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date: 24 June 2017

The Baltic States in the European Union

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

Integration with the European Union (EU) has been far less distressing for the three Baltic States than for numerous other accessing countries. Soon after regaining their independence, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had a strong societal impetus to (re)join Western political, economic, and legal culture. The accession of the three states, however, had several distinctive features related to constitutional background and settings. This has been an influencing factor when the governments tried to solve collisions with the EU institutions.

In general, the endless and controversial issues regarding how to solve the problems with supranational power have never been dramatic when referring to the Baltic States, which leads to the assumption that the governments have often taken the obeying position, trying to avoid heretical approaches. Somewhat surprisingly, it brought a reverse effect. Respecting the supranational character of the governments’ mainstream policies, but denying the interpretative pluralism of European values and norms, they have been “overplayed” by other member states and the power institutions of the EU, which often acted more deliberatively and implemented European directives rather critically. Latest cases, such as the European Stabilization Mechanism, indicate the change in paradigm—the three Baltic States are more aware of the margin of appreciation and the actual borderlines of policy and decision making. There is a tendency to have more open and inclusive discussions to avoid discontent with the stakeholders of the countries’ societies. This may also be related to certain “taking offence,” of not being appreciated as successful states following the ultra-austerity doctrine during the economic crisis, and the increasing need for societal support when unpopular choices have to be enforced.

Today, there are more skills in finding allies and choosing the partners when trying to set up an EU-related agenda, for example, in relation to refugee quotas to the Member States. Still, the so-called “community method” has been a prevailing political doctrine, illustrated, for example, by the favorable approach to the Lisbon Treaty in its several stages.

One interesting factor is linked with the establishment of high-speed digital service in the European Union and digital divide. For example, the small Baltic state of Estonia introduced the flagship initiative of e-Governance (e-Residence). While not so influential in the past, Estonia may influence the future, with initiatives such as digital marketing and e-Citizenry. There are interesting discussions about whether the EU should allow the single, tiny state of Estonia to shine the light for other member states, or should they ignore the steps taken, to avoid even further the increasing digital divide in the European Union.

Another interesting aspect in the contemporary world is the (inter)relationship of Europe with Russia. Here, the Baltic States play a relevant role, being spokesmen against the interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, which created uneasy situations for the prudent European Union that was carefully framing foreign policy on the basis of (hardly achieved) consensus. By identifying themselves as a bridge between East and West, the Baltics have been active in Eastern Partnership and Development Aid initiatives.