On the occasion of the Saeima centenary, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola was invited to address the people of Latvia. In her speech, she said that Europe can rise to meet the challenges of our time and the next 100 years.
© European Union | The President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola addressing the Saeima, in Riga, Latvia
Dear Members of the Saeima,
I wanted to start this address by saying thank you. Paldies. To you all and everyone you represent.
Latvia to me will always be a symbol of hope, of transformation and of resilience. Of the enduring proof in a people and a nation to overcome the odds, to resist, to lead. To break free from the shackles of history to join the European Union and shape our common future.
The qualities and values that Europe stands for are personified in the Latvian people.
2022 marks an important centenary. When we celebrate your democracy, your respect of human dignity and freedom, your freedom to choose your destiny.
One hundred years ago delegates of the Saeima gathered for the first parliament meeting of the Republic of Latvia. Together, they adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia in a freely elected assembly.
After five decades of occupation in May of 1990, the Latvian Supreme Council in Riga broke away from the Soviet Union. The Latvian state was restored and the 1922 Constitution reinstated. That took courage. It took belief and it took strength of principle.
So let me pay tribute to the 138 women and men, parliamentarians, for their extraordinary bravery in standing up. It is that spirit that I see in Ukraine today. It is that political courage that we need to re-capture as we enter the next phase of this unjust, illegal and unacceptable Russian invasion of a sovereign nation in Europe.
We must be clear: We are witnessing an attempt by the Kremlin to re-write history, re-draw the iron curtain that Latvians helped break down and re-establish countries back into spheres of influence.
That is not acceptable to me and that is not acceptable to the European Union.
We were swift in adopting far-reaching and hard-hitting sanction packages against Russia and Belarus. We were quick in restricting access to the EU’s capital and financial markets. We took action to reduce our dependencies drastically on Russian energy. We closed access to our waters, ports, airspace and transport space to Russian-owned vehicles. We approved Ukraine and Moldova as candidate countries for EU membership. We welcomed Ukrainians into our homes and hearts and military, financial and humanitarian aid continues to flow.
We are proud to stand by and stand with Ukraine and we need to go further still.
In my first speech as European Parliament President I promised our Institution will never be neutral between the fire and the fire truck and we must continue to help Ukraine win.
This means holding Russia’s regime to account for war crimes that kill civilians indiscriminately. This means pushing for even more sanctions. This means heightening security across Latvia’s borders. This means providing even more financial and military aid to Ukraine - including the tanks and air defence systems that they need.
It also means tightening cross-border links between the three Baltic countries to deliver on the priority high-speed infrastructure project Rail Baltica, which is now a security urgency to help military mobility.
It is also true that in the last eight months, the centre of gravity of Europe’s security and defence decision-making has shifted to the Baltic region, with Latvia at its very centre.
You know very well who we are dealing with. Latvia’s longstanding warnings about Russia, were correct.
And you understand more than most, that while we must push for peace - and we will - it must be a real peace. Peace with freedom. Peace with justice and Peace with accountability.
Today, Latvia leads the European Union in addressing and countering the dissemination of Kremlin-led propaganda and hybrid threats.
And Latvia’s experience and leadership will be crucial for the the next steps that Europe must take. First of all, to tackle serious threats to our democratic values and European Union prosperity and peace. Together we must build a real security and defence Union, complementary to NATO.
Latvia has shown Ukraine a massive wave of solidarity. Latvia also shows Europe how both national leaders and citizens can unite to oppose a brutal autocratic power.
But more European Union solidarity is needed. This is very important with regard to facing common energy and economic crises. The European Union must act as one, to address energy prices, disruption to energy supplies and double-digit inflation.
For if we do not act together now, the negative spiralling knock-on effects will see the well-being of European Union businesses, household and citizens impacted. Our banks and financial sector are already feeling the pressure. And at the same time, rapidly rising interest rates will wipe away the value off people’s homes, salaries, pensions and national budgets.
Our economy managed to recover after the pandemic, thanks to our economic governance framework and our NextGenerationEU. But we know that debt is not discretionary. We will need to pay back and the only way to do that is to unite to set the EU economy back on a stable path of growth.
We are entering a time were more Europe and more European Union integration will be necessary. Latvia and nine other States joined the EU on that fateful day in 2004. Since then we have witnessed the transformative effect of membership not only on our national markets, or local communities but on Europe as whole. We changed together and we must remain together.
And here the relationship between Parliaments is so important to maintain and to strengthen. I am committed to improving the links between the European Parliament and national parliaments and I know there is a lot that these institutions can achieve together.
Europe’s future lies in its ability to adapt with speed, with fortitude, with unity. This is why to me Europe always represented the future. Change. Possibility. Hope.
A few years ago, with Brexit, we saw many political forces in different countries say that it was better to leave Europe. Today no one says that anymore. On the contrary, we have a longer list of countries that want to join. That is hope in our joint European future.
Because it is only together that Europe can rise to meet the challenges of our time and the next 100 years.
Thank you for listening.
The President's speech in Latvian can be found here.