I hope that we lived up to these high standards when we hosted President Levits in Malta to attend the Arraiolos Heads of State Meeting in October 2022.
I renew my thanks to you, Mr President, for joining us and for having shared your wisdom and knowledge with us, your fellow European Union colleagues, during our deliberations in Valletta.
Latvia and Malta are this year celebrating the thirty-first anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992.
Numerous changes have taken place in both our countries since then.
We have matured into sophisticated and diversified economies, joined and shaped the policies of the European Union, and elevated our international profile through active and effective multilateral initiatives.
In more ways than one, the tracks on which Malta and Latvia have developed are increasingly similar, despite the different geographic and regional contexts.
Very importantly, our peoples come closer at all levels, and are nowadays pivotal to the depth of our ties.
Malta is home to several Latvian nationals who have chosen to relocate among us, for family or professional reasons. Let me say how glad we are to host them all on our Islands, and that we highly appreciate their contribution to our very dynamic social fabric and to the continued growth of our economy.
At the same time, we are pleased to welcome tourists from Latvia together with students and professionals who choose to pursue the study of the English Language in Malta, while enjoying our mild climate, millennial history and cultural heritage.
I am equally pleased to note that Maltese investment in Latvia is thriving and has contributed along the years, to the country’s economic growth. The fields of real estate, catering and transshipment are areas where Maltese investors have achieved a strong foothold.
We hope to see these categories, and possibly others, expanding over the coming years.
In the months ahead, we should be able to register progress in emerging avenues of cooperation such as business, services, manufacturing, digital technology and tourism.
I have earlier referred to similarities between Latvia and Malta and in this regard I cannot but mention the misfortune of both belonging to very turbulent neighbourhoods.
For over a year now, we have been witnessing an unprovoked and unjustified war in Ukraine that has brought unimaginable abuse, pain and destruction to a millions of civilians.
Incidentally, when I was attending the Riga Gymnich Meeting in 2015, much of the discussion on foreign affairs was already dealing with the relations between Ukraine and Russia, the Minsk agreements, and future possible scenarios.
As some of you may recall, we had planned for this Visit to take place in the first week of March 2022.
Back then a decision was taken, to postpone the Visit, as the timing coincided with the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
We were all still in a sense of shock that week.
A year since the invasion, that same sense of shock still grips our thinking and our emotions.
Whatever the circumstances, we will remain adamant in both our speech and actions, in our unequivocal condemnation of this unprovoked invasion until Ukraine and its people are liberated.
I listened very carefully during my meetings today, about the immediate impact that the war in Ukraine is having on Latvia.
Very clear and detailed explanations were given to me today of the impending dangers felt by countries bordering an aggressor such as Russia.
Like Latvia, these countries feel first-hand, that their own security and stability are at a constant grave risk.
Rest assured of Malta’s full backing in these very precarious circumstances.
This brings me to a very important point concerning Malta’s neutrality.
The war in Ukraine has provided us with ample opportunities to demonstrate that our neutrality status, entrenched as it is in our Constitution, does not mean silence, or worse still, complacency.
It does not commit us to not doing anything.
Our condemnation of Russia’s atrocious disregard for international laws regarding territorial integrity and sovereignity is loud and clear. Our words and statements are backed by tangible assistance and support.
In our small way, we have seen the mobilisation of our entire population in an unprecedented show of solidarity and support to Ukraine and its people.
While different in both nature and magnitude, Malta too, is surrounded by pockets of instability. Several of our neighbours to the South are still battling to strengthen their flawed democratic processes, build their weak economic performances and avoid the justified concerns of their increasingly discontented populations.
The international community cannot continue to come in and react when it is too late, and a crisis is already unfolding.
This is very much the case when dealing with irregular migration.
What is taking so long for EU countries to understand what solidarity means, and put into practice, as promised, in many pacts and programmes?
Collective action is also necessary on pressing issues such as climate change, global social injustices and disparities, and our pursuit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Let us be reminded that the 2030 deadline that we all set for ourselves is only seven years away.
To counter these challenges, Malta is implementing an ambitious and far-reaching programme of initiatives for its term as non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council for these two years. We have presided over the Security Council all through the month of February.
Through our own declared priorities of Security, Solidarity and Sustainability we will be doing our level best to register progress on the dossiers of children and armed conflict, women, peace and security, literacy, and the far-reaching impact of climate change.
We continue to rely on the support of our esteemed colleagues from Latvia, to make a success out of this prestigious position.
In conclusion, I wish to refer to an inspiring thought which President Levits shared with his audience at the Saeima during his Inaugural Speech in July 2019, stating that:
A life without ideal would be individually miserable and politically useless.
I cannot agree more with this observation and find great comfort in our common defence of the ideals of freedom, justice and equality in the face of oppression, injustice and intolerance.
These values unite us and will continue to be front and centre of our partnership.
I now ask you, dear guests, to stand and toast to the health and well-being of President Egils Levits and Madame Andra Levite, to the bright and positive future of relations between Malta and Latvia and to our continued collaboration for global peace and stability.