Co-operation among the Baltic and Nordic countries

19.04.2017. 13:36

The Baltic and Nordic countries are linked by common cultural, historical, political and economic ties. And they share an interest in the provision of stability, security and welfare in the Baltic Sea region and beyond.

A regular political dialogue and practical cooperation has been established between the Baltic and Nordic countries, with a potential for further development. Baltic-Nordic cooperation for the most part takes place within NB8 and NB6 formats; an active dialogue with the Nordic Council of Ministers is ongoing.

In continuing to develop cooperation with the Nordic countries, it is important for Latvia to facilitate people-to-people contacts, to support co-operation among local governments, academic, professional, cultural and non-governmental organizations and educational institutions, to promote tourism and to expand economic contacts.

NB-8

The NB-8 (Nordic–Baltic Eight) format comprises Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. There has been ongoing active cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries since early 1990s. Under NB-8, regular meetings are held of the Baltic and Nordic countries' prime ministers, members of parliaments, foreign ministers, secretaries of state and political directors of Foreign Ministries, as well as expert consultations, where regional issues and current international developments are reviewed.

In the early days of Nordic-Baltic cooperation, after the Baltic States had regained their independence, joint activities of the Nordic and Baltic Foreign Ministries were coordinated by the country holding the chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Baltic States have engaged in coordinating the cooperation of the NB-8 Foreign Ministries on an equal footing since 2008. In 2010, for the first time, Latvia coordinated the cooperation among the NB-8 Foreign Ministries. During the year, NB-8 meetings were held at the level of Foreign Ministers, State Secretaries, political directors and others addressing topics on regional and international agendas; a report on Baltic-Nordic cooperation was also produced.

Key purpose for the development of the report was to evaluate the effectiveness of former cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries and make recommendations on how to strengthen it. Its authors were high-ranking experts from Latvia and Denmark – Valdis Birkavs, an ex-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Latvia, and Soren Gade, an ex-Minister of Defence of Denmark, both appointed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of NB-8 countries. The report offered the analysis of the current state of affairs and future ambitions of NB-8 cooperation; it also contained 38 recommendations for practical initiatives.

NB-8 Wise Men Report

Memorandum of Understanding to share diplomatic premises

One of the measures for implementation of recommendations was the “Memorandum of Understanding on Principles for Locating Diplomats within the Premises of the Parties’ Missions”, signed on 30 August 2011 by the Ministers or Foreign Affairs of Baltic and Nordic countries. The document came into force in 2012. Under the Memorandum, Latvia has strengthened international cooperation and enhanced its own and the region’s representation in third countries by sharing resources and premises.

Rotational coordination

The NB8 format is coordinated on a rotational basis. In 2017, the coordinating country is Norway. In 2018, it will be Sweden.

In 2017, Norway’s NB8 platform includes:

Regional issues:

  • Regional security;

  • Hybrid and resilience issues, including cyber security, open and free media and strategic communication;

  • Energy security and energy markets;

  • EU Eastern Partnership, including the Estonian EU Presidency summit, Ukraine;

  • Economic development, competitiveness and innovation;

  • NB8 cooperation, including synergies with Nordic 5, NB6 and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Broader strategic issues:

  • Transatlantic relations, including the NB8s relationship with the US and NATO, Euro-Atlantic relations and NATO-EU cooperation;

  • The future of Europe and of the EU, including CSDP, Brexit and the Bratislava process, migration, the Estonian EU Presidency;

  • Russia;

  • UN issues, including the Security Council;

  • Terrorism.

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In 2016, the NB8 cooperation was coordinated by Latvia with the following priorities: Strengthening Security in the Region (Energy Security, Strategic Communication, Cybersecurity and Fight against Hybrid Threats) and Support for the EU Eastern Partnership.

In 2016, Latvia also presided in the Baltic cooperation formats – the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers. The year was dubbed as the Baltic and Nordic Cooperation Year.

The year 2016 marked the 25th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the Baltic States and the Nordic countries after their independence was internationally recognised in August 1991. We also celebrated 25 years since the opening of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Offices in Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius.

