Joint press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen and the Prime Minister of Latvia, Krišjānis Kariņš

  • 28 Nov. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Nov. 2021 18:25

(As delivered)

Prime Minister Kariņš, dear Krišjānis it is always a great pleasure to be in Riga, to be in Latvia, but especially tonight because I am here together with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and demonstrates the unity, the high level of cooperation between NATO and the European Union in facing the challenges we see now on the border of Belarus, but also in and around Ukraine. So therefore, I think it is timely that we are together today. Let me start by recognizing the many valuable contributions Latvia makes to NATO to our shared security, including contributions to our different NATO missions and operations and exercises, and also with investments in key capabilities and with expertise in countering disinformation. And we also very much welcome the fact that you have, for now several years, spent more than 2% of GDP on defence. Today, we will visit the Centre of Excellence which focuses on disinformation. We will be briefed on this important work. We will be joined by the Director of the European Centre for Countering Hybrid Threats based in Helsinki, and the Director of the NATO Cyber Defence Centre based in Talinn.

NATO is strongly committed to Latvia’s security, including through the presence of our multinational battlegroup in Ādaži, where ten Allies serve alongside Latvian forces to deter aggression and preserve peace. I look forward to visit our NATO battlegroup tomorrow. We just had a substantive discussion on current security challenges in the region. Including the Belarusian regime’s cynical and inhumane exploitation of vulnerable people.

Which aims to put pressure on neighbouring countries.

We stand in full solidarity with Latvia and all the other directly affected Allies, and we keep in contact with partner countries that may be used for transit. We also discussed Russia’s unexplained and unjustified military build-up near Ukraine.

We call on Russia to be transparent, reduce tensions, and de-escalate.

NATO remains vigilant.

We stand ready to defend all Allies.

And we will continue to provide our partner Ukraine with political and practical support.

And we will meet the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and Georgia here in Riga, at our NATO Foreign Ministers meeting this week. It is important for me to be here with President von der Leyen.

Because NATO and the European Union are unique and essential partners, and we are working together, and that makes us all stronger. Our cooperation has already reached unprecedented levels, including on cyber, maritime security and building stability in the Western Balkans. And we are looking into what more we could do together. And also as President von der Leyen mentioned, we are now working on a new Joint Declaration from the EU and NATO. NATO Foreign Ministers will meet here in Riga on Tuesday and on Wednesday, and our discussions will help to strengthen our Alliance in a more dangerous and competitive world. So I think the message is that in uncertain times, in challenging times, is even more important that we have big and strong institutions like NATO and like the European Union, and that we are demonstrating our ability to work together. So once again, thank you so much for hosting us tonight.

Gints Amolins, Latvian Public Television:
Hello, Gints Amolins, Latvian Public Television.  I would have a question to President of the European Commission and Latvian Prime Minister in this case. You mentioned that the EU is providing support to the two Baltic States and Poland in regards on border defence and strengthening the border.
Did you discuss also, I know there has been discussions about should the EU fund also fence building, you mentioned there's equipment support.
So what kind of equipment support is there from the EU to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland? And did you also discuss the fence issue? Thank you.

Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission:
We discussed the whole width of support that the European Union can offer precisely here to Latvia. So first of all, we increase the funding and it's for everything where border management is concerned. You have a very long border. And the management for example has to be with electronic means. So whatever electronic equipment is necessary, including also for example drones, would be facilitating the management of the border.
Same goes for patrol vehicles for example. Or the whole equipment border guards would need. And this of course includes FRONTEX or it of course includes EUROPOL and the work of a EASO. So there's a whole width of topics that can be funded by which we support Latvia.

Krišjānis Kariņš, Latvian Prime Minister: speaks in Latvian

Thank you. Secretary General. The President of Lithuania urged NATO to change its stance towards Belarus, to toughen its stance towards Belarus. And he gave us a reason that Belarusian military is getting more and more integrated with Russian forces.
What is your comment on that? Will you toughen NATO stands?

Prime Minister Kariņš, do you go along with the Lithuanian demand?

