Co-operation among Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia is traditionally close, multi-faceted and pragmatic. It is based on the common interests and goals of the three countries in the following areas of foreign and security policy: the advancement of security and welfare, fostering economic development, and membership in the EU and NATO. Intensive co-operation is ongoing in the energy sector and on transport infrastructure projects.
The first steps in cooperation between Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were made in the 1920s century, soon after the independence of the three countries. 85 years ago, on September 12, 1934, the foreign ministers of the Baltic States in Geneva, Switzerland, signed a Memorandum of Understanding between Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It was in force until the occupation of the Baltic States. The cooperation of the Baltic States became particularly visible in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the struggle for the restoration of their independence and the Baltic Way - human chain on August 23, 1989. The Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Consensus and Co-operation Declaration was signed on 12 May 1990 in Tallinn, and on 13 June 1994 in Tallinn, the Prime Ministers of the Baltic States signed an agreement on co-operation between the parliaments and governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Within the framework of Baltic co-operation, active dialogue is ongoing at the level of Presidents, Speakers of Parliaments, Heads of Government, Ministers and experts. Baltic Parliamentary Cooperation takes place in the Baltic Assembly (BA), which was established on November 8, 1991. While intergovernmental co-operation takes place in the Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM), founded on 13 June 1994. They were created based on the model of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers – provide a significant contribution to the harmonization of foreign policy and the promotion of practical co-operation among the Baltic States, while at the same time advancing Baltic and Nordic cooperation.
The Baltic Assembly (BA) is an institution for parliamentary co-operation among Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania established on 8 November 1991. Each of the Baltic States is represented in the Assembly by a national delegation of 12-20 members of the parliament. The Assembly is a coordinating and consultative institution.
The Baltic Assembly has the right to make its views known to the national parliaments, governments and the Baltic Council of Ministers in the form of a resolution, decision, declaration or recommendation, while using the form of an appeal, proposal, or statement when addressing other international or regional organizations.
The Baltic Assembly sessions are held once a year. During Estonian Presidency, the 39th Baltic Assembly session and 26th Baltic Council was held on 5-6 November, 2020 digitally. In 2021 during Lithuanian Presidency, the session of the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council will take place on 6-7 November in Vilnius.
Between sessions, the Presidium of the Baltic Assembly may make decisions about current issues on the international agenda.
There are five standing committees of the Baltic Assembly:
- Economics, Energy and Innovations Committee
- Education, Science and Culture Committee
- Natural Resources and Environment Committee
- Legal Affairs and Security Committee
- Welfare Committee
Since 2003, the Baltic Assembly Presidency has been harmonized with the Baltic Council of Ministers and lasts one year. In rotating order, in 2019, the presiding country was Latvia, in 2020 Estonia assumed these responsibilities, while in 2021 the presiding country is Lithuania.
Baltic Council of Ministers
The Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM), established on 13 June 1994, is an institution for governmental co-operation between Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The Baltic Council of Ministers is charged with ensuring the continuity of co-operation at the executive level of the states. It is responsible for co-operation among the governments of the Baltic States, as well as co-operation between the governments and the Baltic Assembly (the national parliaments). The Baltic Council of Ministers makes decisions regarding the implementation of recommendations of the Baltic Assembly. It promotes broad and substantive mutual co-operation. The Baltic Council of Ministers has decision-making powers only if representatives of all three Baltic States are present. Decisions are made by consensus.
The presidency of the Baltic Council of Ministers is rotated annually among the Baltic States. Since 2003, the Baltic Assembly Presidency has been harmonized with the Baltic Council of Ministers Presidency and lasts one year. In rotating order, in 2019, the presiding country was Latvia, in 2020 Estonia assumed these responsibilities, while in 2021 the presiding country is Lithuania.
Priorities for the Lithuanian presidency of the BCM in 2021:
- Regional security and defence;
- Digital transformation, combating cyber-threats and disinformation;
- Green agenda, timely implementation of strategic energy and transport projects;
- Support to democratic transformation in Belarus, strengthening of the Eastern Partnership;
- Coordinated response (regional and EU) to COVID-19 pandemic.
Legal basis of the Baltic Council of Ministers
BCM Prime Ministers’ Council
The Baltic Council of Ministers operates under the guidance of the Prime Ministers’ Council, the highest decision-making body, which meets at least once a year. The Prime Ministers’ Council adopts basic documents in the form of joint statements and approves priority areas of the Baltic States cooperation.
In 2020, the first BCM Prime Ministers meeting in the Estonian Presidency will be held in Tallinn on 7 February. The meeting focused on the development of the Rail Baltica project. The meeting was also attended by the Baltic transport ministers.
