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Latvian-Lithuanian Co-operation Perspectives

By Vadim Volovoj

The Report on Latvian-Lithuanian Co-operation Perspectives was presented in January of this year by the ambassadors Neris Germanas (Lithuania) and Alberts Sarkanis (Latvia). In fact Lithuania’s foreign policy is directed toward the U.S., Russia, Belarus and Poland, whereas a close neighbor Latvia is somehow left aside. The authors of the Report ask: “Why… in reality today we are not closer and better acquainted with each other than with more distant neighboring nations? […].  Why are we incapable, despite the publicly declared unity, to coordinate and come forward with a common position which could be useful for us as well as for a wider region?”

Neris Germanas and Alberts Sarkanis highlight the main factors preventing cooperation: different historic memory, distinctive religious confessional experience, different economic and cultural impact of neighboring countries, different internal ethnic composition, competition distorted by the type of economic activity, different level of taxes and excises making economic barriers, insufficient personal contacts, weak and frequently excessively formal contacts between political and cultural elites, youth and non-governmental organizations, old and appearing anew stereotypes sometimes raising distrust and suspiciousness.

According to the authors of the Report, worsened human relations (in the wide sense of the word) are the main reason of ineffective Lithuanian-Latvian cooperation. Their suggestion is to establish a common information space. Moreover, Lithuanian and Latvian television, radio, Internet portals should regularly provide information on the events taking place in the neighboring countries. Educational institutions and non-governmental organizations should also pursue more active cooperation.

Tourism and cross-border regional contacts are also instrumental. According to Neris Germanas and Alberts Sarkanis, the EU Latvian-Lithuanian Cross-Border Cooperation Programme for 2007-2013 provides multiple opportunities for cooperation in frontier regions. The budget of the projects that are financed by this Programme amounts to more than EUR 60 million. Besides, Latvian-Lithuanian border regions also use the opportunities offered by the Latvian, Lithuanian and Byelorussian Cross-Border Cooperation Programme (its budget amounts to EUR 41,7 million). Yet, the main problem is lack of institutional capacities in preparing projects and absorbing the funds.

According to authors of the Report, Latvian and Lithuanian state institutions shall facilitate the involvement of relevant organizations of both countries in the implementation of common projects, and fund raising for project implementation. At the same time it is important to prepare and approve a new EU LatLit Cross-Border Cooperation Programme for the next financial perspective for 2014-2020. It would also be useful to consider the possibilities of establishing a special Lithuanian-Latvian Support Fund (by attracting business organizations) to promote border region economic cooperation.

In the field of economy Latvia and Lithuania are the main partners. Latvia holds the third position among Lithuania’s export partners (and the fourth position as import partner). Besides, Latvia is the second country in the list to attractLithuania’s direct investments, and holds the ninth position of direct investments in Lithuania. On the other hand, close business relations cause competition, and frictions between economy entities sometimes are transferred to the official level. In view of this, the authors suggest to enhance the economic integration and harmonize business conditions in Latviaand Lithuania. This could be achieved by accelerating the implementation of the Via Baltica and Rail Baltica projects and developing cooperation between the seaport and airport authorities of both countries etc.

Cooperation between Lithuania and Latvia in the sphere of foreign policy and security (including energy security) is also very important. Yet, so far no solution has been found concerning the border delimitation in the territorial waters of the Baltic Sea. According to authors of the Report the focus should be given to the strategic importance issues.

In order to ensure effective diplomatic representation it is necessary to more efficiently use the current diplomatic representations for the needs of other country, including joint and versatile representation, especially in the sphere of economic and trade cooperation with the third countries. In enhancing and developing the traditional trilateral (Estonia,Latvia, Lithuania) cooperation, it is important to link it to the development of the Northern Europe.

The EU is higher level. According to Neris Germanas and Alberts Sarkanis, Lithuania and Latvia should have mutually coordinated positions on main operational issues: in the sphere of the EU financial regulation, on the EU Neighborhood Policy (especially on the Eastern Partnership), and seek common energy security. In view of this, it is necessary to:

1) enhance cooperation in implementing the Project of the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant as a key prerequisite not only for achieving the energy independence of Lithuania, but also for achieving the energy independence of the Baltic States;

2) to develop cooperation by establishing a single electricity market of the Baltic States integrated into the Nordic Electricity Market NordPool, merging it with the continental European grid, and pursuing the NordBalt Project;

3) to pursue more active cooperation in the field of gas supply in line with the EU Rules of Procedure;

4) to consider a possibility of setting up a joint group of experts for the evaluation of energy security opportunities.

In the field of security the authors suggest to consider the possibility of joint purchase of the military and other special equipment in order to ensure a more efficient use of the existing resources, joint defense of the Baltic States and participation in the international missions (by attracting into cooperation Poland which has more weight in the EU and NATO).

More close bilateral (trilateral) cooperation in the field of customs border control could ensure equal conditions at the external EU borders. According to Neris Germanas and Alberts Sarkanis it is necessary to elaborate and sign the agreement between the border guard service and police institutions of both countries on joint patrolling in the border territories, and establish the common databases or simplify the access of national registers in order to facilitate the work of police.

The above Report considers several important aspects. First of all it acknowledges that the two ethnically close countries do have relationship problems. Secondly, it highlights the moment of restricted mutual cognition, thus the proposal to establish a single information and communication space seems quite reasonable. Thirdly, the authors emphasize that Vilnius and Riga need to strengthen cooperation on the economic and international stage. Today there is no uniform Baltic policy, especially the policy toward the East. Fourthly, Neris Germanas and Alberts Sarkanis highlight strategically relevant energy and transport projects which are important for both countries.
 
 
Geopolitika
 
 
09.04.2012