VILNIUS - Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian parliamentary leaders underlined the importance of unity in the face of the coronavirus and the migration crises as they opened the 40th session of the Baltic Assembly in Vilnius on Friday.
Speaking about the establishment of the Assembly 30 years ago, Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, the speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas, noted that it was a time of crises and tensions when the Baltic countries needed to act as one region.
"It was only a couple of months after the USSR State Council, created in the wake of the August 1991 putsch in Moscow, recognized the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and a month before the Belovezh Accords which declared the death of the Soviet Union," she said. "Both East and West saw us as one region and we had to find ways to act as one region, which was the challenge of the period."
Three decades on, close cooperation is again vital for the Baltic region, according to Cmilyte-Nielsen.
"We are once again facing the tensions and challenges of the times when we won independence together, established our statehood together, and looked for ways to join forces and to coordinate our actions," she said.
"We need maximum concerted efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the crisis it has caused. We need to seek common energy security solutions that are acceptable to all three countries. We need to respond swiftly to security challenges at the EU's external borders. We need close, joined-up defense cooperation. We need to coordinate our actions in addressing economic and digitalization challenges."
Dagmara Beitnere-Le Galla, deputy speaker of the Latvian Saeima, called on the Baltic countries to work even more closely together to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, to focus on the development of an innovative economy, and to position themselves as an innovative, stable region.
"We need to do more to improve our cooperation. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that we need to work together to recover from the crisis and to develop further in the region," the Latvian MP said. "The dimension of cooperation is our start-ups; their contribution allows us to bring young people into the economy, and these are great new businesses, a workforce, and a good standard of living."
"That is why I think it would be worthwhile for us to return to the third Baltic Innovation Fund project; we could position ourselves as innovative countries, a stable region," she said. "The Baltic region has a very good transport and energy infrastructure, which puts us in a good position in Europe, but there is still work to be done in this area."
Juri Ratas, the president of the Estonian Riigikogu, noted that unity among the Baltic countries was crucial and that "the Baltic Way practically continues to this day".
According to Ratas, the region is facing several challenges at the same time: new COVID-19 cases stretching the healthcare systems to their limits, Belarus' hybrid attacks on the EU's external border, the growing military rapprochement between Belarus and Russia, and "depression and alienation prevailing in society".
"The crisis poses a major challenge to us in preserving and developing democracy and human dignity," he said. "I hope we have realized that isolation and egoism have no place in the current situation, and that it is time to remind ourselves of the difficult times when we stood together in support of each other, in the pursuit of freedom, and when we were ready to do our utmost to achieve a common goal."
"Let us once again remind ourselves that unity is power, and that we can manage the crisis and overcome it successfully by applying advanced solutions together."
Vilnius is hosting on Friday the 40th session of the Baltic Assembly, a platform for cooperation among the parliaments of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia established on November 8, 1991.
Lithuania is this year holding the presidency of the Baltic Assembly.