Baltics champion eastern approach

  • 2007-09-05
  • By staff and wire reports
VILNIUS - Baltic foreign ministers have urged the European Union to extend a hand to its eastern neighbors by offering better visa and trade opportunities.

The foreign ministers from Lithuania and Estonia made the comments during a major conference in Brussels from Sept. 2 - 3, at which the EU's so-called Neighborhood Policy was debated.

The European Neighborhood Policy offers assistance to nations that border the union with the aim of creating a cushion of peaceful, stable countries. But participation in the ENP does not lead to membership, something that was debated at the conference.

Baltic nations, along with the United Kingdom and Poland, argued that the door should be left open to discussions about expanding the union east through the ENP, while Germany was steadfast against it.

In his speech to the conference, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas argued that eastern nations should enjoy the same opportunities currently open to the southern nations covered by the ENP. Free trade and a better visa regime should be opened with Moldova and Georgia, he said.

"The EU's neighborhood policy is the right tool to consolidate European values and strengthen cooperation with the neighboring countries," Vaitiekunas said.

Vaitiekunas called for the resolution of the frozen conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, which are both troubled by breakaway regions and border disputes.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet echoed Vaitiekunas's views on visa facilitation, conflict resolution and economic engagement with eastern nations, and argued that negotiations with neighboring countries should be done with an "individual approach."

"ENP countries making faster progress should be rewarded for their achievements, offering an advanced level of cooperation and increased financing from the EU side. This will stimulate all ENP countries to pursue the reform agenda, thus contributing to the development of the neighborhood as a whole," Paet said.
Paet also stressed the importance of resolving energy and environmental issues through the ENP.
The conference, entitled "Working Together," drew together the foreign ministers from the 27 EU member states, along with their counterparts from the 16 countries currently assisted by the ENP, which includes many Middle Eastern, north African and Eastern European nations, but not Russia.