And the question to President von der Leyen. The Omicron variant of the Coronavirus has reached Europe. We have seen several cases in several countries.
Can you tell us what your next steps will be to mitigate the impact of this variant on Europe?
And if I may, what does that mean for the vaccine orders the European Union has?
Does the European Union have to adapt these orders?
When do you expect to see adapted vaccines, was that already in the contracts? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg NATO Secretary General:
President von der Leyen and I, we just came from Lithuania. We had a meeting there earlier today. And we discussed of course also the situation on the border with Belarus and the developments in Belarus. And the Lukashenko regime’s seems irresponsible and inhumane behaviour using vulnerable migrants as a tool to put pressure on a neighbour countries.

NATO has also provided some direct support to Lithuania by sending some experts to help them to deal with the situation they face on the border and the hybrid tactics that Belarus is using against Lithuania and also other countries in this region.

NATO has also of course strongly condemned the behaviour of the Lukashenko regime.
And we have over the last years significantly increased our presence in this region.
For the first time in our history, we have combat ready battle groups in the Baltic region, including one in Latvia and the one in Lithuania. And I will visit the one in Latvia tomorrow.  And then we have also air policing.  We have increased a naval presence. So both on land,  in the air and at sea there is more NATO now.

And then we are of course constantly assessing our posture, and any need to further adjust our posture. But I think what we face now is both the challenges on the border with Belarus but also of course, the military unusual concentration of Russian forces close to Ukraine.

And NATO is vigilant. NATO is closely monitoring, collecting information, and are constantly actively assessing what is needed to be done to make sure that all Allies are safe.  And that we send a clear message that NATO is there to protect and defend all Allies against any potential threat.

Krišjānis Kariņš, Latvian Prime Minister: speaks in Latvian

Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission:
So, completely different topic on the Omicron.
We take this Omicron variant very serious. And we know that we are now in a race against time.
Why that? Because we know not all about this variant, but it is a variant of concern.
And the scientists and manufacturer need two to three weeks to have a full picture about the quality of the mutations of this Omicron variant. And therefore we really have to use this time, because there are precautionary actions we can take. 
First and foremost highest priority is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate, boost, boost, boost as much as is possible, because this boosting of vaccination raises the level of antibodies and stimulates the memory cells for COVID viruses.  Therefore, this is the police of the immune system that you are reinforcing during that time.

The second point is the very simple measures masks, hand hygiene and social distancing. Because no matter what the variant is, this is helping against the variant.

And we need to buy time and then of course sequencing and contact tracing if we see infections.

Now very important is also that relating to your question, what the vaccine order is concerned. You might recall that in summer, the Commission concluded a third contract with Biontech-Pfizer including 1.8 billion doses of vaccines. And we have this order placed. There are options we can trigger. So on that front we are on the safe side.

In the contract there is also a certain clause included that if a variant turns into an escape variant, so a difficult variant Biontech-Pfizer's able to adapt its vaccine within 100 days.

Therefore, the general liners hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  And highest priority right now is indeed social distancing, reduce the contacts, but vaccinate and boost as much as possible.

Question from Latvian Radio:
Hello. Yes. Latvian Radio […indistinct]. I'll ask in English, because I have a question for the President of Commission. Latvia is among those countries that is actually willing for the Schengen border code to be revised, and to include situation like the one we see now in Belarus, and sort of to distinguish between the let’s say a standard migration crisis and this type of hybrid attacks when people are being deliberately sent to the border.
So what's your stance on this?
When the Commission, or if so, is planning to come up with any updates on the Schengen border codes?
What's your agenda there?

Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission:
Yes, indeed, before the end of the year, we are planning on revising the Schengen border code. And with the experience we have right now with the Belarus situation, we also will address this topic of a hybrid attack, where people are instrumentalised by a state-sponsored hybrid attack the way we see it right now.

And indeed, we are working on the possibility to give the Member States the option to have more flexibility. To care for people on our territory, so EU territory, to have proper procedures, of course, in full light of the EU law and the international law, but to give in such a critical crisis situation, the possibility to have registration points, and to have more flexibility also when time is concerned to properly act and react.

Thank you.