The Estonian Foreign Policy Institute together with the Representation of the European Commission in Estonia and Friedrich Ebert Foundation held a conference “Nordic-Baltic Visions for Europe: Does the EU unite or divide the Baltic region?”. The conference on Friday, the 7th of September, was preceded by a dinner, on the 6th of September, with a keynote speech by Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the former Foreign Minister of Denmark.
The conference programme is available here.
The pictures and videos of the day are available here.
Countries in the Nordic-Baltic region represent a broad spectrum of policies and views on the EU. Occasionally these translate into jointly pursued positions; more often, close regional interaction merely mounts to coordination. Further differentiation within the EU seems to increase the diversity of Nordic and Baltic positions vis à vis the EU. On the other hand, internal divisions within the EU and notably the Brexit process have sparked new dynamics to regional cooperation on European matters, even inspiring talk about a Hanseatic League 2.0.
The conference discussed the Nordic-Baltic perspectives on key issues on the EU’s agenda and highlight future challenges and goals for regional coordination and cooperation in the EU framework. Looking at different policy areas, it aimed, on the one hand, to identify (potential) shared interests and ways to promote them, and on the other hand, explored disagreements among the Nordic-Baltic members of the EU. The discussions will feed into an EFPI/ICDS Report on the topic.
Institutions, Unity and Differentiation
- The changes in the global environment due to Brexit, the election of President Trump and revitalized Franco-German cooperation has brought the Nordic-Baltic countries1 closer to each other.
- The Nordic-Baltic cooperation is issue-based, takes place in an ad-hoc format and does not have a leader. There is no standing alliance of NB6 countries in the everyday work of the EU. However, socialization among the NB6 countries is high and the effects of close coordination and interaction should not be underestimated.2
- The decision-making process in the EU has become increasingly intergovernmental and informal, thus promoting further socialization among various groups in the EU, one being the NB6.
- Sovereignty continues to be an important value for the Nordic-Baltic countries and their populations, clashing often with the need to share more sovereignty in order to advance integration with Europe and further a shared agenda at the European level. Discussion within the societies of the NB6 in regards to sovereignty in the context of European integration is needed.
- Externally, the Nordic-Baltic cooperation is seen as a coalition. However, the perception from the outside is considered to be stronger than the NB6 countries see themselves. It is important to remind other partners in the EU that the NB6 cooperation is not a block.
- Dividing issues and lines between the NB6 are becoming less relevant than before.
Markets, Money and Welfare
- The EU has had an effect on uniting the NB6 economies- Swedish banks are the largest banks in the three Baltic States and today the Baltic countries are investing in the Nordic countries (not just vice versa), for example.
- Interdependency between Nordic, Baltic countries and the rest of the EU is very strong and thus the NB6 economies are very receptive to developments taking place in the rest of the EU.
- Nordic-Baltic countries share similarly conservative macroeconomic policies, which trickles down to other shared positions on economic reforms. For example, the NB6 have a shared position on the reform of the Economic and Monetary Union, whereby the NB6 countries put stress on the national responsibility to counter economic shocks and financial instability.3
- Since Sweden and Denmark are unlikely to join the Eurozone any time soon, membership of the Eurozone persists as a dividing line in the NB6 cooperation. This in the context where the Eurozone is likely to become the driver of the EU.
- In the backdrop of growing inequality globally and regionally, there is an increasing need to strengthen the social pillar of the single market.
- Free trade is a shared issue among the NB6. Trade with the Eastern Partnership countries4 is uniting the NB6 countries, especially in promoting other causes through trade such as environmental protection, social progress etc.
- The Nordic-Baltic countries can add value to the EU and the region in working together on innovation and digitalisation. The Nordic- Baltic countries will also benefit by from cooperating more closely in promoting and branding their goods and services on the global market.
Internal and External Security
- The EU is going through a quiet revolution in the realm of security and defence and it is important not to underestimate the underlying fundamental shifts taking place in Brussel’s attitudes towards security, EU-NATO cooperation, using EU funds for security and defence purposes.
- In the Nordic-Baltic region, the EU has become an increasingly important security actor that is seen as complementary to NATO by adding value in fighting hybrid threats and increasing resilience.
- Global decrease of multilateralism is going to leave the NB6 countries in a more vulnerable position. However, bilateral cooperation may always turn into a multilateral cooperation or be integrated into a larger multilateral framework.
- In the context of changing global dynamics, countries in the region are seeing the need to diversify and enlarge the numbers of their partners and sources of stability and security.
- Cooperation in matters of foreign policy is easier and thus more likely to happen on issues geographically further away.
- NB6 countries do not have enough votes to become a blocking minority in the QMV voting system and thus cannot become a blocking minority in the light of Commission’s proposal to increase QMV in matters of EU foreign and security policy.
1 In the context of this conference, the Nordic-Baltic countries are understood as the six EU member states of the region- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. This cooperative format is also referred to as the NB6.
2 See research conducted by Ilze Ruse “(Why) Do Neighbours Cooperate? Instituionalised Coalitions and Bargaing Power in the EU Council Negotiations” (Opladen: Budrich Unipress , 2013)
4 Eastern Partnership countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.