In the spring, the Covid-19 pandemic made significant changes in the co-operation of the Baltic States, changing the current format of face-to-face co-operation to digital. In order to overcome the crisis together, the co-operation between the Baltic States became closer than ever before, with Estonia as chairman of the co-operation of the Baltic States in 2020, experiencing an unprecedented number of meetings and co-ordination meetings in digital formal. Latvia has successfully participated in the co-operation formats of the Baltic States at the level of both the highest state officials and experts, confirming our ability to co-operate effectively in difficult conditions at the regional level.
After several months of successful fight of the Baltic States with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania decided to open the internal borders of the Baltic States for travel at their video conference meeting on 6 May 2020. On 15 May 2020, the Foreign Ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Riga, opening the borders of the Baltic States for the travel of citizens. The close co-operation between Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia made the Baltic States a model for others in Europe.
On 21 December 2020 Prime Ministers met digitally for the final meeting of BCM Prime Ministers Council under the Estonian Presidency and signed the Joint Statement. The focus of the meeting was on the cooperation of the Baltic States in limiting the spread of Covid-19 and mitigating its consequences. The BMP also assessed the achievements of the Estonian Presidency in 2020, the development of regional infrastructure projects and discussed preparations for the Lithuanian Presidency in 2021.
The first BCM Prime Ministers’ Council under Lithuanian Chairmanship took place on 12 March 2021.
BCM Co-operation Council
The BCM Co-operation Council consists of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Baltic States. The Co-operation Council is responsible for the overall coordination of Baltic States cooperation. The Co-operation Council meets at least once a year.
The Baltic Council is a joint meeting of the Secretariat of the Baltic Assembly and the Co-operation Council, at which the Chairman of the Co-operation Council (Foreign Minister of the rotating presidency) presents an overview of the past year’s work.
The Foreign Minister of the incoming presidency outlines to the Council its priorities and plans for next year, which are then included in the Joint Statement of the Baltic Council.
Baltic Council of Ministers Secretariat
The Secretariat ensures the operation of the Baltic Council of Ministers. The Secretariat consists of the officials of the Foreign Ministries of the Baltic States who are responsible for the coordination of the Baltic State Cooperation. Annual changes in the Secretariat’s leadership follow the rotating presidency of the Baltic Council of Ministers. The Secretariat is involved in preparation for the meetings of the Prime Ministers’ Council, the Co-operation Council and the Baltic Council and serves as a link for exchange of information and documentation among officials of the Baltic States. The rotating leadership of the Secretariat formulates priorities for the Baltic States cooperation and drafts reports of the Chairman of the Co-operation Council to the Baltic Assembly and joint statements by the Baltic Council and the Baltic Council of Ministers.
BCM Committees of Senior Officials
In 1994, Committees of Senior Officials were established to ensure a more focused and structured activities at the level of sectoral ministries. Five standing Committees of Senior Officials have been operating since the BCM reform in 2005:
- Home Affairs
- Transport and Communications
A Committee of Senior Officials consists of one senior official from the respective sectoral ministry of each country and experts.
The Committees of Senior Officials implement the decisions taken by the Prime Ministers’ Council and the Co-operation Council and carry out other assignments delegated to them by the Prime Ministers’ Council, the Co-operation Council or other ministers. Within their sector of cooperation, the Committees of Senior Officials submit proposals for the priorities of Baltic co-operation and for the annual action plan of the Baltic Council of Ministers. The Committees of Senior Officials also produce reports about their activities during the year and present those to the Co-operation Council for consideration.
Task Forces can also be created for carrying out a specific task in the areas not covered by the Committees of Senior Officials. Task Forces are established by the Prime Ministers’ Council on its own initiative or following a proposal of other Ministers in coordination with the Co-operation Council. The Prime Ministers’ Council sets specific tasks to be performed by the Task Force within a definite time frame.
Co-operation between the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers
The Baltic Assembly (BA) and the Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM) have agreed on a closer and more effective co-operation. To achieve this, the trilateral Agreement on Baltic Governmental and Parliamentary Co-operation was amended in 2003, as was the protocol defining specific co-operation mechanisms in 2004. The result was the establishment of the above-mentioned Co-operation Council (the meeting of Foreign Ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and the Baltic Council (the meeting of the Baltic Assembly’s Presidium and the Co-operation Council of the BCM).
In accordance with the co-operation documents signed, co-operation between the Baltic Council of Ministers and Baltic Assembly take place at all levels – at the annual session of the Baltic Council, a meeting is held between the Baltic Assembly Presidium and the Co-operation Council of the BCM. Regular co-operation takes place between the secretariats of national delegations of the Baltic Council of Ministers and the Baltic Assembly. Members of the BCM Secretariat and BCM Committees of Senior Officials are invited to participate in Baltic Assembly committee sessions and thematic conferences.
As the Covid-19 pandemic crisis continued, the work of the Baltic Council of Ministers and the Baltic Assembly focused on a sustainable approach at the Baltic level, including in the area of restrictions and border crossings, ready to return to stronger restrictive measures if needed.