These are challenging times for the Baltic nations, as they face down a whole host of foreign policy concerns. Confronted with so-called ‘hybrid warfare’ in Belarus, Russia’s behaviour and changing relationships with the world’s superpowers, the region’s leaders are calling for nations to intensify their efforts to work together.

Latvia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edgars Rinkēvičs, says now is the time to strengthen EU resilience and for member states to collaborate to build on the wave of digitisation that has been accelerating since the start of the pandemic.

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Action, not talk

When it comes to the climate crisis, Mr Rinkēvičs says that governments need to turn their words into deeds. “In Europe, we have made a commitment to being carbon neutral by 2050. But frankly, we all understand how much of a challenge and sacrifice every EU member state will have to make to reduce emissions,” he says. “We want to get it done — and get it done globally. But the greatest challenge will not be making political slogans and commitments, but actually implementing them.”

At the heart of the EU’s aims to build its post-pandemic resilience is the European Green Deal, which aims to transform its economy into one that is modern, resource-efficient and competitive. One-third of the €1.8tn Next Generation EU Recovery Plan funding, plus the EU’s seven-year budget, will finance this project.

Mr Rinkēvičs explains that a key element of Latvia’s approach to achieving the goals of the European Green Deal is boosting start-ups and new technologies in the country. The government is also working with its Baltic neighbours on a series of schemes aimed at hitting green targets. “We are investing in the start-ups that are trying to build up wind and solar power capabilities, and are co-operating cross-border in building these projects,” he says. 

Public transport upgrades are another important feature of the region’s plans. “The governments of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are working together to boost the economy and achieve green targets through the Rail Baltica high-speed railway from Tallinn [in Estonia] to Riga [in Latvia], and on to Vilnius [in Lithuania], before connecting to the rest of Europe,” Mr Rinkēvičs says.

Boosting the digital economy

Latvia was already preparing for digitisation before the pandemic, and Mr Rinkēvičs is keen to continue the momentum that has been building over the past couple of years and capitalise on the opportunities of the growing digital economy. 

But he sounds a note of caution on certain areas of digital expansion, warning that governments need to work together to address serious cyber security issues, such as state-sponsored cyber-attacks and digital crimes that are stalling wider digital development. Cyber security was highlighted as the primary concern for investors in the Three Seas region — which comprises the 12 countries located between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas — at the recent Three Seas Initiative summit. 

“During the summit, we recognised that in order to proceed with digital connectivity and the digital economy, we need to work together to address and invest in common standards, and understanding cyber security and cyber defence,” Mr Rinkēvičs says. For him, and other summit participants, the way forward is clear: further collaboration.

This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence magazine. Read the online edition here.