WISE MEN, AND WOMAN: Nordic and Baltic State foreign ministers gathered in Riga to discuss how the region can improve cooperation.
TALLINN - Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet participated in the NB8 Foreign Ministers Meeting which was held in Riga on August 26-27. The meeting included foreign ministers from Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland (the so-called NB8).
The main discussion topic was the future of Nordic-Baltic cooperation, on the basis of a report and recommendations by a group of wise men. The group was established by Valdis Birkavs, the Latvian prime minister and foreign minister in the 1990s, and Soren Gade, Minister of Defense of Denmark in the 2000s.
The group of wise men drafted a concise report over the summer, including several hands-on recommendations for Nordic-Baltic approximation in different sectors. The report will be published soon after the Riga meeting.
According to Paet, the central goal for the Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers was to analyze ideas submitted by each country and experts with regard to the cooperation report. “Even analysis of current cooperation prospects may result in further suggestions in all of the fields planned thus far, be they defense cooperation, development cooperation, consular cooperation, maritime monitoring or some other area of cooperation,” said Paet.
In addition to the cooperation report, the meeting of the foreign ministers addressed the situation in Afghanistan, aspects related to NATO’s strategic concept, and preparations for the OSCE summit. Also addressed were relations with Turkey, Russia and the EU’s Eastern Partnership.
Paet said that Estonia and the other Baltic and Nordic countries wish to devote more attention to cooperation, both in coordinating foreign policy positions and with regard to the foreign service, where examples include consular assistance or exchange of diplomats. “Every country should designate at least one foreign representation, where it would be possible to engage the services of diplomats from other Nordic countries or Baltic states. We should also examine opportunities for the exchange of diplomats. We have such a practice in place with our Finnish colleagues. Next year an Estonian diplomat will be sent to the Finnish representation in Lusaka, Zambia,” Paet stated.
The foreign minister added that better coordination of common positions would increase the visibility of the Nordics and Baltics in international organizations.
The report also offers a number of ideas for cooperation on energy issues and environmental and defense issues. Paet said Estonia supports the establishing of additional energy links between the Baltic and Nordic regions and Poland.
Nordic-Baltic cooperation is a regional cooperation format in which the participating countries further political dialogue and practical cooperation. “Europe’s ongoing regionalization is beneficial for the European Union itself. The Baltic-Nordic cooperation is the only real opportunity for us to be visible and influential, not only in Europe, but also in the world,” said Audronius Azubalis, the minister of foreign affairs of Lithuania.
The head of Lithuania’s diplomacy, Azubalis expressed his opinion that “The recommendations that are set out in the report should be implemented as soon as possible. This requires the use of specific tools, such as joint activities of the Nordic and Baltic diplomatic representations, and coordinated representation in political and economic organizations,” the minister said.
After the meeting, Latvian Foreign Minister Aivis Ronis accentuated that currently, political solidarity, a focused cooperation with other Baltic and Nordic countries, the consolidation of resources, and regional economic integration hold particular importance for Latvia. “The more competitive our region becomes, the more competitive is also each country in the Baltic and Nordic community,” said Ronis. He also expressed his conviction that closer cooperation among the eight countries could also significantly strengthen the link between the EU and NATO.
Ronis recognized that the Baltic-Nordic cooperation has seen different stages, as well as different levels of regional solidarity and support. The support from the Nordic countries has been decisive for the Baltic states in the process of restoring and strengthening independence, as well as for their integration into the European Union and NATO, while these days, especially under the conditions of the global economic crisis, it is political solidarity and a focused development of cooperation that have increasingly gained in importance.
The foreign minister of Denmark, Lene Espersen, emphasized that the relations between the Baltic and Nordic countries are a cornerstone for the cooperation in the region. In the minister’s opinion, the most ambitious of the proposed scenarios has to be taken forward.
Ministerial meetings of the NB8 group have become a tradition; the group has had late summer meetings since 1993. Last year, the group convened in Reykjavik and the 2011 meeting will be held in Finland. Next year will mark 20 years of Baltic re-independence.
This year’s NB8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia as coordinator of the Baltic-Nordic cooperation for 2010. This is the first time that Latvia has assumed coordinating functions for the NB8.