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1994 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with East European Prime Ministers

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the Lithuanian Prime Minister, Mr Adolfas Slezevicius, the Estonian Prime Minister, Mr Mart Laar and the Latvian Prime Minister, Mr Valdis Virkars, in Vilnius on Tuesday 2nd August 1994.


MR SLEZEVICIUS:

I would like to welcome His Excellency, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr Major, and my colleagues from Latvia and Estonia, welcome to Lithuania.

Today we had an excellent opportunity to discuss bilateral and multilateral relations, we discussed different things. First and most important for Lithuania is economic development and of course we discussed the security problems in the Baltic States region. We all agreed that now it is most important, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia and Estonia, and we are supported in this process. We exchanged views about the integration process in the European Union, we are very thankful to the British government for their support we have had both before and now in this process. Of course we are very thankful for the support we have received from the Know-How Fund and we are very happy that the British government is ready to improve the category of this fund.

We also discussed the possibility to increase our relations in the economic field, for establishing more joint ventures and foreign capital enterprises. I will leave it to our guest from England to tell you about the possibility to use some credits from the UK and other issues.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much. Can I say firstly that I am delighted to be here this morning and to have had the opportunities of not just meeting the President of Lithuania and the Prime Minister, but also the Prime Ministers of Estonia and Latvia and it has been an extremely useful morning from my point of view.

Of course leaders of all the three Baltic States have visited London, including President Brazauskas, all of them have visited us in London recently, but I believe that this is the first occasion that a British Prime Minister has visited Lithuania, as far as we can discover it is, and I am delighted to be here.

We had what I suppose one might call a unilateral summit this morning in that the meetings exchanged, we all met each other and exchanged views on a very wide range of issues. What was apparent though was that a number of key themes emerged from those discussions, let me just draw a small number of them out for you in the next few moments.

This month it is three years since the Baltic States regained their independence. A very great deal has happened in those three years, we have exchanged Embassies, exchanged hundreds of visits, and we have begun to build up trade and investment between our respective countries. All these developments are welcome but they are all in their infancy thus far and have a great deal further to go.

In all the talks I had this morning we have discussed the closer integration of the Baltic States with Western Europe in general and the European Union in particular, and that is a common goal, a common goal amongst the Baltic State governments and in Western Europe as well. And I think the reason for that is very clear. We see the Baltic peoples as part of what we tend to call in Western Europe the European family. As independent countries, and they are and will remain I trust independent countries, the Baltic States have established links with NATO through the Partnership for Peace Programme, and with the European Union through free trade agreements recently agreed and yet to be expanded and implemented.

But the first step, the European Union intends to negotiate Europe Agreements as well, and I think it is both natural and right, perhaps even one might say inevitable, that we should develop increasingly close relations, that threatens no-one and I think it will be of assistance to the three Baltic States and of assistance to Western Europe as well.

It would have been extraordinary this morning if we had not discussed the relationship between the Baltic States and Russia. I believe it is very important to establish a partnership with Russia based on common interests and based on respect for the same international principles. And I believe that the intention of the Baltic governments is to establish stable neighbourly relations with Russia and that is very much to their advantage and to everyone else's advantage that that is successful. I am delighted that the last of the troops which once occupied the Baltic States will leave, by agreement, by the end of this month.

One of the areas of course of interest to the Russians is ensuring the fair treatment of ethnic minorities, that is important to the international community as a whole and it is important to Baltic stability, and I welcome for example the revisions that have been made to the citizenship law in Latvia.

We spent some time this morning with all three of my colleagues discussing trade matters between Britain and the Baltic States. Trade is growing, it is helped by the progress there has been with economic reform, and investment by British companies, although not yet remotely at the level it can and I believe will reach, that investment equally is beginning to grow. I have informed my Lithuanian hosts of our decision to extend export credit cover to Lithuania so it is now available for all three of the Baltic States and I hope that will be taken as a sign of our confidence in their economic success and in their future political independence.

We are also steadily building up a large number of projects under the British Know-How Fund, all of those are designed in separate ways across a whole range of different endeavours to help the reform process that has been gathering pace in the three countries. For example, we have projects to help small and medium size enterprises right across the Baltic States, to develop agricultural advisory services in Latvia and Lithuania, and to help banking and investment in all three countries. And there are a large number of other examples of this kind.

If there is one quality that has shone through in my discussions with my colleagues this morning, but also shone through all of the contact we have had with Baltic people over the past three years, it is determination. There is I believe an unshakeable determination to succeed among the Baltic people and I have no doubt that they will do so. It is a difficult task to build a modern democracy, to restructure a distorted economy after half a century of communist occupation. It is a huge huge task to undertake and it is a task I think that has been undertaken very bravely by successive governments in the three Baltic States.

They have by their efforts put themselves already well on the road to success.

We discussed a range of other bilateral matters also this morning and a range of other security matters. The discussions I had this morning though were necessarily brief because of the brief period I am able to stay here, but the Foreign Office Minister of State, Douglas Hogg, is here, he will be remaining and will also be visiting the other Baltic States to carry those discussions forward over the next day or so.

In conclusion, let me just say this. I do not have any doubt about the prospects for the Baltic States and I have even less doubt about the importance of their relationship with the United Kingdom both now and in the future and I very much look forward to developing that relationship.

