Poland, Baltics form "Eastern front" within EU

By bne IntelliNews May 23, 2008

Mike Collier in Riga -

Large groups of lads aren't an unusual sight at Riga International Airport, the arrival point for stag parties with their eyes on the city's beer, clubs and women. But May 22 saw a different lads' away-day heading in the opposite direction, when Polish President Lech Kaczynski offered a lift on his private jet to the three Baltic presidents for a boys' night out in the Ukrainian capital.

The four presidents, consisting of Kaczynski plus Valdis Zatlers of Latvia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania were officially in Riga just to mull over their common concerns before heading off to the Kyiv energy summit on May 23-24, which is seen as a continuation of the Vilnius energy summit held last October.

Latvia's Zatlers made a tongue-in-cheek attempt to explain their joint jaunt, saying: "This shows that the presidents are very serious about economising on our expenditure." But the true significance of the Riga meeting lies in the fact that "warm-up" meetings between the region's presidents are becoming more and more frequent. The presidents had already met each other in one-to-one sessions within the last two months, so the Riga micro-summit serves as a final chance to make sure their positions are completely worked out before they enter the general fray.

By coordinating their positions prior to the Nato and EU summits, the Balts and Poles are evolving a kind of informal "Eastern front" to ensure that their concerns - primarily energy and Russian relations - do not get overlooked by the countries of Western Europe.

They admitted as much in a largely symbolic press conference held at Riga castle shortly before they packed their bags for Ukraine. Kaczynski told reporters that in post-Lisbon Treaty Europe, "New positions will be established in the EU and a question arises about the so-called 'new' European members and their chance to occupy such jobs. It is important... that these new jobs will not be taken exclusively by the so-called 'old' EU members."

Estonia's Ilves was quick to back him up in his softly American-accented English: "In the last year or so we have spent much more time together and it's been a very useful cooperation. We've managed to develop close positions on a lot of issues and this harmonisation of position is one way that countries like ours can have much greater clout in the EU and Nato."

The presidents also spoke as one on the issue of the week's Georgian elections, issuing a press statement rather grandly styled the 'Riga Declaration' which said: "The Presidents... congratulate Georgia on passing its democracy exam by holding free and competitive parliamentary elections. Transparency of the election process was ensured by the large international presence. Numerous observers... reported of no essential irregularities. Georgia has proved that it has strong democratic ideals."

Then in a dig at Russia, which is openly offering support to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, the statement said: "Presidents also expressed their full support to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within internationally recognized borders and called on the Russian Federation to respect its international obligations and avoid taking steps destabilizing the situation." In addition, the presidents vowed to press Nato to accept Georgia and Ukraine as full members.

While it's all harmony on a regional level, there still seem to be tensions between Kaczynski and his government. Asked what Poland is expecting from the summit in Kyiv, Kaczynski couldn't resist an opportunity to assert his authority at the expense of PM Donald Tusk. "In yesterday's face-to-face discussions with Prime Minister Tusk we talked at length... Of the two jobs my job is the most important one and I tried to explain in detail to PM Tusk the policy of which an important phase is Kyiv."

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