On Tuesday morning, the prime ministers of the three Baltic states signed the Rail Baltic agreement, which, according to Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, should become the foundation for more active economic and security cooperation between the three countries.
"I would like to emphasize the importance of Baltic cooperation," Ratas said according to a government press release. "While all countries benefit from it, it is also sending a strong message about our unity and cooperation to the rest of the world. Together we are stronger, and in these turbulent times that is a value unto itself."
The Rail Baltic agreement, signed by Ratas, Latvian Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis and Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis in Tallinn, lays down the principles of the development of the railway: the route, construction deadlines, technical issues, funding conditions as well as ownership issues. The ratification of the agreement by the Baltic countries' respective parliaments will ensure the sutainability of the long-term project and create legal and economic certainty for its developers, their partners and investors.
"Rail Baltic is a great opportunity not only for Estonia but for all the Baltic countries," Ratas continued. "The railway has been the missing link in our cooperation and it will create a regional whole in economic terms as well as connect us to Central Europe and the EU's internal market. It is not just about stronger entrepreneurship, increased tourism and freight transport; it is also a double-gaurantee of the security of our countries."
"Carrying out the joint project of the three Baltic countries proves that we are politically strong enough to carry out a strategic project in that volume, Skvernelis said at the prime ministers' joint press conference, adding that in the future, the three Baltic countries will see the synchronization of the Baltic networks with the European frequency area as well as the foundation of a common gas market, and that Rail Baltic proves that they are capable of carrying out these projects.
Kučinskis said that the agreement affirms the obligations of the three countries not only in words, but also in actions. "This project has already been launched and is moving forward, and it cannot be turned back," he added.
European Council President Donald Tusk, who joined the three prime ministers for lunch following the signing, also said that Rail Baltic is an important project for all of Europe. "Believe me, as a Pole I understand, and maybe even better than some of my Western European colleagues, how important the project is," Tusk said, adding that the Baltic countries could always count on him when carrying out the railway project.
Baltic cooperation across multiple sectors
Security was one of the major themes of the Baltic Council of Ministers. Ratas commended his counterparts, among other things, for an impressive increase in defense spending and assured them that promoting increased defense spending in Europe would also be one of his priorities during Estonia's upcoming presidency of the Council of the EU.
"Which each percent of GDP is important, what is even more important is how we use this money to boost the collective defense," the Estonian prime minister said. "Yes, we need to strengthen our defense independently and together, but NATO is and will remain vital to ensuring security in our region — this will ensure peace in Europe and in the Baltic countries. This was also the message in my letter of congratulations to the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump — we must be proactive and demonstrate through concrete acts that we take the security of Europe and North America seriously."
The synchronization of the regional energy market has been one particular focus of the Baltic Council's attention. According to Ratas, the Baltics must create a transparent and competitive Baltic-Finnish natural gas market in line with the road map agreed upon in December. As for the planned regional LNG terminal, the three neighboring countries must identify and analyze the most economically feasible and long-term solution.
This year, Estonia holds the presidency of the Baltic Council of Ministers. Priorities during Estonia's presidency are the enhancement of security, including security and defense cooperation, as well as the further development of the regional energy market and transport connections.
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla