VILNIUS - All three Baltic presidents and Polish president Lech Kaczynski, meeting in Vilnius on Nov. 6, agreed that they must strengthen cooperation and jointly pursue EU interests as one voice. "Closer cooperation between the three Baltic states and the Visegrad Four (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) would benefit all participating countries," the three Baltic presidents highlighted in a statement released after the meeting.
However, during a briefing later that day, it became clear that the four leaders' stance on EU involvement differed slightly.
Poland's president argued for strengthening regional collaboration between the Baltic states and Poland.
"Cooperation between the Baltic states and Poland in NATO and the EU 's particularly in the EU 's can bring significant results," Kaczynski said.
Meanwhile, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves prioritized the need for cooperation between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, leaving Poland on the sideline.
"I hope that the three Baltic countries can move even closer and adopt common policies like, for example, the Benelux countries have done. We [need to] develop a common position in the European Union," Ilves said.
But all four presidents were unanimous on other issues, such as NATO enlargement, the European Union's Neighborhood Policy, and energy security.
Latvia and Poland's presidents stressed that, during the upcoming NATO summit in Riga, alliance members should promote NATO's open-door policy and discuss what can be done to help aspiring member countries meet accession standards.
"All four countries represented here today feel very strongly that the Riga summit should provide signs of encouragement," Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said at the briefing.
However, Kaczynski's comments somewhat differed.
"Unfortunately, the NATO summit in Riga will not be an enlargement summit," he said. "But some message, some signal must be sent during the conference."
The Polish president supported his Baltic counterparts in their call for a tighter EU neighborhood policy, especially with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
"Ukraine and Georgia must be given clear prospects on their future in the EU, even if accession is still far away," Kaczynski said.
Speaking on the same subject, Ilves asked the EU to consider closer economic relations with potential new members.
"The EU must pay more attention to Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova and maybe offer them better trade conditions. This is especially important for Georgia, which is cut off from normal trade connections. We, the Baltic countries, know well what that means," the Estonian president said.
Georgia is currently in a heated row with Russia, which has imposed economic sanctions on the former Soviet republic. Like Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia also suffered an economic blockade after they restored their independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
During the meeting, the presidents also discussed joint infrastructure projects and unanimously stated their support for the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Lithuania (see story Page 12), despite dissent from Kaczynski.
"I can not make any commitments on behalf of Poland," he replied when asked whether Poland plans to take part in the project.
The new nuclear facility, which will replace Lithuania's Ignalina power plant once it shuts down in 2009, is set for completion in 2015, and will contribute to the entire Baltic region's energy supply. The project has eased Baltic fears that Ignalina's closure will increase their dependency on oil and gas supplies from Russia.
Although Kaczynski had doubts about building a new power plant, the president reiterated his support for an "energy bridge" between Poland and Lithuania, saying that discussion over the project was "moving in the right direction."
Surprisingly the topic of Russia, usually always brought up at such meetings, was nearly ignored. Except for a call to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, an agreement on the terms of energy supply from Russia to EU members, the Baltic's eastern neighbor was not mentioned during the meeting. Nor was Russia discussed in the briefing.