Co-operation among the Baltic States

11.12.2019. 12:14

Co-operation among the Baltic States

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.

 

Baltic Assembly

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 Latvian Presidency, the 38th Baltic Assembly session and 25th Baltic Council was held on 28-29 November, 2019 in Riga. Next year under the Estonian Presidency, the session of the Baltic Assembly will take place on 5-6 November in Tallinn.

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:

1.       Economics, Energy and Innovations Committee

2.       Education, Science and Culture Committee

3.       Natural Resources and Environment Committee

4.       Legal Affairs and Security Committee

5.       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 2018, the presiding country was Lithuania, in 2019 Latvia assumed these responsibilities, while in 2020 the presiding country will be Estonia.

Latvian presidency priorities for the work of the Baltic Assembly in 2019:

1)      A comprehensive approach to security and defense;

2)      Strengthening of interconnections of the Baltic States to Europe in the field of energy, transport and infrastructure;

3)      Developing a Region of growth and competitiveness.

Baltic Assembly's website: http://www.baltasam.org

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 and in 2019 it marked its 25th anniversary.

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 2018, the presiding country was Lithuania, in 2019 Latvia assumed these responsibilities, while in 2020 the presiding country will be Estonia.

Priorities for the Latvian presidency of the BCM in 2019:

1)      Strengthening security in the region;

2)      Developing regional connectivity with a focus on energy and transport infrastructure and digital agenda;

3)      Promoting common interests within the EU.

Legal basis of the Baltic Council of Ministers

Terms of Reference for the Baltic Council of Ministers

Regulations for the Committees of Senior Officials and Task Forces

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.

During the Latvian Presidency in 2019, three meetings of the BCM Prime Ministers’ Council, chaired by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia Krišjānis Kariņš. First meeting under Latvian Chairmanship was held in Riga on 4 February. Prime Ministers discussed transatlantic cooperation, Brexit, common interests in EU Multiannual Financial Framework, development of Rail Baltica project as well as relations with Russia.

On 23 August, Prime Ministers of the Baltic States met in Riga to honour the 30 years of the Baltic Way. Prime Ministers discussed the cooperation issues of the Baltic States and participated in the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way. Prime Ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia laid flowers at the Freedom Monument and Prime Ministers met with the Speaker of Parliament of Latvia Ināra Mūrniece and the Presidium of the Baltic Assembly. The meeting concluded with the solemn event in “Ziemeļblāzma”.

On 6 December 2019 in Riga, Prime Ministers met for the final meeting of BCM Prime Ministers Council under the Latvian Presidency and signed the Joint Statement. The focus of the meeting was on the development of the Rail Baltica project as Prime Ministers discussed the way forward for the Rail Baltica project together with the representatives from Poland, Finland and the European Commission. The Prime Ministers of the Baltic States agreed to task the ministers for transport to propose a joint solution for an integrated project implementation model for Rail Baltica by February 2020.

Guest of honour at this meeting was Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. During the meeting of the Baltic Prime Ministers and Polish Prime Minister, due consideration was given to the security situation in the region, the strengthening of transatlantic relations and recent meeting of NATO leaders, including the updated defence plan for the Baltic States and Poland. Relations with Russia and the situation in Ukraine were also addressed, ahead of the forthcoming ‘Normandy format’ summit in Paris to be held on Monday 9 December.

The Prime Ministers also signed the renewed Agreement between the governments of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania on the consular assistance and cooperation, which replaces the Agreement of 5 February 1999 signed in Vilnius. The new Agreement sets out more extensive standards for consular assistance for nationals of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania who are involved in criminal offences, serious accidents or find themselves in trouble. The Agreement provides for assistance in the event of detention, death or repatriation and for the issuing of temporary travel documents. The Agreement also provides for the right of the Baltic States to cooperate in rendering of consular assistance, not only in third countries but also in the EU Member States.

The Joint Statement of the BCM meeting on 6 December 2019 can be accessed here.

Press release of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš after the BCM meeting:

https://www.mk.gov.lv/en/aktualitates/baltijas-valstu-premjeri-satiksmes-ministriem-jarod-risinajums-rail-baltica-projekta

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 traditional meeting of Foreign Ministers as part of the Baltic Council took place on 26 October in Vilnius.

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.

The Joint Statement of the Baltic Council of 29 November 2019 is accessible here.

Press release of Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs following the 25th session of the Baltic Council:

https://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/news/latest-news/64980-latvian-foreign-minister-expresses-his-appreciation-for-what-the-baltic-states-have-done-to-strengthen-security-in-the-region-and-develop-the-gas-market

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:

1.       Defence

2.       Energy

3.       Home Affairs

4.       Transport and Communications

5.       Environment

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.

During the Latvian Chairmanship on 10 June 2019, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs met with the Presidium of the Baltic Assembly. The implementation of the Latvian Presidency priorities were discussed during the meeting. 

Press release of Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs following the meeting:

https://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/news/latest-news/63670-foreign-minister-baltic-states-should-closely-cooperate-to-enable-effective-implementation-of-joint-project-of-regional-importance

On 25 September 2019, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš met with the Latvian delegation of the Baltic Assembly. During the meeting, the progress of the Rail Baltica project was discussed, also the cooperation between Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in environmental protection, the electricity and gas market, and security and defence issues were discussed.

More information can be obtained in press release of Parliament:

https://www.saeima.lv/lv/aktualitates/saeimas-zinas/28285-ba-latvijas-delegacija-ar-premjerministru-parruna-turpmakas-sadarbibas-prioritates