Joint action pledged at Vilnius summit

  • 2002-03-28
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis

It became clear during a presidential summit this week that the Baltic states and Poland face the same key difficulties on their arduous trek to join the European Union. But the path to NATO is virtually complete.

Three presidential jets landed at Vilnius Airport on March 22. Estonian President Arnold Ruutel, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga flew in to compare notes on NATO and EU issues.

"The decision to enlarge NATO would be a historical step," Kwasniewski said. "It would abolish the divisions that were created after World War II."

The spirit of NATO optimism dominated the meeting. "I hope all four of us will open a bottle of champagne in Prague to celebrate victory," Vike-Freiberga said, referring to the NATO summit in the Czech capital in November, which is widely expected to be the venue for naming new member states.

When asked about whether Russia could one day join NATO, the presidents said there was no reason why not. "There is no principle against Russia joining NATO in the future," Vike-Freiberga said.

It was agreed to create a working group, to be based in Washington and consisting of the four countries' ambassadors to the United States, that will deal with the three Baltic countries' preparations for NATO membership.

It was Kwasniewski's idea to unify their efforts in Washington. Poland has been a NATO member since 1999.

Prospects are not quite as rosy for EU membership, which all four countries hope to achieve in 2004.

Agriculture is the biggest headache. All four presidents admitted that fundamental modernization of the sector was vital,and suggested that state subsidies for agriculture were an old-fashioned policy.

The EU is putting pressure on all EU candidate countries to slash state handouts to farmers in order to reduce their numbers. The theory is that centralized economies driven by large-scale agriculture in the past will not be able to survive in the EU.

"An agricultural sector like the one we have, not only in Lithuania but in the whole of Europe, is history. Farmers must compete, so that only the toughest will survive," Adamkus said.

"Over the past 100 years the number of farmers has fallen dramatically in Europe - and this has nothing to do with the EU," Vike-Freiberga added. Estonia and Poland began EU negotiations in 1998 and have closed 24 and 22 negotiating chapters respectively.

Latvia and Lithuania opened talks in 1999 and have closed 23 and 24 chapters respectively.

"We should unite our efforts in EU entry negotiations," Ruutel said. "Then we'll be able to achieve a better result."

Infrastructure improvement was also high on all four countries' list of goals. In particular they spoke about the importance of the Via Baltica Highway, which would link Tallinn and Warsaw with a single modern highway.

In addition to the collective talks, Adamkus met with all three presidents separately to discuss bilateral relations.

All four presidents will meet again in Klaipeda on Aug. 2 for the 750th anniversary of the Lithuanian port city.