On 15 May 2020, the Foreign Ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania gathered in Riga to sign a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding on lifting travel restrictions between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for land, rail, air and maritime transport and cooperation thereof during the COVID-19 crisis. This memorandum is accompanying the decision initially taken by the three Baltic states’ Prime Ministers on 6 May 2020 to reciprocally open the borders on 15 May 2020 to restore the movement for the three countries’ citizens, and persons legally residing in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and respective individual decisions by the Governments of the Baltic states.
Today’s occasion marks an important milestone in COVID-19 crisis exit process due to several reasons. First and foremost, it marks the first step in moving towards re-establishing the physical connections and travel between countries, which was interrupted due to spread of COVID-19 virus. Decision to open the borders between the Baltic states was based on the similar epidemiological situation in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The fact that the signing ceremony is held in Riga, in the form of the first physical meeting after the start of the spread of the virus, is a proof that essential, especially work related travel is possible between the Baltic states again.
Today’s crisis, but also today’s occasion again highlights the importance of cooperation between nations and governments, starting from close neighbours. Cooperation between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has been traditionally very close. It is based on common interests and goals of the three countries in foreign and security policy, fostering economic development, and cooperation in the European Union (EU) and NATO. The priorities for Baltic cooperation - strengthening security in the region, developing regional connectivity with a focus on energy and transport infrastructure, climate and digital agenda, promoting common interests in the EU, transatlantic partnership and NATO as the cornerstone for the security and defence in Europe, are important areas for our region and we will achieve more together.
Unity and cooperation remains essential. Cooperation and exchange of information with our regional, like-minded friends in the Nordic-Baltic format has been close and effective from the very start of this crisis. The EU level cooperation, very positively illustrated by joint action in organising EU citizens’ repatriation flights from all over the world to home countries, needs to be continued in a united and efficient way in different strands of work, including with the objective to uphold and support the Single Market. Globally, efforts have to be continued to work together to keep international trade and means of transport as open and flexible as possible to minimize the already huge setback on our countries’ economies.
Continued close cooperation at the regional, EU and global level and working jointly, step by step, remains the keyword, with common objective to being able soon to eliminate restrictions related to COVID-19, help to restore much needed economic activities and free movement throughout the EU and Schengen area as soon as possible, taking into account the epidemiological situation of countries and health requirements.