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 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 in the fall); 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. For example, there is currently a sub-committee for border control affairs. The work of the Committees of Senior Officials is essentially being replaced by conventional need-based meeting formats in each sector.
Significant changes to the structure of the BCM took place during the extensive reforms that were initiated during the Estonian chairmanship in 2002 and completed in 2005. The reforms were necessary because the work process was becoming too complicated and bureaucratic. Existing co-ordination involved all ministers, the number of Committees of Senior Officials in various fields had reached 21, and high-level meetings were held twice a year. 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 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. From 2010-2012 there was a Task Force for Health Affairs, which did very good work.
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 fall 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.
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.
Meetings taking place within the framework of the Baltic Council of Ministers are arranged by a rotating secretariat, which consists of officials from the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian foreign ministries.
In 2013 the chairman of the Baltic Council of Ministers was Latvia, which had chosen as priority areas for its chairmanship year increasing the competitiveness of the region and improving the business environment, intensified co-operation with the Nordic countries, and developing regional energy and transport projects.