The Baltic States, Forward Together.

27.05.2020. 21:05
The Baltic States, Forward Together.

The Hill Times, 25 May 2020

The Baltic States, Forward Together.

This month marks a special date for the Baltic States, the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on Unity and Co-operation between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In 2018 The Baltic States celebrated one hundred years as independent states. Our birth coincided with major changes on the political map of the world. At the end of the First World War, the empires broke up and independent countries appeared, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The shining moment came on August 23rd, 1989 when two million Baltic people literally joined hands to create a 675 kilometre human chain from Cathedral Square in Vilnius past the Freedom Monument in Riga ending at the Hermann Tower in Tallinn. Fifty years earlier on that same day, the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union setting the stage for the Second World War and the long post war division of Europe. Fifty years later it was the moment for the Baltic republics to regain their independence for the second time in the 20th century. All three countries regained their independence in the early 1990s and formed the Baltic Council to address their common pressing concerns; strengthening independence, returning their countries to the international arena and securing the withdrawal of Soviet/Russian troops from their sovereign territories, ending the long occupation.

The current focus of our co-operation is on regional security, connectivity and environment. The present COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of digitalization as a tool to strengthen the functionality of affected societies and economies.

On March 29th, 2004 the Baltic States joined NATO and on May 1st, 2004 joined the European Union. These two acts firmly demonstrated the Baltic States emergence as western oriented countries and valued participants in the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Both organizations embody the values and visions we have held dear since the beginning of the fight for our own statehood.

Today, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany lead NATO multinational battalions stationed in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, respectively. With this deployment to the Baltic region, our NATO allies, including Canada are helping countries like the Baltic States to deal with new threats and dangers aimed at the heart of western values such as the rule of law and democratic government.

Centres of excellence on energy security in Vilnius, strategic communication in Riga and cyber security in Tallinn offer their expertise and experience. All three countries achieved NATO’s target spending of 2 percent of GDP on defence. NATO remains the foundation for our collective defence and the essential forum for security consultations and decisions among Allies in the Euro-Atlantic area.

The European Union membership has brought a new quality of life and impressive economic growth. According to the World Bank, the Baltic States have become high-income economies with very high Human Development Indices. The Baltic States support the EU Neighbourhood Policy, the outreach program to engage eastern and southern European states still working towards deeper integration with the EU. The Baltic States support NATO’s open door policy and enlargement of the European Union once the necessary criteria are met. It is a common interest to have stable, progressive and secure neighbours.

The COVID-19 crisis has influenced Baltic co-operation at all levels. The Governments have agreed to work together in developing a response. The decision to open borders on May 15th, 2020 and create the first “travel bubble” within the EU was based on the similar epidemiological situation in all three countries. Opening “the Baltic Schengen” - re-establishing physical connections and traveling between three countries - was an important first step in returning to normal life in a co-ordinated and safe manner. Continued close co-operation and exchanges of information remains central in eliminating other restrictions, and helping to restore economic activity and free movement throughout the European Union.

The past thirty years of Baltic co-operation created a shared commitment towards prosperity, safety and security for all its people. To be open, transparent and inclusive for all, confident in its own strong regional identity and focused on sustainable economic growth and development, while being fully aware of its ecological vulnerabilities. Our aim is to become a role model of ecological, economic, social and security standards and policies, with a vibrant civil society.

Toomas Lukk, Ambassador of Estonia

Kārlis Eihenbaums, Ambassador of Latvia

Darius Skusevičius, Ambassador of Lithuania