With Estonia preparing to become the first Baltic country to join the euro on the 1 January 2011, are we about to see a new era of cooperation and solidarity between the Baltic states? "Pessimists focus on the disparities that will emerge in the short term when Estonia takes advantage of its improved ratings agency profile and the perception that it is a more stable country to attract greater foreign investment," explains political analyst Andres Kasekamp.

"However," he adds, "optimists like myself prefer to compare the current situation with the one that prevailed in 1997. At the time, the invitation extended to Estonia to join the EU was a major motivation and encouragement for the governments of Lithuania and Latvia which responded by making a greater efforts to overtake the administration in Tallinn."

Three states fighting for the same markets

For Kasekamp, the decision to begin accession negotiations with Estonia effectively put an end to the Soviet era demarcation line, which separated Europe from the Baltic states. In a similar vein, he argues that the country’s inclusion in the eurozone should now be viewed as evidence of progress towards a common goal, which will not distance it from the other two Baltic states.

However, it is important to bear in mind the local perspective in the region. The political scientist explains that while more cooperation among the Baltic states is thought to be a necessity elsewhere in Europe and NATO, this is not necessarily an opinion shared in the countries concerned. The three states, which have similar resources, fight for share on the same markets and vie with each other to attract the same foreign investors, often look on each other as competitors rather than partners.

Best co-operation in the field of defence

"If you want to join the EU and NATO, you should prove to us that you are sufficiently mature to work together. That was strong encouragement, and it worked well in the latter part of the 1990s. However, the same period was marked by the emergence of divisions on the question of Baltic identity — a controversy triggered by the Estonian president of the time, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who argued that Estonia was a Nordic rather than a Baltic country," explains Kasekamp.

Citing the Baltic Naval Squadron (Baltron), the project to create and train a joint infantry battalion (Baltbat), and the Baltic Defence College (BALTDEFCOL), the political scientist argues that the best examples of cooperation between Baltic countries are to be found in the field of defence. At the same time, he points out that all of these projects have been initiated and are supported with help from Western countries.

Russian relations probably worst in Lithuania

But notwithstanding concertation on a common air police emission and repeated demands for a NATO defence plan for the Baltic states, Kasekamp believes that cooperation may now be on the wane. In particular, he highlights the fact that the participation of units from the three countries in Iraq and Afghanistan has yet to result in the creation of shared battalion.

As regards Moscow, Andres Kasekamp insists that relations between the Kremlin and the three countries are not determined by the situation of their Russian minorities. “In my view Latvia actually has the best relations with Russia, even though it has the largest Russian minority and the strictest policy with regard to applications for citizenship. Russian relations are probably at their worst in Lithuania, especially when you consider that Lithuania used its veto to block negotiations on the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement — a move that was not backed by Latvia or Estonia, which were both anxious to prove that they were pro-European rather than anti-Russian states.”