Italy marks symbolic handover of EU presidency

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni visited Riga Monday to wish good luck to Latvia in its forthcoming stint holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Italy holds the current six-month rotating presidency and technically will continue to do so until the end of the year, when Latvia takes over, but while Italy's efforts are winding down, Latvia's are ramping up.

"The transition from one Presidency to another will be smooth as the process is one of continuity not change," Gentiloni told reporters after a brief meeting with his Latvian counterpart, Edgars Rinkevics.

Gentiloni also made a point of stressing that some of the priorities of the Italian presidency, such as problems of illegal immigration from North Africa and the Middle East, should remain on the table in future.

"Problems at Europe's borders can quickly become problems in the heart of Europe," Gentiloni said.

On the subject of Russia's actions in Ukraine, Gentiloni stressed the need for "open dialogue with Russia" as part of efforts to resolve the crisis.

Rinkevics took the opportunity to thank Gentiloni for Italy's active role as part of the Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission. From January a contingent of Italian Eurofighters will form part of the patrols over Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian airspace.

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