Joint Statement by the Presidiums of the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council on the Occasion of the Joint Meeting Vilnius, 15-16 April 1996 Introduction The Baltic Assembly, representing the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Parliaments and the Nordic Council, constituted by members of the Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish Parliaments and the Parliaments of the autonomous regions of Aland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, met in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 15-16 April 1996 to reinforce the existing co- operation between the two Organisations, and to discuss issues of mutual interest. Baltic-Nordic Relations We, Parliamentarians of the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council, declare our commitment to contribute to promoting security, stability and prosperity of the region and ever closer cultural links between our nations, building co-operation on all levels on common heritage and joint democratic values. We express our deep satisfaction with the co-operative framework existing between the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council, manifestly laid down in the 1992 Agreement on parliamentary Co- operation between the two Organisations. The Co-operation Agreement will be reviewed in the course of 1996, in order to ensure that it will well serve our joint political ambitions. The Nordic Council will continue its scholarship programme for Parliamentarians from the Baltic States with a view to possibly expanding the programme to include parliamentary staff from the three parliaments. We also note with content the existing Governmental co-operation between the Baltic and Nordic countries, bilateral as well as multilateral through the Baltic and Nordic Councils of Ministers. Regional Dimension to Baltic-Nordic Co-operation We, Parliamentarians of the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council, recognise the fundamental importance of regional inter- Parliamentary co-operation as a contribution to stability, security and social and economic development in the Baltic region. We underline the political significance of the Parliamentary Conferences on Co-operation in the Baltic Sea Area and the documents adopted by these Conferences. We welcome the new Baltic Sea Area initiative by the European Commission. We urge Baltic and Nordic Governments, as well as the Baltic and Nordic Councils of Ministers, to do their utmost to promote and develop existing co-operation, in particular within fields that are vital to prosperity in the Baltic region such as protection of the environment, common energy projects, creation of information infrastructure and common transport projects, and hence essential for the livelihood of people in our countries. Such co-operation should comprise, inter alia, encouraging Baltic, Nordic and European financial institutions to co-ordinate their activities in the Baltic States to enhance sustainable development. Furthermore, we call for joint and co-ordinated Government action to be taken, in order to ensure sustainable development and to mitigate the effects of environmental hazards including nuclear accidents and waste. We also encourage Parliaments and Governments to seek close co-operation in addressing trafficking of narcotics and doping substances and other forms of organised crime. Likewise, we call on Governments to undertake, in a context of international co-operation, concerted efforts to curb irregular movements of people, while ensuring individual needs of international legal protection and recognising the value of facilitating, e.g. through exemption and/or harmonisation of visa requirements, intra-regional contacts between human beings, in particular the establishment and extension of visa-free travel arrangements between the Baltic States and the Nordic Countries for citizens of these countries, when conditions so allow. We recognise that successful integration of all population groups into societies will contribute to stability in the whole region. High standards of civil rights enjoyed by all inhabitants of the Baltic States and the Nordic countries can only strengthen loyalty with their State of residence. In view of the summit meeting of the Baltic Sea States, to be held in Visby on 3-4 May 1996, we urge participating Heads of Governments to recognise the necessity to base their joint efforts on broad popular support. European Dimensions to the Baltic-Nordic Co-operation As expressed by Representatives of Baltic and Nordic Governments, an enlargement of the European Union (EU) constitutes a historic opportunity for the Baltic region and such an enlargement will promote peace, freedom, stability and prosperity in all of Europe. We have noted, with satisfaction, the support from Nordic countries for a process of enlargement of the EU that will comprise three Baltic States on an equal footing with other States having concluded Europe Agreements with the EU, and/or submitted their candidature for EU Membership. Negotiations should start simultaneously with all candidates not later that six months after the conclusion of the EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). We call on Nordic Parliaments and Governments to assist the three Baltic States in their own efforts to prepare for EU membership, e.g. through advice on approximation of national legislation to EU standards, and to share, as appropriate, experience gained during the EU Intergovernmental Conference with their Baltic colleagues. We appreciate the Baltic participation in the Nordic contingent to the IFOR peace-enforcing mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a concrete expression of common values and a significant contribution to the efforts to bring peace and security in Bosnia and all of Europe. Future Co-operation We look forward to the continuation of intra-regional co- operation between the three Baltic States and the five Nordic countries, with Parliamentary as well as Governmental dimensions on the basis of the "five-plus-three formula", while recognising that certain challenges facing our societies may call for international response on a wider scale. We pledge to continue regional Parliamentary co-operation and to convene, in due course, further joint meetings between the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council.