Cooperation with Baltic states especially crucial - Minister

France/Baltic states – 25th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between France and the Baltic states – Speech by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development (excerpts)

Paris, 16 November 2016

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The last quarter of a century has been puctuated by decisive steps for the European Union, including the Baltic states joining the EU and NATO in 2004. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are part of the European Union’s first circle of solidarity, as members of the Schengen Area since 2007 and of the Euro Area since 2011, 2014 and 2015 respectively. These are sovereign political choices, but they testify to a steadfast determination to be in the vanguard of the European enterprise. And they form the bedrock of our political cooperation.

This cooperation is especially crucial today – and you mentioned it before me – in a difficult, uncertain, even threatening international context, with Russian intimidation to the east, Daesh [so-called ISIL] terrorism to the south, and to the west the uncertainties arising from the British people’s decision to leave the EU and questions about the next American administration’s stance. This context only increases the need for the cooperation between our countries to continue and be intensified.

That is of course the case when it comes to security and defence. Until the end of the year and for the sixth time, France is helping police the Baltic skies, with four Mirage 2000s especially in demand. The French President has also decided that France will help strengthen NATO’s presence in the east, with the planned deployment of French soldiers in Estonia in 2017 and in Lithuania in 2018.

Your countries, too, are making useful contributions to European defence, particularly in African theatres of operation. I also remember the immediate and unconditional solidarity shown by your governments in response to our invocation of Article 42-7 of the Treaty on European Union following the terrible attacks that hit France just over a year ago, specifically on 13 November 2015.

My dear colleagues, Ministers, I want to express France’s gratitude to you here.

And we also forget too often the remarkable progress made over recent decades, in terms of not only economic and social convergence but also closer ties in a whole series of areas. No doubt our collective weakness is to pay insufficient attention to the road travelled and what remains to be done, and often – I’d even say too often – to give the impression that Europe merely passively endures a succession of crises, whereas it manages to find solutions every time.

France and the Baltic states must now look to the future. That’s the very reason for our meeting today. I hope this future helps bring about a deepening of our cooperation within the European Union. The result of the British referendum of 23 June makes our unity, the unity of the 27 [EU member states], a priority. We must avoid at all costs fragmentation and the re-emergence of fault lines on our continent. It’s when it is united and mutually-supportive that Europe ensures its voice is heard. It’s because it was united that an agreement on the climate was reached a year ago and that Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine did not go unanswered. It’s through unity too and cohesion that the EU will manage to contribute to a return to peace and stability in Syria, on which the long-term resolution of the migration crisis depends.

The heads of state and government decided in Bratislava in September to give the European project fresh impetus by adopting a road map. The priority – and this is also our contribution in terms of ministerial responsibility – is to implement it and be in a position – we can set ourselves this target on the calendar when we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome next March – to propose to our peoples, the European peoples, each of our nations, that we continue this adventure, this shared history, on a solid basis and in line with their aspirations.

The Baltic states are stakeholders in this collective momentum. Following the Lithuanian presidency and the Latvian presidency in the second halves of 2013 and 2015 respectively, it will soon be Estonia’s turn to take on these major responsibilities, in the second half of 2017. As I’ve told the foreign ministers, Estonia knows it can count on France’s support to make its future presidency a success./.

Published on 17/11/2016

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