Higgins: Smaller states can take lead role in future of EU

President says small countries have advantages in current global political landscape

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins at the National Library in Riga during the President’s State visit to Latvia. Photograph: Maxwells

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins at the National Library in Riga during the President’s State visit to Latvia. Photograph: Maxwells

 

President Michael D Higgins has called for the European Union’s smaller states to make their voices heard and take a leading role in deciding the future of the bloc.

At the start of a State visit to Latvia and Lithuania on Monday, Mr Higgins said the discussion of the future of the European Union “must be one that is not a conversation that is initially between the strongest and then later as an addendum includes all of the others.

“It must be a conversation that includes all of the members of the European Union.”

Speaking at Riga Castle in the Latvian capital after talks with President Raimonds Vejonis, Mr Higgins said smaller countries have advantages in the current global political landscape.

“In many ways the smaller countries of Europe are in a very good position to be able to take charge of new forms of connection between industry, ecology, economy and social justice,” he said.

They could be “at the forefront of sustainable development and responding to climate change” and give the EU an area of global leadership, he added.

Similarly, discussions about the EU’s future budget should “not just be the old criteria associated with what you might call the industrial economies of the strongest but will also have to include criteria as to whether we are giving capacity to all of the 27 to enable them to take part in the green economy and in better connections between ecology and economy.”

Mr Higgins also spoke about the large number of Latvian citizens living in Ireland and said a shared experience emigration was another link between the two countries.

According to EU data, about 20,000 Latvians are registered as resident in Ireland, though the actual number living and working here is believed to be significantly higher.

Mr Vejonis quoted a figure of 30,000.

“We can never get a definite figure, but all I can tell you is they are most welcome and give a very positive contribution to Ireland,” Mr Higgins said.

Latvia celebrates the centenary of its founding this year.

Mr Vejonis offered Latvia’s support to Ireland in negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union over how a post-Brexit border will operate between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Latvia and Ireland are of one mind on Brexit,” Mr Vejonis said.