During the year, more than fifty events and meetings at different levels were organized in Riga, in the capitals of other Baltic and Nordic countries, and in Washington, D.C. (the NB8+U.S. cooperation format – E-PINE). The visit of the NB8 Parliament Speakers to Kyiv sent a strong message that the NB8 will continue supporting the Eastern Partnership countries. Foreign Ministers, as they met in Riga in August, emphasised the increasing role of the NB8 countries in the formation of Europe’s future. At the beginning of November in Copenhagen, the NB8 Prime Ministers discussed regional cooperation, energy and transport, strengthening of security, the implementation of decisions made at the NATO Warsaw Summit, and issues on the EU’s agenda.

Progress Report for 2016 is available in English, and translated into Latvian and Russian.

In 2015, the NB8 cooperation was coordinated by Denmark, with the following focus areas: energy security, media in relation to Russian speakers, the Ukraine conflict and the Eastern Partnership.

The Progress Report on 2015 is available here.

In 2014, NB8 cooperation in external relations was coordinated by Estonia, which named the following priorities: cyber-cooperation, EU Eastern Partnership, security cooperation, as well cooperation in the field of energy. In 2014, Estonia also presided over the Baltic States cooperation (Baltic Assembly, Baltic Council of Ministers), and as between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, Estonia chaired the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) – these three presidencies put together were named the Baltic Sea Year 2014 and shared a common webpage: http://www.bsy.vm.ee/en/.

Progress Report on 2014 is accessible here.

In 2013, NB8 cooperation was coordinated by Sweden, which prioritised cooperation with the EU Eastern Partnership countries, regional energy topics and closer cooperation within E-PINE.

Progress Report on 2013 can be found here.

In 2012, NB8 cooperation in foreign policy was coordinated by Lithuania. Closer cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers in the fields of business and digital market development, cooperation with the EU Eastern Partnership countries and the United States, as well as improved access of information about the NB8.

In 2011, the NB8 was coordinated by Finland. The year marked two decades since the regaining of independence of the Baltic countries.

Latvia coordinated the NB8 for the first time in 2010. Discussions were focused on the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, security policy, challenges of globalization, cooperation and representation of the NB8 region elsewhere.

NB-8 +

E-PINE

The role of NB8 is increasing also in a global aspect. Since 2003, Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe (e-PINE) has been active as a framework for consultations between NB8 and the United States. The e-PINE format of meetings is put into practice through organizing regular meetings for 8+1 Foreign Ministry Political Directors and foreign policy experts who discuss topics of current regional and international importance.

The Northern Future Forum

In 2015, the Northern Future Forum (NFF) took place on 28-29 October in Reykjavik, Iceland. The agenda of the forum focused on the importance of creative industries and innovations as a catalyser for activities in the public sector.

The NFF 2014 took place in Helsinki, Finland. The themes of the event were competitiveness of educational systems and the promotion of activity of innovative companies.

The third NFF took place on 28 February 2013 in Riga, Latvia and brought together heads of government of the NB8 countries and the British Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as 50 experts, who exchanged views on the competitiveness of the green economy and the ways of bridging the digital gap.

On 8-9 February 2012, the second NFF was held in Stockholm, Sweden.

In January 2011, the first NFF was held in London on the initiative of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

NB8+Visegrad Group (V4)

This is a format where Ministers of Foreign Affairs from NB8 countries and Visegrad Group countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) meet. In 2013, those were the Polish Foreign Minister Mr Sikorski and Swedish Foreign Minister Mr Bildt who came up with the idea to have a meeting of both cooperation formats. The meeting is co-organized by the coordinating country of the NB8 and by the country holding the presidency of the V4. The first NB8+V4 meeting took place in Gdansk, Poland. In 2014, the meeting took place in Narva, Estonia, and in 2015 the meeting was in the High Tatras, Slovakia. In 2016, the meeting was in Jūrmala, Latvia. The meeting in 2017 is planned to take place in Poland.

NB-6

The NB6 (Nordic–Baltic Six) format comprises Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden. The NB6 was established upon the accession of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania to the European Union on 1 May 2004. Within NB6, informal visits take place on the level of Prime Ministers and Ministers of Foreign Affairs for exchange of opinions on current EU issues. The NB6 Prime Ministers meet before European Council meetings, and the Foreign Ministers, for their part, align their gatherings with those of the EU General Affairs Council and EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. Other meetings, for instance, of Ministers for European affairs, also convene on regular basis.

