In 1991 the three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, regained their independence following the democratic wave that swept across the region. Today, 25 years later, the close and intensive Nordic-Baltic cooperation is a well-established priority for all the states in question. Carola Veit, President of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference therefore was invited by the Icelandic CBSS presidency to reflect on the parliamentary dimension of the cooperation during a symposium with the President of Iceland and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on September 26th in Reykjavik.
Carola Veit there pointed out, that the Baltic States underwent enormous changes, both domestically as well as with regard to foreign policy. They identified EU and NATO membership as key pillars of their future development. But they also concluded that together they are stronger, and this lead to the foundation of the Baltic Assembly. At the executive level they have become active members of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, at the parliamentary level they fully engage in the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference. Carola Veit marked the particular importance of the “parliamentarian way of cooperation” and hence of the intensive dialogue between Baltic Sea Parliamentarians, the executive level and civil society the BSPC stands for since 1991.
“BSPC – the parlamentarian way of cooperation”
Because since the foundation of the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference in 1991 with the primary goal to create a platform for open parliamentary dialogue to overcome the cold war and to establish the Baltic Sea as a sea of freedom and cooperation, a lot has happened – much of which nobody could have foreseen. The intensity of the work of the BSPC increased every year, also driven by the Baltic Parliaments, for whom innovation, economy, labor market and education have traditionally played an important role. Carola Veit also presented the remarkable results of this year’s 25th BSPC annual conference in Riga: Under the Latvian Chairmanship the BSPC dealt with the issues of education, most importantly vocational training and focused on creativity and entrepreneurship in education. The benefits of labor mobility in Europe and the revision of the social security coordination rules have been discussed in the Baltic metropole. In contrast to former conferences the BSPC recently concentrates on two or three important policy fields also to initiate cooperation and to achieve progress in the whole region.
Democracy and Participation – priorities of the Hamburg Chairmanship
Therefore, the member parliaments ask their governments to report on the implementation of the BSPC recommendations for action. And the reactions become more and more comprehensive every year. Carola Veit also introduced her priority issues. During the current Hamburg Presidency these are Democracy and Participation: the dialogue with focus on inalienable rights will be one of the ongoing priorities of her BSPC chairmanship. She will focus on it in connection with youth exchange as well as on Science and Research as “hard” topics. Additionally, a two-year-working group on Sustainable Tourism will end up reporting in next year’s conference in the Free and Hanseatic Town of Hamburg.
Finally, Carola Veit underlined the importance of Cooperation and dialogue based on mutual understanding and trust between parliaments, governments and civil society. This is of crucial importance to ensure continued peace and well-being in the North. The continuation of the dialogue on executive – CBSS – level therefore is an important element of the dialogue in the Baltic Sea Region.
Continuation of dialogue on ministerial level
In this context she pointed out, that the BSPC in its last year’s resolution called on the governments for a resumption of the Ministerial meetings of the Council of Baltic Sea States. With regard to a first step in this direction during the recent Polish CBSS Presidency she expressed the hope that regular meetings of the CBSS Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Heads of Governments can also recommence. Since for more than 20 years the Baltic Sea region fortunately had been a non-priority-area on the maps of the NATO, it had been a region of peace and Northern Europe had been far away from cold war or armed conflicts. She was quite sure that everybody would like to return to this while sharing the common awareness of the necessity to never stop talking, though talking about main values, agreement is not always easy. She identified significant differences among the BSPC member-states just regarding the migrant and refugee-crisis which was on the agenda of every single meeting the last one-and-a-half years. Carola Veit concluded her speech with the words:
“Let us go on – parliaments, governments and societies – working on a peaceful and prosperous common region, let us continue our successful and committed Nordic- Baltic-Cooperation in the whole Baltic-Nordic-Region.”