Presidential summit stresses Baltic unity

  • 2000-12-21
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Meeting in Riga in the aftermath of the EU's crucial summit on enlargement in Nice, the presidents of the Baltic states presented a united front in their approach to their stated foreign policy priorities - membership of the EU and NATO - and countered recent suggestions of disharmony.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said the meeting "reconfirmed the solid positions of our three countries regarding foreign policy," while Estonian President Lennart Meri expressed his "deep gratitude for the warm feeling we've felt from the beginning."

Following the Nice summit the three Baltic states have "good reason to be optimistic," said Meri.

"I'm happy that the EU's need to improve its inner regulations did not interfere with the strong feeling that it will enlarge. It is now very clear how the Baltic states will join the EU."

Meri downplayed suggestions that the seven seats Lithuania is likely to hold at the EU's Council of Ministers will give it an unfair advantage over Latvia and Estonia, which were only allotted four seats each. "We congratulate Lithuania on its good results," said Meri. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga repeated the importance of each state having its own European commissioner. She hinted, however, that concerns about the commission's ability to function might necessitate flexibility on the issue.

"The workings of the enlarged European Commission will have to be tried and tested, but the principle of one commissioner for each state is very important," she said.

Meri said the decisions made in Nice would give small nations "a firm standpoint from which to solve European affairs."

Meri's comments may help counteract ill-feeling generated in recent months by the assertions of Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who has repeatedly said that Estonia is part of the Nordic rather than the Baltic community of countries.

Adamkus meanwhile emphasized the shared nature of the Baltics' bid to join NATO.

"There is no doubt about the participation of the three countries in the NATO alliance," he said.

"Our strategies may differ, but they will serve one, single purpose: We will all be members."

But Adamkus may not have completely allayed fears that Lithuania could enter NATO without Estonia and Latvia, an idea recently proposed, but defeated at a NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting.

"If one country becomes a member it will be a victory for democracy," said Adamkus.

Meri emphasized the importance of winning the political argument for NATO expansion.

"The objective criteria which are so important for EU membership are not so decisive," he said.

"We have to do our homework, security is not cheap, but this is a political decision. It matters how secure this part of Europe is."

Adamkus warmly greeted a promise by Vike-Freiberga that the Latvian Parliament will soon resolve its questions over ratification of a sea border treaty with Lithuania, a vital step if oil extraction is to begin in the area.

"If Latvian fish swim into Lithuanian waters, we'll chase them back," said Adamkus.

Results of an opinion poll carried out by the social research company Spinter in Lithuania at the end of November suggest relations with Estonia are less warm than implied at the Riga meeting. Of those polled, 49.1 percent said they were ill-disposed toward Estonians. Only 15.4 percent said Estonia had favorable policies toward Lithuania.