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Interview with H.E. Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia, Ivars Pundurs

Interview with H.E. Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia, Ivars Pundurs“According to our experience in overcoming the crisis, the main key to success is at home, not in Brussels or elsewhere. Member States themselves are responsible for the creation of an appropriate investment climate and business friendly state administration which are prerequisites for economic growth and investment. I believe that all of us still have a lot to do in this regard.”

“It is clear that the problems in different EU member states are of a different character, sensitivity and scale, but standing united and firm in our common efforts would help to establish Europe as a safe place to live in and exercise our rights.”

 

The first of January not only marked the start of a new year, it marked the day when Latvia took over the Presidency of the EU Council for the first time. The Baltic state will lead and coordinate member states’ work for the next six months and expectations are high. With the Latvian PresidencInterview with H.E. Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia, Ivars Pundurs2y, the EU will have a country at the helm which not only endured a terrible economic fall during the crisis, but took the necessary steps to restore confidence, which has led to economic growth. Europe needs jobs and growth. The key to this is investment, which in turn needs investor confidence.

 


GDL: How is Latvia going to leave its mark on this EU Presidency?

IP: Well that’s for all of us to see in July. Since it is our first Presidency, for us it is already historical. Our priorities are Competitive Europe, Digital Europe and Engaged Europe and, with the help of all Member States, we hope to make progress on all of them.

GDL: Can you tell us a little more about why you chose the grinding stone for the logo of the Latvian Presidency?

IP: For a long time, the grinding stone is widely known in European cultures – it brings bread, thus nourishment and prosperity that is currently needed in the crisis hit Europe. The grindstone is rich in its associations: the circular shape suggests unity and wholeness what the European project stands for – commonly held ideals and values; the dynamic movement of it brings energy and growth. This is what Latvia, through its Presidency of the European Council, will try to bring to Europe.

 “In turbulent waters it’s better to be on board of a big ship. Besides the Eurozone, while still dealing with the aftermath of a financial crisis, is in a much better shape than few years ago.”

GDL: How are you intending to utilise your experience and boost economic growth throughout Europe?  And what actions are needed to ensure a successful implementation of the new Investment Plan for Europe, in order for the economies and residents of the EU countries to feel real benefits as soon as possible?

IP: Competitive Europe with more jobs and growth is one of the priorities Latvia has set for its Presidency. The initiative by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker’s ambitious Investment Plan for Europe is a crucial tool to that end. By mobilising finances for investments targeted to strategic areas and injecting up to 315 billion EUR into the European economy in the coming three years, the plan will play a central role in promoting growth and creating jobs. As the holder of the Presidency, we will do our best to make sure the necessary legal and administrative framework is in place for the plan’s implementation.

However, according to our experience in overcoming the crisis, the main key to success is at home, not in Brussels or elsewhere. Member States themselves are responsible for the creation of an appropriate investment climate and business friendly state administration that are prerequisites for economic growth and investment. I believe that all of us still have a lot to do in this regard.

“…education. By spreading proper information, by encouraging people to think about the nature of extremism and its consequences, we can hope for less violence in the future.”

GDL: Why has Latvia chosen to organise a Digital Agenda Assembly in Riga and what exactly does this entail?

IP: Seizing the opportunities of the digital single market is one of Latvia’s priorities that would enhance the investment climate and also boost jobs and growth. If implemented properly it would bring an additional 4% to the EU GDP by 2020. Innovations such as cloud services, data analysis and intelligent machines could add more than 200 billion EUR to the EU GDP by 2030.

In Latvia the digital environment is well developed and we would like to share our experience with other Member States in order to promote the modernisation of technologies, public sector and digital skills. Also, by naming digital agenda as one of the priorities, Latvia wanted to draw attention to the necessity of providing safety in the digital environment, hence enhancing trust among internet users and protecting them from cyber-crime.

We believe that the Digital Agenda Assembly taking place in Riga on 17th-18th June with the participation of high-level officials from member states and the European Commission, representatives of NGOs and experts of the digital technologies and other stakeholders will be a significant step to bringing us closer to the Digital Single market.

GDL: Latvia joined the Eurozone last year, Lithuania at the beginning of this year – both in an environment in which the Eurozone area is in stagnation. How do you see the future ahead for the euro?

IP: For Latvia joining the Eurozone has turned out to be favourable. Our people save money on currency exchange and bank transfers in the Eurozone, the state budget has gained up to 50 million EUR due to lower operational costs of the public debt, prices did not grow and credit ratings were increased during the last year – all this resulted in more real money in everyone’s pocket.

In turbulent waters it’s better to be on board of a big ship. Besides the Eurozone, while still dealing with the aftermath of a financial crisis, is in a much better shape than few years ago.

“While we all wish for the end of sanctions and trade restrictions between the EU and Russia, it is hard to imagine any policy change on the EU’s part before we see a tangible progress in Ukraine.”

GDL: With conflict on the EU’s doorstep, the situation in our neighbourhood is as challenging as ever. How can a small country be an honest broker for the good of the whole Union and not be influenced by the larger players?

IP: The decisions in the European Union are taken by all 28 member states on equal basis. This is why they sometimes come slowly, but at the same time it gives equal power to every Member State and ensures that all of them are behind the decision once it has been taken. The EU has been united in reacting to the recent challenges next to our borders and our decisions and policies are based in the EU’s core values such as freedom and democracy, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights.

