RIGA - On his first foreign visit as Estonia's new president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves spoke to the Latvian press about the European Union's crucial role in developing economic ties.
"In my opinion, our economic cooperation is good, I would say very good," the president said in an Oct. 13 interview with Latvia's Dienas Bizness newspaper, "Looking at economic cooperation statistics, one can conclude that the current situation is how we both would like it."
The only serious problem hindering economic cooperation between Latvia and Estonia is the fact that the two countries still have not joined the Schengen Treaty, which would improve border crossing, President Ilves said.
He added that the Schengen Treaty was of vital importance in developing economic ties, especially between southern Estonia and northern Latvia. "Even though the existing borders have been made as transparent as possible, their existence hampers further development," the Estonian leader noted.
Ilves also indicated that road infrastructure near both countries' border areas should be improved. "I own a farm in southern Estonia, and in the past I used to visit Rujiena and Valmiera quite frequently. But to get there, I often had to take gravel roads," Ilves said, adding that road improvements would foster the development of service-oriented businesses in the region.
Ilves also pointed out that Estonian business people see Latvia's investment environment as attractive. "It is proved by the fact that Estonia has invested the largest sums in Latvia. Obviously, it means that everything is okay with the Latvian investment environment," he said.
The Schengen Treaty provides for common visa travel in Europe, as well as the free circulation of goods.
The president also emphasized that the Baltic states must work together in Brussels, as they often have similar interests on many EU directives.
"We can have a unified voice before the EU, like the countries of Benelux. Right now, each Baltic state, working at its own will, has little political power in EU institutions," the president said. "If the Baltic states were to stand up with a unified position on many issues, the scene in the EU would be entirely different."