Regional Co-operation in the Baltic Area in the framework of the Baltic Assembly by Vytenis Povilas ANDRIUKAITIS Deputy Chairman of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania Chairman of the Committee on European Affairs Sarajevo, 19 July 2003
Dear Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Fundamental changes of the recent decades in Central and Eastern Europe escaped global conflicts that were so typical of the middle and second half of the 20th century. That was predetermined by many factors, such as strengthening of democracies, a successful European Communities project, successful activity of NATO in the Cold War environment, establishment of a social market model in the Member States of the European Union, fall of a planned market economy, success of anti-totalitarian democratic liberation movements in Central and Eastern Europe including the Baltic States.
It was the breakdown of the communist block without major military conflicts that paved the way to the EU enlargement. In contrast, that was not the case with the break down of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia. It brought about waves of religious and ethnic conflicts, war and instability throughout this region. Lessons should be learnt and conclusions drawn from the events of the time, so that they are not repeated in the future.
The values and objectives of the European Union should unite the whole of Europe. For they include respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for human rights, promotion of peace and the well-being of its peoples.
But the most significant practical instruments for the implementation of the Union policies are its regional instruments: the coal and steel community, the customs union, Eurozone and regional infrastructure projects. They are the most effective tools for making the concept of common market work for the benefit of all and each. Europe is the Union of regions. Regional instruments allow the Union to put into life its objectives.
Each region of the Union has its own particular characteristics and its distinct features. Therefore, mechanical transposition of the co-operation methods that work for one regional into another can hardly serve the purpose.
In 1989-1992, at the time when the USSR was crumbling, the Baltic States faced a very difficult challenge: the Soviet Union Communist Party hard-liners were severely opposed to the restoration of independence of the three Baltic States. They kept fuelling national hatred and inciting the creation of soviet autonomies the polish autonomic republic in Lithuania and the Russian-speaking autonomies in Latvia and Estonia. We managed to avoid ethnic, religious and military conflicts in the Baltics primarily by proclaiming broad democratic rights and freedoms and ensuring good trilateral co-ordination of our actions. This was exactly the purpose of the creation of the Baltic Assembly. It was established on 8 November 1991, in Tallinn. The aim of the Baltic Assembly being formulated as promotion of co-operation between the parliaments of the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania.
The Assembly comprises 60 members - 20 from each national parliament elected in accordance with the principle of proportional political representation in the national delegation. The supreme decision-making body of the Baltic Assembly is its Session, which meets once a year. During the Session, the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers hold a joint meeting the Baltic Council. At the Baltic Council, the Baltic Council of Ministers presents a report on the co-operation of the Baltic States, joint activities during the past year and plans for future co-operation. The Baltic Assembly may request from the Baltic Council of Ministers a progress report on the implementation of Baltic Assembly resolutions.
Initially, in 1991-1992, the Baltic Assembly sought to co-ordinate the common actions of the three states for the safeguarding of the countries newly restored freedom and protection of human right.
In 1993-1996, the Baltic Assembly assisted in co-ordinating the actions of the Baltic States with a purpose of signing the Association Agreements with the European Communities. The Association Agreements were signed by the three Baltic States on the same day 12 June 1995. The aim was very clear - full membership in the EU. Similar co-ordinated steps were taken towards the Baltic States membership in NATO.
In 1996-2000, the Baltic Assembly started co-ordinating actions for the specific steps towards accession of the Baltic States to the EU and NATO. The three states were invited to start accession negotiations at different times Estonia was invited first - on 13 December 1997 during the Luxembourg European Council, while Latvia and Lithuania two years later, on 10 November 1999 at the European Council meeting in Helsinki.
Initial competition between individual states: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, did create a rivalry and a degree of tension between the states: which of them should be first admitted to the EU and which to the NATO. The clear favourite for the membership in the EU was Estonia, while in the NATO was Lithuania. But I would call this a positive tension, which eventually turned out to be useful for all three. The spirit of co-operation prevailed and with an extra effort made by Latvia and Lithuania, all three Baltic States completed their accession negotiations equally successfully and at the same time - during the summit in Copenhagen on 13 December 2002.
The Baltic Assembly and especially the Baltic Assemblys reinforced ties with the Nordic Council and the Benelux Inter-parliamentary Consultative Council greatly contributed towards this victory of reason.
The eye-opening achievement of the Baltic Assembly was the creation of an understanding that the concerted action by all three was much more productive and effective. The Baltic Assembly played a strong role in keeping us together on a pragmatic and friendly terms. It taught us to co-ordinate our steps as regional representatives. It taught us the art of a consensus building and helped us to get rid of the economic egoism. As a matter of fact, up until now very few decisions are voted in the Baltic Assembly and in cases where one of the three delegations opposes the measure, such a measure is not put on agenda or if it is already in it is not debated.
The fact that the three countries finished their negotiations for their EU membership at the same time to a large extent was also due to the close, well co-ordinated regional inter-parliamentary co-operation between them. The co-operation between the parliamentary Committees on European Affairs played a significant role in the process. The co-operation was based on the existing structures of the Baltic Assembly. For the promotion of the integration into the EU and NATO, it was decided not to create a separate Baltic Assembly committee on European affairs, but to utilise the full forum and the already existing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security.
The Chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the country holding a half-a-year presidency in the Baltic Assembly usually hosts two meeting of the Chairmen of the Committees per presidency term. The meeting usually lasts one or two days and the agenda includes the work plan for the half a year, presentations by the chief EU negotiators of the three countries and the exchange of views on the topical issues of the day. Depending on a political situation, the meetings may end with an adoption of a declaration or a statement.
The year 2002 has been very important for the Baltic Assembly itself. As a modern organisation, the Baltic Assembly has concluded that reforms have to be undertaken in order to work more effectively under the terms of the EU membership. For that purpose, a special Action Plan was developed. It provides for some changes in the organisational structure and activities of the Assembly, for close co-operation with the Baltic Council of Ministers and for increased attention to co-operation with the Nordic Council and the Benelux Inter-parliamentary Consultative Council.
Recently, the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council started holding regular joint meetings (in the formula of Nordic-Baltic co-operation (5+3)) while the number of joint meetings of the Baltic Assembly and the Benelux Inter-parliamentary Consultative Council increased, but remains sporadic. That way, the basis for genuine regional co-operation is being created. We hold debates on such joint infrastructure projects as VIA BALTICA, RAIL BALTICA, energy networks (power grids) and the ecological projects of the Baltic Sea.
As an illustration of the increased co-operation, I would like list the priorities of the Baltic Assembly for the year 2003:
1. Mutual information exchange and co-ordination on matters regarding the Baltic States in the context of the EU and NATO enlargement processes;
2. Further development of energy and transport infrastructure;
3. Creation of a common information technology space; and
4. Fight against the spread of narcotic drugs, trafficking in women and illegal immigration.
The process of European Integration necessitates increased sub-regional co-operation as today the EU member states solve a number of problems on the regional level. Allow me to quote Mrs. Giedre Purvaneckiene, the Chairperson of the Presidium of the Baltic Assembly and a Member of the Lithuanian Seimas. According to her: The people of the Baltic States have always emphasised the value of independence based on individual character and accomplishment, but they also appreciate the value of co-operation. In this regard, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia use trilateral co-operation consciously as a force multiplier in international affairs, and membership in the EU and NATO will only increase the significance of Baltic co-operation. Regional co-operation on the widest scale will become particularly essential. The joint opinion of small countries in the European context will increasingly carry more weight.
Thank you for your attention.