From Reykjavík to Riga – Greetings and congratulations on the occasion of Latvia´s independence celebration.
Let us ask ourselves a simple question: Have the expectations of the pioneers of the independence movement been realized? Observed from afar, the answer to these questions seems in the main to be a positive one.
You have certainly consolidated your democratic institutions.
You have integrated your economy with the internal market of the EU- the largest free trade area in the world – and with the international commercial system. And, last but not least, you have taken out an insurance policy against potential future agression by joining both NATO and The European Union. Those are no mean achievements.
But we are reminded that we live in unprecedented times. Man-made climate change threatens to destroy living conditions on our planet. And an invisible enemy threatens all our lives and the health of our societies. Seldom has political leadership been put to greater tests.
In your neighbourhood you are also facing the threat of a revanchist empire on your border. Regrettably it is in part a consequence of the failure of Western leadership to seize the opportunity, offered by the fall of the Soviet Union, to massively support the democratic forces inside Russia; to allow them to plant the seeds of democracy and the rule of law in Russian soil. Hence, Russia has reverted back to her imperial past, claiming a „sphere of influence“ in the „near abroad“.
And, regrettably, we have to admit that the European Union has not lived up to our expectations – witness the ineffective response to the international financial crisis; the abyssmal failure of the austerity policies imposed by the center, and the lack of agreement on an effective response to the immigration challenge. And I would add a fourth one: neglecting to start preparing a common defence and security policy for the European Union as a whole, in the eventuality of America leaving Europe.
This suffices to say that there are many and big challenges ahead.
But, you have gone through testing times before. And, probably, never been in a stronger position to deal with those challenges effectively. You are not alone, as you were during the crucial years 1939-40. You and your neighbours do have a seat in the councils of power, where you can assert your influence on collective policy. And through regional cooperation of the Nordic-Baltic Union, together we have all the human and physical resources needed to prosper in the years ahead. I conclude this message by repeating our greetings from Reykjavík to Riga on the occasion of your independence celebration. Under the banner of the „solidarity of small nations“ we shall prevail.
(Mr. Hannibalsson was Iceland‘s minister for foreign affairs and external trade 1988-95)