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Nordic-Baltic states seek more cooperation

Sept. 6, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

VILNIUS, Lithuania, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Europe's Nordic and Baltic countries are strengthening cooperation to assure they're not left off the European agenda, Lithuania said this week.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said Tuesday after a meeting of his "Nordic-Baltic 8" counterparts in Vilnius the foreign policy chiefs talked about way to work more closely together to keep the European Union's attention focused on its Eastern Partnership integration efforts, the Baltic News Service reported.

"As democratic political forces in the Eastern Neighborhood, we have to show that we strongly support the Euro-Atlantic vision," Azubalis said. "The political and financial commitments of the EP countries should not be forgotten because of tight economic situation in the Southern Neighborhood countries."

The Lithuanian foreign affairs chief said that with the economic crises of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy consuming so much time and attention of EU leaders, the integration of the Baltic states has at times taken a back seat in Brussels.

Because of that, the NB8 of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania must coordinate more closely to stay on the agenda, he said.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the Vilnius meeting demonstrated how developing closer diplomatic relations is paying off for the Baltic states, citing the training of civilian experts for EU missions and the mutual coordination of positions in international formats.

Rinkevics added that energy cooperation will be one of the most important areas of concern in the future and called on Nordic and Baltic ministers to support Latvia's bid to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Topping the agenda in Vilnius was a discussion of a united North and Baltic approach to the eurozone problems, BNS reported.

"In principle, we agree that the vicious cycle of the euro area appeared almost impossible to escape if we ignore these three principles," Azubalis said. "First, growth and fiscal discipline go hand in hand, and secondly, growth must be based on performance and innovation."

Thirdly, he said, "We need to fully exploit the growth opportunities of the single market."

The NB8 nations have met annually to discuss foreign policy since the early 1990s, with the countries' prime ministers meeting in conjunction with sessions of the Nordic Council.

In 2010, former Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs and former Danish Defense Minister Soren Gade produced a report on Nordic-Baltic cooperation that looked at ways to deepen the relationship, especially on security issues.

This week's meeting produced discussions not only on the eurozone crisis, but also problems faced by the Eastern Partnership countries, Middle East issues, and on cooperation with the United Nations, NATO and EU missions on general security issues.

The ministers, for instance, discussed the new challenges facing the search for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Azubalis the NB8 welcomed the European Union's "rhetoric of concern" over a decision by the Azeri courts this week to issue a pardon to Ramil Safarov, an Azeri military official who was serving a life term in prison for the murder of an Armenian officer in Budapest in 2004.

The NB8 delegates said the pardon was a blow to trust on both sides of the Azeri-Armenian conflict.

"Our primary interest is in stability in the South Caucasus region," the Lithuanian foreign minister said. "We hope that a solution to the current situation will be sought on the basis of universally recognized norms of international law."

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