Co-operation between the Nordic Council and the Baltic Assembly

The Nordic Council (NC), established in 1952, is an organization for parliamentary co-operation among the Nordic countries, which involves members of parliament delegated by the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden) and three autonomous territories (Aland Islands, Faroe Islands and Greenland). The Nordic Council has a permanent secretariat located in Copenhagen.

Each calendar year one Nordic country presides at the Nordic Council. It is customary to have the state holding the chairmanship at the Nordic Council of Ministers preside at the Nordic Council the following year. In 2015, the Nordic Council was chaired by Iceland, in 2016 – by Denmark. In 2017, the presiding country of the Nordic Council is Finland.

The Nordic Council and the Baltic Assembly (BA) agreed on cooperation in 1992. Since 2006, annual meetings of the Baltic Assembly and Nordic Council presidiums have been held, with participation of the heads of joint committees, as well as themed meetings and joint committee conferences. Active cooperation takes place between parliaments and their standing committees. The heads of the Foreign Affairs Committees of the Baltic and Nordic parliaments hold meetings on a regular basis.

The Nordic Council's co-operation with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia

The Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM), set up in 1971, is an organization dealing with cooperation among the governments of the Nordic countries. The NCM comprises the same member countries as the NC. The NCM has a standing secretariat, located in Copenhagen. The formal responsibility for the work of the NCM lies with the Prime Ministers of the Nordic countries but in practice the NCM work in each Nordic country is coordinated by a Nordic Cooperation Minister and a Nordic Cooperation Committee.

The Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers rotates between the five Nordic countries and is held for a period of one year.

In 2017, the presiding country of the NCM is Norway.

In 2016, the NCM was presided by Finland, focusing on elimination of obstacles to cross-border cooperation, digitalization and Nordic countries’ role in Europe. The motto was Water, Nature and People.

2016 marked 25 years since the opening of the NCM Offices in the capitals of the Baltic countries, as well the 25 years of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the Baltic and Nordic countries. In February of 2016, a branch office of the NCM Office in Tallinn was opened in Narva, Estonia. Various events in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were organized to inform the public about the Baltic and Nordic cooperation. On August 22, 2016, the MFA of Latvia and the NCM Office in Latvia organized a High Level Roundtable about the last 25 years in regional cooperation. The discussion featured distinguished Baltic and Nordic politicians, diplomats and researchers who looked back at what has been achieved and set their sights on future challenges.

In 2015, the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers was held by Denmark. In 2014, the NCM was presided by Iceland, in 2013 – by Sweden.

Cooperation between the Baltic countries and the NCM was launched in 1991, when the NCM opened its information offices in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Due to the dynamic activities of the Nordic Council of Ministers Information Office in Riga, large numbers of Latvian young people and students have learned Nordic languages, members of creative professions and scientists have received scholarships to help them fulfil their aspirations, while politicians, local authority staff, civil servants and businessmen were given opportunities to share experience. With support from the NCM, many Latvian schools, universities and NGOs have found cooperation partners in the Nordic countries.

Various sectors participate in cooperation with the NCM via the mobility programmes and various projects.  The Guidelines for the Nordic Council of Ministers Cooperation with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as from 2014 outlines the following priority areas:

  • Education, research and innovations;
  • Business, cluster networks and creative industries;
  • Environment, climate and energy, environmental conditions in the Baltic Sea, effective environmental technologies and development of renewable sources of energy;
  • The international challenges faced by society (fight against human trafficking and the spread of HIV/AIDS; improving co-operation between police forces and public prosecution services; developing hospital services; and addressing demographic challenges);
  • Cross-border regional co-operation to promote joint fundamental values, such as democracy, good governance, gender equality, freedom of speech and tolerance – both under Nordic–Baltic auspices and in relation to other neighbouring countries, including Belarus.

Nordic Council of Ministers webpage: www.norden.org

Nordic Council of Ministers Office in Latvia: www.norden.lv