Egils Levits
Egils Levits

Dear organisers and participants of the forum,

Welcome to the annual World Latvian Economics and Innovations Forum!

I am absolutely delighted to not that the main focus of this year’s forum is the capital of our country Riga and its growth and competitiveness potential.

I met with new leadership of Riga this October to learn more about what it has done in its first year in office. I also met with neighbourhood ambassadors and visited innovation movement VEFRESH to talk about the future of the city.

I am happy to see some of the key issues we discussed on the agenda of this conference, and I hope your discussion will be as constructive and enlightening as those conversations.

My speech to the members of the Riga Council contained my vision on general development of Riga, and I would like to mention some of the main dimensions of it today.

Riga, which is also the capital of Latvia, plays an essential role in the life of our country. With third of national population living in Riga, it is responsible for more that half of our gross domestic product (GDP). If we add the agglomeration, the share of the Riga metropolitan area in national GDP goes up to two thirds. Some sectors, such as financial and information and communication technologies, account for even bigger share of GDP.

Riga is undoubtedly the main driver of national economy. That is why our country needs strong Riga, which can drive the growth of the whole country. Riga must aspire to become the regional economic centre of the Baltics and a North European metropolis.

Strategic development of Riga is intrinsically bound and connected to the overall national development. It should make the best use of funding available for various priorities of the national recovery and resilience plan.

Riga must, first of all, become more sustainable. Changes in Riga are important for Latvia’s overall ‘green deal’ performance in relation to digital transformation, less social inequality, better skill and knowledge across nation. These changes will determine how Latvia and Riga as its capital will grow in future.

Riga is the national education, science and innovation node. Riga has VEFRESH and New Teika, neighbourhood with the highest density of major information and communication technology companies. The Knowledge Mile, an education, research and innovation hub in Pārdaugava, is also beginning to take shape.

Many well-known international brands are headquartered in Riga. Our capital is also the home to the first Latvian start-up dubbed as the unicorn (hopefully not our last one).

But there is a lot to be done to help Riga achieve this growth. There is a huge untapped potential as we can see from the Global Innovation Index. Innovation frameworks can be employed to turn this potential into a transformative force that changes the whole economy of Latvia, turning it into a green economy instead of ‘polluting’ economy. That is how Europe and the whole world sees its future. The other alternative is climate catastrophe, an inevitability that our planet might face in a couple of decades from now. Latvia must do its part in preventing that.

Riga is among the first hundred European cities committed to become climate neutral by 2030. That is an ambitious goal, indeed. It is almost 2022, and that means we are merely eight years away from Riga reaching climate neutrality. Eight years for significant and deep changes we all will have to handle to achieve this ambition. This is a change for better that requires temporary inconvenience and adjustment to a new reality. It is unavoidable if we want Latvia to keep up with Europe and the rest of the world. Europe is making huge steps in this direction. The quicker we come to terms with what is needed, the quicker we will start doing what is best for us. We must do everything we can to reach this objective, or we risk being left behind and never being able to jump the bandwagon. Europe and the rest of the world is beginning its path towards this goal and Latvia, Riga should, I believe, spearhead this movement.

That is why we highly welcome the initiative of the Riga Mayor Mārtiņš Staķis. His administration has pledged to find quick and innovative ways to solve climate, environment and public health issues by investing in better mobility and transport infrastructure, greater use of renewables and, most importantly, future-oriented housing policy. Availability of affordable housing is still one of the biggest problems faced by the biggest part of the population. That is something that needs to be corrected.

Openness to the world and distinct character of Riga is what makes it a great city for development. It is capable of hosting high-profile international events as well.

For example, the recent Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which took place in Riga. It was one of the biggest international meetings organised by Allies to discuss security challenges and launch a discussion on NATO’s new Strategic Concept.

And next June Riga will host the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) Summit and Business Forum. The objective of the 3SI is to attract more investments for the development of the Eastern and Central Europe, more specifically the region between Baltic, Adriatic and Black Sea. Due to historic reasons, region’s infrastructure is less developed than in Western part of Europe.  Region needs new infrastructure projects that will boost the regional transport, energy and digital connectivity.

So, next year politicians, entrepreneurs and non-governmental actors from all twelve 3SI countries will meet in Riga together with strategic partners from USA, Germany and European Commission, as well as other interested parties from countries like Great Britain and Japan. Some of you, dear participants, should also consider attending the Business Forum accompanying the 3SI political meeting because it is a great platform for sharing experience and networking.

Culture agenda of Riga is, of course, one of the main attractions of the city, contributing to its international profile. Forum is focused on business, but culture is indirectly very important for economic growth. A city with bustling cultural life attracts business and talent because that is part of what makes living and working in Riga so exciting. We should by no means underestimate the power of culture. Riga not only has very diverse culture agenda, but it also tries to expand it on constant basis.

One of good examples of how culture helps extend business ties is Latvia’s National Day at EXPO 2020 DUBAI that I recently took part in. Latvian culture display got a lot of attention from visitors and also the political leaders and general public of organising country. Our popular musicians Intars Busulis, Subscription Orchestra and Rancāne sisters performed a song in Arab, and many Arabians liked it.

Dear friends,

Let thank the World Federation of Free Latvians, its President Madam Saulīte and everyone who helped put together such an impressive forum. It is the direct link between Latvia and its diaspora and its promotes growth of global Latvianness for the good of our country.

Thank you!