Baltic Presidents on 20 years of European Union membership

The Presidents of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania issued a joint statement May 1 marking their countries' 20 years of European Union membership. It is reproduced in full below.

We, the Presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the accession of our countries to the EU, make the following statement.

The Baltic States joined the EU on May 1st, 2004. The inscription “European Union” appeared on our citizens’ passports, marking a triumphant return to our rightful historical place as members of the European family. Our membership in the EU – and in NATO – fundamentally changed the geopolitical landscape and determined the future of the Baltic States.

Over these two decades, we have grown in confidence, enjoying freedom, democracy, and prosperity. We have experienced huge economic growth, stability, and security, at the same time representing a remarkable success story of European integration and transformation. Today, we eagerly embrace our responsibility to contribute to shaping the Future of Europe.

Our membership in the EU played a crucial role in driving economic growth. Joining the EU provided us with easy access to a market with 450 million consumers, opened up new opportunities for our businesses, boosted exports, and attracted foreign investment.

As a result, our economies expanded to levels previously unknown. Today, the combined GDP of the three Baltic States is over 160 billion euros – nearly four times bigger than just two decades ago. There has been a significant and inclusive shift in living standards during the last twenty years. Foreign direct investment in the Baltics has increased sixfold since 2004.

Over the last 20 years, the Baltic States have emerged as strong and relevant European and transatlantic contributors to collective defense, particularly having in mind our geographical proximity to Russia – the most imminent threat to European and global security. As testimony to this, our defense spendings have grown well beyond 2 percent of GDP and are expected to grow further.

We mark the 20th anniversary of EU membership at a time when Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine reminds us that peace in Europe should not be taken for granted. NATO remains the foundation of our collective defense and security. At the same time, the complementary efforts of the EU are indispensable for fortifying the security architecture in Europe. It is of utmost importance to strengthen the defense industry, readiness, and capabilities of EU member states. We will continue to strive for peace and stability throughout the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

We underline that international support remains crucial for achieving Ukraine’s victory. Ukraine today is defending our democratic values. We stand firm in our commitment to support Ukraine, to protect the rules-based world order.

In 1990-1991, a democratic choice was tested in the Baltic States. Today, Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians fight for European values and the European family as their ultimate choice. They have the same dream as we had then. Because of historical experience, we understand and feel it. We firmly stand behind those countries that share European values and willingness to be together.

We will support the aspirant countries on their European integration path until full-fledged EU membership. We call for convening the Intergovernmental Conferences with Ukraine and Moldova and starting accession negotiations in June 2024. EU enlargement has proved to be a strategic investment in EU policies, opening inexhaustible potential. The Baltic States are an excellent proof of how membership in the EU empowers impressive modernization and economic progress, which in turn guarantees a return on those investments. This is our reality that we want to share.

The enlargement is a geopolitical necessity and a call of history for the EU. EU enlargement is foremost about freedom, democracy, and human dignity. It is the Union’s key geopolitical instrument in projecting peace and security on the European continent and counteracting threats of authoritarian regimes. It empowers us globally. In addition to a much bigger single market offering new opportunities for our businesses, the success of enlargement is in our strategic interest. A deeper, wider, and more capable EU would remove any remaining grey zones on the European map.

The upcoming European elections give a chance for millions of Europeans to shape the future of Europe. Our collective decision must help us create our peaceful and prosperous European future together!

Edgars Rinkēvičs, President of the Republic of Latvia

Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania 

Alar Karis, President of the Republic of Estonia

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