Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg and Latvian Prime Minister Kariņš in relation to the situation in Belarus and at its border with the EU

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op zondag 28 november 2021.

Thank you very much Prime Minister, dear Krišjānis,

I am very happy to be here today in Riga, together with Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. I want to assure you here of the EU's full solidarity with Latvia, Poland and Lithuania in these challenging times.

For months now, Latvia has been facing a deliberate, a cynical hybrid attack. An attack that is being organised by the Lukashenko regime. And this attack is putting at risk the life of innocent civilians, lured to Belarus under false promises. Latvia has been responding to this hybrid attack in a humane way, at the same time in a very firm way. The European Union continues to stand by your side.

This is very important for us. This includes, for example, the equipment support to help manage the border efficiently, in close cooperation with our agencies that are here on the ground - this is Frontex, it is EASO, it is Europol. And, as I have already announced last week, we are tripling now the EU border management funding for Latvia, Poland and Lithuania to EUR 200 million overall this year and next year.

Lukashenko has failed in his bid to undermine EU unity and solidarity. We are facing down his hybrid attack all together. But it is important for us also to learn our lessons from what we are witnessing right now. Because we see that, to deflect away from their internal problems, our opponents do not shy away from waging hybrid attacks on us.

These attacks can, that is why we call them hybrid, take multiple forms. A strong component is disinformation, to stoke tensions within the society — we have seen that also during the pandemic, the amount of misinformation; we see that during elections. And I am very grateful that afterwards we are going to go to the Strategic Communications Centre to deep dive into that topic with the experience from both sides, NATO and the European Union. We have seen cyberattacks; it is a classical mean also for hybrid attacks against individuals, institutions and infrastructure. And this is putting lives directly at risk. Or, in the current situation, where we see that human beings are being instrumentalised for political purposes.

Therefore, our message is very clear, that the EU and NATO work hand in hand to counter these kinds of hybrid attacks. We are together testing and coordinating our crisis response during regular exercises. And we are stepping up our cooperation, be it in the resilience, be it in the situational awareness, or be it in fighting disinformation.

Let me shed a short light on the resilience component. We have just issued our Security Union Strategy. And there, we are assessing our capacities and assets to respond to these kinds of hybrid threats. It is in this regard that the European Union has solid tools, covering the different sectors. If we look at the situation at the EU border with Belarus, we have mobilised all our diplomatic power, reaching out to our partners, but also to the countries of origin - this has been very successful - to convince them to take responsibility, for their population not to be trapped in Belarus. We have made use of sanctions against individuals and authorities involved in these hybrid attacks. And we are very closely coordinating our sanctions with the United Kingdom, with the United States and with Canada. So we do have efficient tools.

If we look at the second point, that is the situational awareness. We are convinced that, to be able to take appropriate decisions and to act in a timely and effective manner, we need proper information and analysis capacity all over the European Union. This is why the European Union needs an own Joint Situational Awareness Centre. Such a centre would help the European Union to bundle its expertise and its know-how, for example in countering these kinds of hybrid attacks.

And finally, on the topic of disinformation. This is a good example of the very efficient cooperation between the European Union and NATO. Our staff are in constant contact, what disinformation is concerned, to prevent the spread of these falsities and to block foreign interferences. NATO is, for example, connected to the EU's Rapid Alert System. So we constantly exchange our knowledge. And we have successfully conducted joint outreach and campaigns, especially to debunk propaganda in our neighbourhood.

But, as hybrid threats are getting more acute, we need to take our cooperation to the next level. This is why we, Secretary-General of NATO and the Commission, are working on a new EU-NATO Joint Declaration, that we will put forward to the Leaders. Our goal is to renew this Joint Declaration, to update it and to have a very strong commitment to a strong EU-NATO partnership within this Joint Declaration. We stand united with Latvia. And I want to thank you again for having hosted us here today.

Thank you.