Statement by H.E. Mr Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia,
at the Riga Summit on the Multilingual Single Market
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first extend my sincere gratitude to the hosts of this Summit, the DG Connect of the European Commission, the European Language Technology Association LT-Innovate, European Research Network META-NET and last but not least, the language technology company representing Latvia, “Tilde”.
This summit highlights our common European heritage – linguistic diversity which forms an integral part of our cultural diversity.
With the number of languages used in Europe exceeding 80, with 24 official languages of the European Union, and with at least 175 nationalities present within the EU’s borders as a result of immigration we are rich indeed. At the same time we are challenged to synchronize a free circulation of goods and services in the Digital Single Market. The different languages and even different alphabets used in Europe are an invaluable asset while at the same time forming barriers in the process of building a Europe which is truly connected. 43% of Europeans still never purchase online products and service in languages other than their own.
Taking this into account, we can remember Umberto Eco’s words that ‘The language of Europe is translation’.
During its Presidency of the EU Council, Latvia has prioritized the strengthening of the EU’s digital potential in order to give a boost to the economy and growth. This involves promotion of trust and confidence in the Digital Single Market, removal of barriers to online cross-border transactions as well as promotion of digital skills.
Latvia can be counted amongst the leading countries in the world when it comes to the speed, use, and availability of the Internet. We appreciate the economic, intellectual, cultural and social potential of technology. We work hard to make it secure, while at the same time also keeping it accessible, open and free.
Latvia has established its national cyber security system. We are proud to count ourselves among the most advanced and secure internet hubs in Europe. We advocate setting common minimum security standards and increasing the resilience of critical information infrastructure.
As regards accessibility, Latvia today ensures Internet availability in public libraries with a widespread national network, and we do this free-of-charge. Our private partners, including the language company “Tilde”, have been making the Latvian language into one of the most technologically advanced small European languages, available for quality machine translations to and from other languages such as English and Russian. The quality of these translations considerably exceeds the Latvian language translation quality of international tools such as Google Translate and Microsoft Translator, according to scientific evaluation criteria. Moreover, Latvia promotes e-skills including amongst retired people (the “Latvija@Pasaule” project) and this work has yielded some surprisingly positive results.
Now, allow me to outline some principles that we regard as fundamental in our cyber diplomacy.
It should be everyone’s priority to preserve the Internet as a single, neutral, and un-fragmented network of networks where the principles of universal human rights and freedoms apply.
We believe it is vital to strengthen an inclusive and consensus-based multi-stakeholder approach when discussing the future of the Internet. This means involving the private sector and the technical community, civil society, academia, and Internet users along with international institutions and governments.
By preserving the enormous opportunities that un-fragmented cyberspace brings, we will be able to realize the full potential of the digital economy. At the same time, we have to strengthen data protection and ensure the security of our information systems.
We should promote and protect human rights in Cyberspace including freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy. Machine translation technologies are important tools to improve access, and through access – also availability and distribution of information.
Latvia is convinced that effective exercise of the right to freedom of expression is an essential foundation of a democratic society. It underpins the realization of other human rights, like the development of more transparent and inclusive governance. For example, Latvia’s language technology company “Tilde” has developed a machine translation tool “Hugo.lv” that has considerably improved the availability of e-government services of Latvia to the customers from Latvian, English and Russian language communities in Europe and the whole world.
We are firmly opposed to any unjustified restriction of freedom of expression and censorship that is in violation of international human rights law. Any limitation of freedom of expression should be the exception and never the norm.
Latvia is an active member of the Freedom Online Coalition and has been working to protect and promote freedom on the Internet. We strongly believe in the principle that everyone should enjoy the same protection of human rights “online” as they do “offline”.
Later this week, on 2-4 May we are hosting the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day central event. Freedom of expression and media freedom – both online and offline – are the main themes of this important event.
Looking more globally at the development of the global knowledge society, all of us expect to conclude the decennial overall review process of the World Information Society Summit at the UN General Assembly in New York by the end of this year. The High Level Meeting on 14 – 15 December will discuss among others several issues that are crucial to continuous operation of the Internet as we know it today:
- First, preservation of the global Internet as a single, open, neutral, free, un-fragmented network of networks where the universal principles of human rights apply;
- Second, preservation of a consensus based Multistakeholder Model of the Internet Governance that operates within the existing international legal framework, striving to improve its inclusiveness, transparency and accountability;
- last but not least, the extension of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum.
It is crucial for the EU to be united in its aspirations to defend these values while expressing preparedness to contribute to bridging digital divide. We should recognize that the Internet has a vital role to play in helping to achieve the full realization of internationally agreed sustainable development goals. It is a vital tool for giving isolated people the means to participate in development processes. Even in this regard, language technology tools are irreplaceable. I have to refer to our software company “Tilde” once again. Their language style corrector serves an important social integration function: to allow people who use Latvian as a second language to express themselves fluently by applying complete phrases of flawless Latvian. Nevertheless, national ownership is vital for creating access to these technologies which contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to wish you the best of success as we open the Strategic Agenda for the Multilingual Digital Single Market and especially welcome your ambition to present it at the Plenary of the Digital Agenda Assembly here in Riga on 17 and 18 June.
Thank you for your attention!