The governments and parliaments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania cooperate closely. The forum for intergovernmental co-operation is the Baltic Council of Ministers. Parliamentary co-operation takes place through the Baltic Assembly.
After Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the EU and NATO, the authority of decision-making on several matters changed, scope widened, and the everyday co-operation between officials involved an increased number of partners within the framework of the co-operation area.
In recent years the most important areas of cooperation have been foreign and security policy, defence cooperation, energy, and transport. Cooperation in the field of economics has become more project-based, relying on common interests. The joint endeavours of the Baltic states are pragmatic and practical.
The chairmanship rotates at the beginning of each calendar year and the chairing country actively coordinates co-operation on all levels. In 2019 under the Latvian Chairmanship the priorities were: strengthening of security in the region, development of regional connectivity and protection of common interests in the European Union. In 2020 the chairing country is Estonia. The priorities are: regional security (including Eastern Partnership and transatlantic relations), cyber cooperation, connectivity (including regional energy and transport projects and digital cooperation), climate change and environmental issues, cultural and health cooperation. In 2021 Lithuania will coordinate the work of the Baltic Council of Ministers
The priorities for Baltic cooperation during Latvia’s chairmanship in 2019 are:
- strengthening of security in the region;
- development of regional connectivity;
- protection of common interests in the European Union.
Baltic Council of Ministers
The format for intergovernmental co-operation among Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is the Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM), which acts pursuant to the Terms of Reference (PDF) signed in 1994. The BCM ensures the coordination and continuity of cooperation between the governments of the three countries. The BCM institutions can only make decisions when representatives of all three states are present. The BCM makes decisions based on consensus and its decisions are binding for the Baltic states.
The Prime Ministers’ Council, as the highest organ of the BCM, provides guidance for the intergovernmental co-operation of the Baltic states. The BCM meets on the prime ministerial level once a year (generally at the end of the year); informal meetings have taken place at least once a year as well.
Five Committees of Senior Officials have been created within the BCM (energy, transport, defence, environment, and internal issues). Each committee can create sub-committees in certain areas in order to organise its own activities. The work of the Committees of Senior Officials is essentially being replaced by conventional need-based meeting formats in each sector.
In 2019 the Baltic Prime Ministers met in the Prime Ministers’ Council format in Riga on 4 February, 23 August and 6 December. During the August meeting they also attended together the Baltic Way’s 30th anniversary events. The December meeting was also attended by the Baltic Ministers in charge of transport to discuss the Rail Baltic project and there was also a separate meeting between the Baltic Prime Ministers and the Polish Prime Minister.
In addition to the Committees of Senior Officials, the prime ministers can also create task forces, which come together for a certain period to fulfil a specific task outside the jurisdiction of the Committees of Senior Officials. The foreign ministers' yearly meeting (Cooperation Council) usually takes place within the framework of the Baltic Council, which is the format for co-operation between the governments and parliaments.
The Baltic Council meeting takes place once a year within the framework of the session of the Baltic Assembly. During the Baltic Council, the foreign minister of the rotating chairman state presents an overview to the Baltic Assembly of the co-operation among the Baltic states in the past year and plans for the future. The 25th Baltic Council took place on 29 November 2019 in Riga, more information is available here: http://www.baltasam.org/en/sessions-and-documents/37th-session.
Cooperation between the BCM and the Baltic Assembly takes place based on agreements. Through them, the occurrences of the Baltic Council and activity of the Cooperation Council are regulated. Cooperation occurs at all levels: the Presidium of the Baltic Assembly and the Cooperation Council meet in the framework of the Baltic Council; the senior officials of BCM committees are invited to BA committee sessions and thematic conferences.
The Baltic Assembly (BA) is an institution for parliamentary co-operation among Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. It was established on 8 November 1991. Each of the Baltic states is represented in the Assembly by 12-16 parliamentarians. The Estonian delegation of the Riigikogu has 12 members. The chairmanship of the Baltic Assembly coincides with the chairmanship of the BCM and lasts for one calendar year. The Baltic Assembly convenes once a year for a Session. In the time between the Sessions, the work of the Baltic Assembly is coordinated by the Presidium that meets six times a year, whose chairman is the leader of the chairman nation’s delegation to the Baltic Assembly.
The Assembly is a coordinating and consultative institution. The BA has the right to make its views known to the national parliaments, governments and the Baltic Council of Ministers in the form of a resolution, decision, declaration and recommendation, while using the form of an appeal, proposal, or announcement when addressing other international or regional organisations. Between Sessions, the Presidium of the BA may make decisions about current issues. The Baltic Assembly has five standing committees. Since 1994, the Baltic Assembly Prizes for notable achievements in literature, arts and science are awarded once a year. Since 2011, also the Baltic Innovation Prize has been awarded. More information on the Baltic Assembly: http://baltasam.org/en.
Cooperation between Baltic presidents
On 12 May 1991 the Chairmen of the Supreme Soviets of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania met in Tallinn and established the Council of the Baltic States, which was meant to be a co-operation forum for the heads of state of that period. The initial name was used later as well on the occasion of the meetings of constitutional presidents. On 18 November 1993 the presidents approved the statutes modifying the initial name into the Baltic Council. The same name came to be used by the joint forum of the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers, so in order to avoid confusion, the heads of state stopped using the name as a title for their meetings. The meetings of the presidents can be called the Baltic Presidents’ Council. As a rule, they meet once a year. The last meeting of the Presidents took place in Riga on 17 December 2019.
The first steps in the cooperation between Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia were made in the 1920s and 30s, soon after the three states achieved independence. The cooperation among the Baltic nations became especially visible in the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s in the fight to restore national independence. In that way, the Baltic Way, which took place on 23 August 1989, gained a lot of attention in the world.
Full-scale cooperation among Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was re-established on 12 May 1990 when the Declaration on Unity and Co-operation by the Republic of Estonia, Republic of Latvia and Republic of Lithuania (51.31 KB, PDF) was signed in the White Hall of the Riigikogu in Tallinn. That decision was in line with the Treaty on Concord and Co-operation concluded between the three Baltic states in 1934 in Geneva.
After the restoration of independence, structures for intergovernmental and interparliamentary cooperation were quickly built up. In 1994, a whole series of foundational documents were approved. Since 2004, activity in NATO and the European Union, have become important areas of cooperation. In the same period, some changes were also made to make collaboration more up-to-date.
Legal basis for Cooperation
Declaration on Unity and Co-operation by the Republic of Estonia, Republic of Latvia and Republic of Lithuania (51.31 KB, PDF) (12 May 1990)
Agreement on Baltic Parliamentary and Governmental Co-operation Between the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania (PDF) (13 June 1994) and its supplement, Protocol amending the Agreement on Baltic Parliamentary and Governmental Co-operation between the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania (53.94 KB, PDF) (28 November 2003)
Agreement on Baltic Parliamentary and Governmental Co-operation Between the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania, unofficial consolidated text (22.54 KB, PDF)
Terms of Reference (104.58 KB, PDF) of the Baltic Council of Ministers (13 June 1994, amended 28 November 2003)
Protocol on Co-operation between the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers (56.44 KB, PDF) (14 April 1996)
Protocol Amending the Protocol on Co-operation between the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers (114.72 KB, PDF) (28 December 2004)
Regulations on the Committees of Senior Officials and Task Forces (80.86 KB, PDF) (1 January 2005)