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West To Subsidise East Around Baltic Sea

  • Anthony Georgieff

Copenhagen, May 6 (RFE/RL) - A two-day summit of government leaders from all nine countries bordering the Baltic Sea ended over the weekend with a promise for more money for the East. But the guiding principle will not be directly subsidising former Communist states, but rather economic and political integration. "Trade," and not "Help," emerged as a summit slogan.

The meeting, the first of its kind after the end of the Cold War, took place in Visby, on the Swedish Island of Gotland, about 80 kms off the coast of mainland Scandinavia.

The common declaration adopted by the nine government leaders (in addition to Norway and Iceland, which also attended) paves the way for a number of bi- and multi-lateral projects aimed at bringing Poland's, Lithuania's, Latvia's and Estonia's economies up to Western standards, so as to prepare these countries for full European Union (EU) membership.

Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, repeated his promises for a EU loan amounting to 5,000-million dollars to help the region build stable economic and political institutions. Santer said the Baltic region must be treated by Brussels in the same way as North Africa.

Economic and political support for the emerging democracies east of the Baltic Sea is viewed as imperative, as all these countries are seen as possible future members of both the EU and NATO, while none of the North African states are anywhere near these goals. Denmark's and Sweden's Prime Ministers Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Goeran Persson say they will bring the issue of support for the Baltic Region, as opposed to support for North Africa, to the forthcoming EU summit in Florence, Italy.

Currently, the EU is sending massive economic help to North Africa. This is seen as the result of long-term pressure by the European South, which fears the North African countries may become a major source of terrorism and immigration should economic conditions there not improve rapidly. But with the ascension of Sweden and Finland to the EU a year-and-a-half ago, the balance of power within the EU has shifted northward.

Affluent Scandinavia is concerned not only about re-establishing historical links with Poland and the Baltic republics, but also with fighting organised crime. Since the collapse of Communism, Mafia-type gangs from Russia, the Baltic states and Poland have sprouted in western countries. Known for their ruthlessness, the gangs deal mainly in prostitution, car theft, drugs, and alcohol and tobacco smuggling. The Baltic states are also increasingly used by Third World nationals as a channel for illegal immigration to the West.

In concord with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's request for concrete commitments instead of just "nice words," Sweden undertook to oversee the implementation of the Visby agreements.

According to Sweden's Prime Minister Persson, fighting organised crime is the first priority in the region. Scandinavia will, in that respect, come up with concrete financial and logistical help to Poland and the Baltic States. Each government leader will appoint a personal representative to participate in a working group to deal with organised crime issues.

Other major decisions made at the summit include the establishment of free trade procedures between Poland and the Baltic states, as well as cooperation on environment and nuclear safety issues.

Politically, EU and NATO enlargement were widely discussed, but there were no signs from Russia's Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin of any change in Moscow's opposition to NATO enlargement.

Returning to Copenhagen, Denmark's Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen said the first Eastern EU members are expected around the year 2000.