European Western Balkans

The Riga Conference 2017: EU must deliver to regain citizens’ trust

RIGA – Russia’s relations with neighbours and NATO, what is the future of NATO in Europe, political and economic consequences of populism in Europe, Brexit and its slow-paced progress, military in defence of democratic values, were some of the topics which were discussed at the Riga Conference 2017.

The Conference, which represents an annual meeting of regional and international experts in foreign policy and defence, academics, journalists, and business representatives, took place on September 29-30.

The Rīga Conference 2017; Photo: Valdis Kaulins / The Rīga Conference 2017

In his welcoming speech, Edgars Rinkevičs, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia explained that this conference will be dealing with the global phenomenon of populism.

“We cannot ignore the concerns of a significant part of the society, so we have to find a way to ensure efficient security and well-being solutions, whilst preserving our values. It will only be possible when there is a strong tradition of democracy, rule of law and human rights in place in the society,“ said Rinkevics, adding that when the political leaders are committed to them, a clear vision for solving both internal and external challenges can be provided.

The Rīga Conference 2017; Photo: Valdis Kaulins / The Rīga Conference 2017

“This year’s agenda includes matters that are increasingly preoccupying our minds: the role of NATO in the context of international relations, the development scenarios of Russia’s future, the Brexit process and its impact on the European Union, and the perspectives of the Eastern Partnership countries,” said Raimonds Bergmanis, Minister of Defence of Latvia.

The two-day even begun with the panel dealing with the NATO – “July 2018, Brussels: NATO leaders agree on on..“, which is said to be a cornerstone of Trans-Atlantic security for six decades. Ministers of Defence of Latvia and Canada, Raimonds Bergmanis and Harjit Singh Sajjan, explained that new challenges demand of the countries stronger devotion in dealing with the threats, which ultimately leads to an increase of defence budget. The two counterparts address the issue of establishing new European defence agenda, that some consider as a replacement for NATO.

One of the sessions that is being held under “Chatham House Rule” discussed the outcomes of Brexit – progress in negotiations between the European Commission and the British government, that is said to be lagging behind schedule. The implications of the potential “no deal“ agreement were discussed by Mark Andrew Pritchard MP, Member of the UK Delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Alasdair Allan, Minister for International Development and Europe, Scottish Government and Ian Bond, Foreign Policy Director of the Centre for European Reform.

How can new media technologies disrupt representative democracy was the topic which was considered at one of the panels. It is said that interference is carried out through supporting a political candidate of choice with financing, online activist groups and bot-driven networks pushing through positive narratives in social media. Countering the fake news is said to be one of the challenges of that democratic societies are facing these days.

The next day of the conference started with the discussion on the relations between Russia and NATO and Russia’s relations with neighbours. One of the main questions which arose was – Could Russia’s political success be achieved without improving its relations with its neighbours? – having in mind Russia’s relation with Ukraine, which is said to be in a complicated position of balancing its domestic policy priorities with maintaining a good pace for the required reforms to stay closer to the EU.

“Military in defence of democratic values“ – was one panel which was discussing the current challenges of the liberal societies and its need to take steps to preserve the lifestyle, in the days when „extremist groups justify their military actions as defence of the “real” values, which run contrary to the beliefs and values of democratic societies.

On the question what is the role of the military in defence of democratic values discussed Katharine Cornell Gorka, Senior Advisor of the Department of Homeland Security, Karin Enström, Member of Parliament of Sweden, Jānis Garisons, Secretary of State of Ministry of Defence of Latvia, and Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor for Security and Defence Policy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Former President of Latvia, Vaira Vike Freibrega, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Sven Mikser, First Vice-President of the EU Commission in charge of Better Regulation, Inter- Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights Frans Timmermans, were speakers of the session with dealt with political and economic consequences of populism in Europe, especially the fact that “European politicians have not yet come to grips with how to manage migration, economic slowdown, and increasing unemployment rates among the youth“, as it was stated.

The Rīga Conference 2017; Photo: Valdis Kaulins / The Rīga Conference 2017

“We have to take responsibility for what we do collectively. EU must deliver in order to regain citizens’ trust“, stated Timmermans.

The conference was supported by the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, the Public Diplomacy Division of NATO, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a project by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the US Embassy in Latvia, Representation of the European Commission in Latvia, the Askaneli Brothers, Amber Distribution Latvia, the Embassy of Georgia in Latvia, the Embassy of Canada in Latvia, Saab AB, the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia, AS Swedbank, the Riga City Council, the Latvian National Library, Georgian Wines, FIMA, Hytera, Audi Latvia, Møller Auto Riga, Møller Auto Lidosta, and Riga International Airport.

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