GDL: Are you optimistic in achieving one of the priorities of your Presidency: an ‘Engaged Europe’ – to assume a full and active role on the global stage engaging in issues of global importance? 

IP: The crisis in Ukraine shows very well how the countries on the EU’s doorstep affect every EU member state. The same can be said about Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries where internal conflicts loudly resound in the world. We all wish for peace, stability and prosperity in our neighbourhood. By engaging, offering our assistance and advice we all can be winners.

It is natural that we focus on our neighbours who are geographically closer to us and we have closer relations and more experience with. Greece during its Presidency last year focused more on the EU’s southern borders providing its vision on how to tackle persistent problems. Latvia has more expertise on the EU’s eastern border that also will be shared with other EU members in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga on 21st-22nd May where the progress since the Vilnius Summit will be evaluated and efforts will be made to identify differentiated strategies of cooperation with each Eastern Partner.

GDL: After the tragic terrorist attack to Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the EU Ministers of Culture stood in solidarity to defend the freedom of expression and vowed to protect the rights of artists to create freely. All over Europe we are experiencing unprecedented violence. How can we actively promote tolerance and symbiosis in a bid to eradicate such phenomena?

Does Europe need to re-evaluate its approach to immigration and integration?

IP: Recent events show the need to intensify counter terrorism activities in all possible dimensions: strengthen cooperation among the EU member states and others affected by terrorism, stimulate dialogue with the Arab and Mediterranean countries, enforce the use of currently available mechanisms and develop the necessary legal framework and technical capabilities adjusted to the current needs.

Simultaneously, we need to look at immigration and integration policies and find a way to ensure that all members of our societies share the fundamental human values which was clearly not the case with the perpetrators of the horrendous attacks in Paris. As we know from our own experience, the integration of society is a lasting and complex process, the success of which depends on a number of variables. Every state has its own experience and sharing these experiences would benefit everyone.

Another essential element is education. By spreading proper information, by encouraging people to think about the nature of extremism and its consequences, we can hope for less violence in the future.

It is clear that the problems in different EU member states are of a different character, sensitivity and scale, but standing united and firm in our common efforts would help to establish Europe as a safe place to live in and exercise our rights.

GDL: With regards to the situation in Ukraine and the EU embargo on Russia, the two sides are locked in a trade war and smaller economies are stuck in the middle, which naturally includes Latvia. What is the stance of your country and how can we ease tensions and look toward creating a basis for reconciliation in the future?

IP: The reason for current state in EU-Russia relations is a clear violation of International Law by the Russian Federation. What Russia has done and is still doing in Ukraine undermines the post-Cold War order in Europe and security of the continent. While we all wish for the end of sanctions and trade restrictions between the EU and Russia, it is hard to imagine any policy change on the EU’s part before we see a tangible progress in Ukraine, in particular the implementation of the Minsk Agreement by the Russian Federation.

At the same time, we consider it essential that the channels of communication are kept open. In this regard, on January 12th the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Edgars Rinkēvičs, was in Moscow to discuss a variety of issues with his counterpart.

GDL: What is the level of cooperation between Latvia and Greece, and despite the fact that they are located at opposite ends of the Union, in what fields can they explore a more productive cooperation?

IP: Latvia and Greece are allies in the EU and NATO where we cooperate and support each other on all the important issues of the international agenda. Bilateral relations between the two countries are excellent with no outstanding issues.  At the same time economic links between the countries cannot be described as intensive – there is definitely a potential for increased cooperation. One sector, for sure, is tourism, where Greece plays a leading role in Europe. Also cooperation on innovative technologies, science and research could be developed, since those are the fields where geographical location is not the most important precondition.  As Greece finally gets back to economic growth, I am sure there will be many opportunities to advance the economic agenda in the coming years.

GDL: What activities has the Embassy undertaken in order to promote your country in Greece? And finally, Mr. Ambassador, as a keen photographer, what areas in Greece have particularly inspired you?

IP: The Latvian Embassy in Greece, also accredited to Cyprus and Serbia, is comparatively small; therefore it is quite difficult to perform a broad scale of promotion activities. Our main objective has been to promote Latvian culture, providing to the Greek public an opportunity to discover more about their northern EU colleagues.

We have brought to Greece famous Latvian musicians, displayed photo exhibitions, co-organised art exhibitions, etc. Last year on the occasion of the Latvian membership in the Eurozone, the Embassy, in cooperation with the Greek National Numismatic Museum, organised an exhibition of the Latvian Numismatic collection ‘Money in Latvia: from Amber to Euro’. Since there are direct flights from Riga to Athens, and this year also to Thessaloniki, the Embassy, in cooperation with the Latvian national airline airBaltic, is promoting Latvia as a desirable tourism destination. On a daily basis, the Embassy advices Greek entrepreneurs who are interested in business cooperation with Latvian companies and vice versa.

Photography has been a hobby of mine for a long time and I am also happy to practice it in Greece. Here I find many interesting subjects ranging from the people with colourful personalities to magnificent landscapes. It might sound strange, but I enjoy taking photographs in Athens the most. Athens is a city full of character and in the three years that I have been here, I think that I have started to get to know it and subsequently fall in love with it. I was therefore very happy to do a group exhibition recently with a Greek photographer, Tassos Venetsanopoulos, entitled ‘Athens x 2’ which was shown at the Image Gallery on Amalias Avenue.

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos

Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

 

Published in January 2015

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