The talks in Riga began with both Switzerland and Latvia underlining the good relations between their two countries and their intention to further deepen these ties, particularly in the economic domain where there is potential to increase bilateral trade, which is still relatively low.
Mr Cassis reiterated Switzerland's objectives in terms of its European policy. He stated that it would continue to act as a reliable and committed partner of the EU even without the institutional agreement, presenting Switzerland's viewpoints as set out in the Federal Council's decision of 26 May 2021. Switzerland's second contribution to selected EU member states, which includes Latvia, was also addressed. The Federal Council has urged Parliament to release the funds for the second Swiss contribution as soon as possible, and is seeking to finalise the memorandum of understanding with the EU without delay.
Concerns over growing polarisation between East and West
The talks also covered the COVID-19 pandemic and its management. Mr Cassis emphasised the importance of European countries like Switzerland and Latvia working together and showing solidarity during such times. "Working together helps us overcome such challenges better and more easily," he said. The situation in Latvia's two neighbouring countries, Russia and Belarus, was also raised. Mr Cassis expressed concern over the growing polarisation between East and West and the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus. The ministers went on to discuss China, with Mr Cassis presenting Switzerland's China strategy.
The connection between Ticino and Latvia
Mr Cassis is being accompanied on this trip by National Councillors Lilian Studer and Corina Gredig. The delegation paid a visit to the Swiss embassy in Riga, which is also responsible for neighbouring Estonia and Lithuania. As part of the official programme Mr Cassis placed flowers at the foot of the Freedom Monument and visited the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which commemorates the country's occupation by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
During his visit to the National Library, Mr Cassis highlighted the close ties between Latvia and his home canton of Ticino. The architecture of the National Library building was inspired by a poem by the Latvian poet Rainis, who spent 15 years in exile with his wife Aspazija in Castagnola near Lugano before returning to an independent Latvia in 1920.
This is the first visit by a head of the FDFA to Latvia in seven years. The last official working visit by a Swiss foreign minister to Latvia took place in 2014. The next stop on Mr Cassis' Baltic tour is the Estonian capital, Tallinn, before continuing on to Lithuania.
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