Nordic-Baltic co-operation or NB8 is a regional co-operation format that includes Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. While the meetings initially took place in a ‘5+3’ format, it was decided in 2000 on the initiative of the Estonian foreign minister of the time, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, that the Nordic-Baltic co-operation format will be called Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8), which expresses greater unity. Although no separate structures or organisations have been established for co-ordinating NB8 co-operation, the presiding country is agreed upon annually, who will then determine co-operation guidelines for the respective year. Hence, NB8 is a network for political dialogue and practical co-operation between equal partners, which in its essence is flexible and problem-focused. The emphasis is thus on areas that yield actual added value for the region.
On the political level, the annual meetings of prime ministers and foreign ministers serve as the main format of co-operation. The first meeting of prime ministers was held already in 1993. In addition to foreign ministers and prime ministers, line ministers, members of parliament and ministry officials also meet on a regular basis. On the foreign policy level, NB8 meetings are held among secretaries general, political directors, experts and diplomats from foreign representations. The NB8 countries commenced their parliamentary co-operation in 1989, when contacts were established between the Baltic Assembly (BA) and the Nordic Council (NC). Annual summits take place between the BA and the NC; furthermore, meetings are organised on all levels possible, including speakers, presidiums, commissions and individual members. The Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM), who developed cooperation guidelines with the Baltic states for the years 2009-2013, also has an important role to play in advancing Nordic-Baltic co-operation. The priority areas have included education, research and innovation; business, cluster networks and creative industries; environment, climate and energy; international challenges faced by welfare societies (e.g. combating the spread of HIV/AIDS and human trafficking) and cross-border promotion of democratic values.
In addition to the NB8 co-operation network, what is spoken of separately is the NB6 format, which embraces Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and which was established with the accession of the Baltic states to the European Union in 2004. The NB6 format is thus a framework of unofficial meetings for the purpose of discussing topical EU matters. However, one of the most important NB8 co-operation formats is the Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe or e-PINE, which was initiated by the United States in 2003 and evolved from regular ‘8+1’ meetings with the main aim of enhancing freedom, security and economic welfare in the region and its surrounding areas (Moldova, Ukraine, South Caucasus and Belorussia) in the framework of the Eastern Partnership. Furthermore, co-operation between the NB8 and the United Kingdom (NB8+UK) has lately emerged; for example, Northern Future Forum summits have been organised in the past three years. Another new development is the advancing of co-operation between the NB8 and the four Visegrad countries (NB8+Vis4); the first meeting of prime ministers in this format was held in the beginning of 2013.
One of the most important source documents of NB8 co-operation is the NB8 co-operation report (also known as the Birkavs-Gade report or the NB8 Wise Men Report), which was completed in August 2010 and presents specific guidelines for advancing co-operation between the eight countries. The idea of the report was initiated by the co-ordinating country for 2010, Latvia, and it was compiled by former Latvian prime minister and foreign minister Valdis Birkavs and former Danish minister of defence Søren Gade. During the working process, the rapporteurs met with the representatives of all the NB8 countries in order to get an overview of the visions and proposals of the member states. The report is composed of two parts, the first of which addresses the past, present and future developments of NB8 co-operation and highlights the general shortcomings. The second part presents specific recommendations for improving co-operation, including foreign political dialogue, cooperation on diplomatic representations, civil security, defense cooperation, energy and the NB8 brand. By today, the 38 proposals of the report have been discussed by the member states and it has been decided which proposals should be implemented first and who will be the co-ordinators.
The co-ordination of NB8 co-operation is the responsibility of the presiding country of the respective year. The first co-ordinators were Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Finland and Lithuania. The co-ordinator of 2013 is Sweden, whose agenda mainly comprises of areas regarding the Eastern Partnership and energy, while also promoting the integration of fundamental values in the NB8 priorities. In 2014, Estonia will take over the co-ordination of Nordic-Baltic co-operation, referring to the coming year in a wider context as the Baltic Sea Year because, in addition to the NB8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also co-ordinate the work of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and the three Baltic states (3B) in 2014. This concurrence enables to co-ordinate and harmonise the activities of various regional co-operation formats more than ever for the purpose of avoiding overlapping and addressing topical matters comprehensively. After Estonia, Nordic-Baltic co-operation will be co-ordinated by Denmark.
Important meetings in 2013:
13-14 February – political directors of NB8 foreign ministries in Stockholm
20 February – foreign ministers of NB8 + Visegrad 4 in Gdansk
27-28 February – prime ministers of NB8 + UK in Riga
10-11 April – political directors of NB8 + USA (e-PINE) in Tbilisi
2-3 September – foreign ministers of NB8 in Visby
October – prime ministers of NB8 in Oslo
October – secretaries general of NB8 foreign ministries in Stockholm
October/November – political directors of NB8 + USA (e-PINE) in Washington