On 18-19 May 2023, the Eastern Partnership Conference of the Baltic Assembly “Strengthening the Eastern Partnership countries in the new geopolitical reality of Europe: Role of the Baltic States and beyond” took place in Tallinn, Estonia.
President of the Baltic Assembly Urve Tiidus opened the conference by highlighting that the Baltic Assembly strongly supports the Eastern Partnership countries: "We see ourselves as a bridge between the Eastern Partnership countries and the West. One of the formats through which this role is implemented is our Eastern Partnership Conference, which brings together parliamentarians, government representatives and experts from the Baltic States, Eastern Partnership countries, as well as from the Benelux and Nordic regions."
Afterwards, the participants were addressed by President of the Riigikogu of Estonia Lauri Hussar, Speaker of the Seimas of Lithuania Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, Speaker of the Saeima of Latvia Edvards Smiltēns, Vice President of the European Parliament Roberts Zīle, Chair of the Ukrainian delegation and President of the GUAM Parliamentary Assembly Sviatoslav Yurash.
President of the Riigikogu of Estonia Lauri Hussar emphasised that countries that are striving to join the European Union need the support and assistance of the Baltic States especially now and it is important to also use the Eastern Partnership framework for this purpose. "At the same time, in addition to the EU's continuous political, financial and technical support, we need to further integrate those countries with the EU, for example, via further trade liberalization, boosting market access, and reducing roaming charges," said Lauri Hussar.
President of the GUAM Parliamentary Assembly Sviatoslav Yurash thanked the Baltic States for the continued example of what the world should do to help Ukraine. "There is a clear understanding of the reality that we are seeing in Ukraine. The Baltic nations understand and promote the idea that the world should support Ukraine." He continued by emphasizing the importance of the GUAM Parliamentary Assembly and introduced the challenges the GUAM countries are facing.
Strong and coordinated support of the Baltic States to accelerate the security and development in the Eastern Partnership countries
During the first session of the conference, the parliamentarians, government representatives, and experts discussed the support of the Baltic States in accelerating the security and development of the Eastern Partnership countries. President of the Baltic Assembly Urve Tiidus said that the Baltic States have continuously supported the security and development of Eastern Partnership countries. "We view our practical assistance and expertise as beneficial as we have faced and overcome many of the challenges that the Eastern Partnership countries face nowadays. Thus, we hope to utilise our experience and offer guidance to other international partners, European institutions and beyond," said Urve Tiidus. She also added that it is important to continue to mobilise all possible resources to help Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries; however, the support has to be not only strong but also coordinated.
Senior Fellow of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute of the International Centre for Defence and Security Steven Blockmans highlighted that the Eastern Partnership framework needs a security dimension to stay relevant. He believed that the European Union should become more engaged in efforts to manage and resolve the protracted conflicts in the region, as well as deepen security cooperation with the Eastern Partnership countries.
Afterwards, Special Envoy for Eastern Partnership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Gert Antsu, Deputy Director of the Special Envoy for Eastern Partnership at the Eastern Neighbourhood Policy Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Jonas Daniliauskas and Director General of the Bilateral Relations Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Nils Jansons informed that the views of the Baltic States regarding Eastern Partnership are extremely similar. It was concluded that the most important task right now is helping Ukraine win the war as everything depends on the victory - not just Ukraine’s sovereignty and the future of other Eastern Partnership countries, but also the future and security architecture of the whole of Europe.
President of the Benelux Parlement Pim Van Ballekom stated that regional cooperation and integration can catalyze cooperation. He agreed that the parliamentarians can contribute to the political dialogue with the Eastern Partnership countries and the focus should be put on democracy, energy security and stability. Pim van Ballekom also highlighted the vital role of the exchange of information and experience between the Baltic, Benelux, Nordic, and GUAM countries.
Member of the Presidium of the Nordic Council Bryndís Haraldsdóttir emphasized that since the war in Ukraine, the cooperation between the Nordic Council and the Baltic Assembly has grown stronger; however, she admitted that there have been a few instances in the past where the Nordic countries have not been as supportive as they should have. "I would like to apologise for the fact that we in the Nordic countries did not pay more attention to what the Baltic States were saying earlier when you warned of the threat posed by Putin’s Russia," said Bryndís Haraldsdóttir.
Strengthening democracy of the Eastern Partnership countries in the new geopolitical reality of Europe
During the second session of the conference, the parliamentarians, government representatives, and experts discussed strengthening the democracy of the Eastern Partnership Countries in the new geopolitical reality of Europe. Member of the Security and Defence Committee of the Baltic Assembly Anti Poolamets said that while the other European countries have now understood the dangers of Russia and the need to strengthen democracy in the region to ensure the resilience of the countries near the aggressor, the Baltic States have been constantly vocal about the events in the region and remained among the strongest advocates for promoting the development of democracy.
Senior research fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs Elżbieta Kaca highlighted that Russia has been actively pursuing disinformation campaigns and narratives in the EU regarding their efforts to support Ukraine, which in the long term may undermine the public support. The country also uses all available instruments to impact internal political developments in the Eastern Partnership countries. Thus, it will be important to further strengthen the EU's capacity to combat disinformation.
Head of the Security & Resilience Programme and Research Fellow of the International Centre for Defence and Security Ivo Juurvee, Deputy Director of the Special Envoy for Eastern Partnership at the Eastern Neighbourhood Policy Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Jonas Daniliauskas and Director General of the Bilateral Relations Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Nils Janson informed that the Baltic States have been continuously witnessing Russian propaganda and disinformation, thus various methods have been used to debunk the false narratives spread by the country. At the same time, support has been provided to media representatives and independent journalists from Ukraine. It was concluded that it is important to counter Russian disinformation activities in the global south, as they are also polarising societies.
Member of the Presidium of the Nordic Council Erkki Tuomioja added that one security issue that is becoming more relevant than ever is cybersecurity, which has also been high on the agenda of Nordic cooperation. He also emphasized the importance of building the resilience and role of civil society, especially in Belarus, which is a topic that the Nordic Council has discussed in cooperation with the Baltic Assembly.
Chair of the Ukrainian delegation to the GUAM Parliamentary Assembly Sviatoslav Yurash added that the Baltic, Benelux, and Nordic countries stand together as a block, making their voice stronger, which is crucial in a century when standing together is of importance. He also concluded that it is important to develop common values in the years coming forward as "we are part of the European family".
At the end of the conference, President of the Baltic Assembly Urve Tiidus thanked the participants and emphasized that the Baltic States intend to remain committed to bringing prosperity to the region and all of the Partnership countries, as well as helping them ensure security, resilience and stability as it is clear that the Eastern Partnership is likely to remain an important forum for promoting closer ties between the EU and its Eastern partners.
© Photos by the Riigikogu of the Republic of Estonia, Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and Saeima of the Republic of Latvia