European leadership in a time of crisis

Oslo, 19 March 2015

'With the current critical situation in Europe, I am really looking forward to hearing his (Edgars Rinkevics) perspectives on the European role and the need for European leadership in addressing these challenges', said Minister Vidar Helgesen in his introduction of the Latvian foreign minister  at Norwegian Institute of International Affairs' seminar 19 March.

Thank you, and good morning. It is a great pleasure for me to introduce Foreign Minister Rinkevics, who is here to speak to us today. Given that Latvia currently holds the Presidency of the EU, he is at the very heart of European leadership.

Europe is indeed facing significant challenges. To the south, a belt of instability. We saw what happened even in the most promising country, yesterday, in Tunisia.

Few will be better able to address the new and far more dangerous situation to the east, than a Latvian foreign minister.

Europe is also facing challenges to the west. The looming question is what the UK will do following the election this spring.

But there are also promises to the west, in the TTIP negotiations and the opportunities and prospects for revitalising trans-Atlantic cooperation. But as we see the TTIP negotiations unfold, and as we follow the public debates around Europe, it is clear that this too is an issue demanding European leadership.

Europe is at the same time facing significant internal challenges. Economic problems that have translated into social problems, and that in turn have translated into political extremism and disturbing political developments in many European countries. And we have seen how these political elements are fishing in murky waters – regarding the situation to the south of Europe, as well as to the east. So, there is a holistic complex of challenges facing Europe.

The EU – as a body – is being challenged. But over the last year, it has also demonstrated more unity than many of us would have guessed a year ago. For Norway, it is obviously quite a challenge that, faced with aggression from our largest neighbouring country, much of the discussion about the western response to that situation is now taking place in the European Union.

When security was last a big issue in Europe, Nato was the table that mattered. Nato still matters. Nato is still our ultimate security guarantee. It is a very important backer of EU diplomatic efforts as well.

But more and more of the political deliberations – the ongoing calibration of European policy and dialogue between Europe and the US on these critical challenges – is now taking place around the European Union table. And we are not at the table when decisions that greatly affect us and our security are being discussed.

So evidently, in that context, it is of great importance for Norway, not only to have the EEA Agreement as our economic lifeline to the single market, but also to increase and step up our engagement with the EU in the area of foreign, security and defence policy. Which is an added reason why having Mr Rinkevics here during Latvia's EU Presidency is a great opportunity.

Mr Rinkevics has been a prominent figure not only in his own country, but also in Europe, ever since he entered politics at the end of the 1990s, a time of profound change. And with the current critical situation in Europe, I am really looking forward to hearing his perspectives on the European role and the need for European leadership in addressing these challenges.

Minister, the floor is yours.