Nordic-Baltic Cooperation history

Nordic-Baltic cooperation or NB8 is a regional cooperation format that includes Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. While the meetings initially took place in a ‘5+3’ format, it was decided in 2000 on the initiative of the Estonian foreign minister of the time, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, that the Nordic-Baltic cooperation format will be called Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8), which expresses greater unity. Although no separate structures or organisations have been established for coordinating NB8 cooperation, the presiding country is agreed upon annually, who will then determine cooperation guidelines for the respective year. Hence, NB8 is a network for political dialogue and practical cooperation between equal partners, which in its essence is flexible and problem-focused. The emphasis is thus on areas that yield actual added value for the region.

On the political level, the annual meetings of prime ministers and foreign ministers serve as the main format of cooperation. The first meeting of prime ministers was held already in 1993. In addition to foreign ministers and prime ministers, line ministers, members of parliament and ministry officials also meet on a regular basis. On the foreign policy level, NB8 meetings are held among foreign ministries’ secretaries general, political directors, experts and diplomats from foreign representations.

The NB8 countries commenced their parliamentary cooperation in 1989, when contacts were established between the Baltic Assembly (BA) and the Nordic Council (NC). Annual summits take place between the BA and the NC; furthermore, meetings are organised on all levels possible, including speakers, presidiums, commissions and individual members.

The Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM), who developed cooperation guidelines with the Baltic states for the years 2009-2013, also has an important role to play in advancing Nordic-Baltic cooperation. The priority areas have included education, research and innovation; business, cluster networks and creative industries; environment, climate and energy; international challenges faced by welfare societies (e.g. combating the spread of HIV/AIDS and human trafficking) and cross-border promotion of democratic values.

In addition to the NB8 cooperation network, what is spoken of separately is the NB6 format, which embraces Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and which was established with the accession of the Baltic states to the European Union in 2004. The NB6 format is thus a framework of unofficial meetings for the purpose of discussing topical EU matters.

One of the most important NB8 cooperation formats is the Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe or e-PINE, which was initiated by the United States in 2003 and evolved from regular ‘8+1’ meetings with the main aim of enhancing freedom, security and economic welfare in the region and its surrounding areas (Moldova, Ukraine, South Caucasus and Belorussia) in the framework of the Eastern Partnership. Furthermore, cooperation between the NB8 and the United Kingdom (NB8+UK) has lately emerged; for example, Northern Future Forum summits have been organised in the past three years. Another new development is the advancing of cooperation between the NB8 and the four Visegrad countries (NB8+Vis4); the first meeting of prime ministers in this format was held in the beginning of 2013.

One of the most important source documents of NB8 cooperation is the NB8 cooperation report (also known as the Birkavs-Gade report or the NB8 Wise Men Report), which was completed in August 2010 and presents specific guidelines for advancing cooperation between the eight countries. The idea of the report was initiated by the coordinating country for 2010, Latvia, and it was compiled by former Latvian prime minister and foreign minister Valdis Birkavs and former Danish minister of defence Søren Gade. During the working process, the rapporteurs met with the representatives of all the NB8 countries in order to get an overview of the visions and proposals of the member states. The report is composed of two parts, the first of which addresses the past, present and future developments of NB8 cooperation and highlights the general shortcomings. The second part presents specific recommendations for improving cooperation, including foreign political dialogue, cooperation on diplomatic representations, civil security, defence cooperation, energy and the NB8 brand.

The coordination of NB8 cooperation is the responsibility of the presiding country of the respective year. The coordinator of 2013 was Sweden, in 2012 Lithuania. Estonia will have the coordination of Nordic-Baltic cooperation for 2014, in 2015 the role will pass on to Denmark.