EU, NATO top agenda

  • 2002-08-15
  • Agence France-Presse, RIGA
Prime ministers from eight Nordic and Baltic countries are to meet in Riga next week to discuss European Union and NATO enlargement as decision-time approaches.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will be looking particularly to Denmark, current holder of the rotating EU presidency, for assurance that negotiations will be wrapped up by the end of the year for 10 of the countries seeking EU membership, said an adviser to Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins.

The three states, along with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, are hoping to join the bloc in 2004.

But several issues remain unresolved, particularly in the agricultural sphere, which takes up a major chunk of EU spending and is where the Baltic states and others are seeking the best possible deal.

"Everyone would like to hear once again the Danish presidency's position on EU expansion - they've said they will do everything possible," Berzins' adviser Peteris Elferts said ahead of the Aug. 18-19 meeting.

The Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - have lent their strong backing to the EU membership bids by the Baltic states and are among the top investors in the region.

A key issue for the prime ministers is the potential for Nordic countries to enter Baltic electricity markets and the possible creation of an electricity supply ring around the Baltic Sea, Elferts said.

The Nordic countries have tended to avoid harsh criticism of the Baltic states in order to convince doubters elsewhere in the EU, but behind the scenes there may be pressure on the three countries to make greater efforts to tackle corruption, said a Riga-based Nordic diplomat.

"We're very worried about it. (Corruption) is a problem for everybody. Now that (EU accession) negotiations are close to finishing, the issue becomes more pertinent," the diplomat said.

Closer defense ties are also likely to be on the agenda, as the three Baltic states expect to be invited to join NATO at an alliance summit in Prague in November, said Atis Leijins, director of the Riga-based Institute of International Affairs.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are expected to be among the new NATO members along with Slovenia and possibly Bulgaria and Rumania.

The prospect of the Baltic states joining NATO puts Sweden and Finland - which remain staunchly outside the alliance - "in a very awkward position," said Leijins, noting that Sweden has put considerable resources into arming and advising their military forces.

"It's very nice for the Finns and the Swedes to have three Baltic countries that are economically strong - if things go wrong in Russia it keeps several hundred kilometers between them - but they will have to join NATO," said Leijins.