No storm clouds over Baltic-Nordic region

  • 2000-10-12
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Baltic and Nordic officials reaffirmed their commitment to cooperation in a variety of fields at the close of a conference in Riga on Oct. 10. With Sweden due to assume the rotating presidency of the European Union in January the Baltic states will not be damaged by association with Nordic countries, said Marianne Jelvada, head of the Nordic Council, even though the Nordic countries may be seen as a second tier of the EU outside the single currency.

Representatives of the three Baltic states met with representatives of the Nordic group - Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Aland, Greenland, and the Faeroe Islands.

The officials evaluated current cooperation and particularly focused on education, culture, information technology and regional development, the Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins told a press conference.

Berzins reaffirmed that Latvia will be ready for EU accession by the end of 2002, while Lithuania will be ready at the end of 2003, said Algimantas Rimkunas, the Lithuanian representative.

Last month's decision by Danish voters not to join the single currency "shouldn't disturb" the EU enlargement process in the Baltic states, said Jelvada.

"I hope the Baltic states will participate in single currency discussions in future," she said. "Perhaps they can help Denmark in this respect."

Latvia intends to discuss single currency membership when it has joined the EU, said Berzins.

"I hope we'll join the single currency. Referendums come and go, but good relations are more important," he said.

Likewise the election of what will probably be a more left-wing government in Lithuania on Oct. 8 does not effect Lithuania's commitment to EU membership, said Rimkunas.

"The three principles of Lithuanian foreign policy will remain the same: EU accession, NATO enlargement and good neighborly relations," he said.

Berzins may not admit it, but the creation of an unofficial two-tier EU will make the Baltic states' accession more acceptable to existing member states, said Mortens Hansons, visiting professor of economics at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga.

"The opportunity to be part of free trade in the EU is the most important thing for the Baltic states," he said. "The EU's more federalist trends will only be a consideration for them very far in the future, but economically the Baltic states can gain very much from EU membership."