MR LAAR:

I would just mention some issues which were raised during our bilateral meeting, those were of course the withdrawal of Russian troops and all situations in Estonia now between Estonia and Russia, the problems of discriminating questions, what Russia is using against Estonia and Lithuania at the same time. And we talked about our bilateral cooperation in the military field which is very successful from our point of view , and our cooperation among the Partnership for Peace Programme to help support a peace-keeping battalion to develop and we are having increasing bilateral contacts between Great Britain and Estonia in this field as well. One of the main issues was of course our economic and help more investment to come to Estonia. And we are very thankful for the support we have received from the United Kingdom in our talks with the European Union, treaty and now starting negotiations to sign the Europe Treaty.

MR VIRKARS:

I would like to start with the point that the Baltic States had a success so far involving political and economic confidence in their transition to a democratic society and a market economy. And I suppose really what all three of us have achieved is macro-economic stabilisation with a low inflation rate and stable and convertible national currency. And we thank the United Kingdom, we pay due regard to the continuous support of the United Kingdom in our comprehensive reform process. We are in a new situation, the withdrawal of the Russian military force is taking place after the conclusion of an agreement with the Russian Federation and I must congratulate my colleague, the Estonian Prime Minister, with this agreement. It is an important step towards strengthening security in the whole Baltic region.

Nevertheless, current circumstances require the constant attention of the world community. I suppose after the completion of the withdrawal of Russian troops new regional security setting will require new responses from international organisations and I suppose we had today a very truthful discussion about these new responses. I suppose free Baltic States after 31 August will have the next step three Baltic States in the new unified Europe.

We had discussions about economic issues. The Latvian government, as well as Lithuania and Estonia, has concluded the free trade agreement with the European Union. This is a first step towards integration into the EU and will make a strong impact on political and economic development of the Baltic States and on security issues. All of us are interested this year under the German Presidency to sign the European Agreement and I suppose the United Kingdom will be very helpful in this process. We have planned to submit a trade policy memorandum this summer and then to become a party to GATT as soon as possible, and again I must say the same about my colleagues, and again the UK's support in this process is very important and will be a determining factor. And of course Latvia has concluded military technical cooperation agreements with a number of NATO countries and we would very much appreciate one with the UK as well and I suppose this process has started too.

In any case, I am very happy to be here together with my colleagues and the Prime Minister of Great Britain and we really had a good conversation. But what is most important, all of us have good futures.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

I would like to ask the British Premier what he thinks about the prospects of the Baltic countries eventually becoming fully-fledged members of the European Union and NATO and I would like to ask the Latvian Premier about the referendum and the support which he has given for the arrangement of that referendum here in Lithuania.

LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER MR. VALDIS BIRKAVS:

That is the referendum about indexation. I don't know who had this idea about compensation and about indexation but I suppose this idea if adopted will work against Lithuania. That is not the way in which to solve economic problems.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

Shall I pick up those two earlier questions? The first one was of course about the relationship with the European Union both in the short and the long term. Let me try and set out the process as I see it.

The European Union have just agreed a free trade agreement with each of the three countries individually. I think that is a very important step in the relationship with the European Union and the first priority is to make full use of that once it comes into force at the beginning of 1995.

The second point would be to build upon something that was agreed by the European Heads of Government at the Corfu summit just a few weeks ago and that was to establish a Europe agreement that is broadly an association agreement with the European nations that would have two practical implications: the first would be to open up trading barriers and increase trade, a very necessary part of moving towards membership of the European Union; and the second practical aspect would be to open up the prospect - the certainty - of regular political dialogue collectively with the European Union, that would be what would come with a Europe agreement.

The Europe agreement itself would open up the prospect of accession to the European Union itself at a later stage. It isn't possible to put a time scale on these developments. The principle is clear, the direction is clear but there is a great deal to be done on both sides; the European Union itself is expanding at the moment, it has a great deal to absorb itself and there is a great deal to do to help the three countries prepare themselves for closer integration with Western Europe and a closer trading relationship with them. It is a very fierce, competitive world inside the European Union and one needs to prepare oneself for that or the individual economies of the Baltic states would suffer some damage so there is a march towards that end but it is impossible to put a time scale on it.

As far as defence is concerned, let me firstly make the point that bilateral defence links are growing quite rapidly between the United Kingdom and the Baltic states. We have been very pleased, for example, to be able to assist with the development of the Baltic peacekeeping battalion with infantry training and with English-language training and I was able to confirm this morning that that will continue.

I think a very important move was made with the development of Partnership for Peace and the accession to Partnership for Peace of each of the countries represented here today and, of course, Latvia also is now an associate partner of the Western European Union.

Those measures are quite significant measures to undertake in the short term. Growing trade relationships have their own security implications but I think one has to take it at a measured pace and that is what we are seeking to do at the present time.

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER MR. MART LAAR:

If I can comment on the proposals about indexation, I think if this will be voted for in the referendum it will have extremely negative results on the Lithuanian economy and I have some suspicion that most of this work what is made to this point to get the reforms forward will be lost just now.

QUESTION (LATVIAN NEWSPAPER):

I would like to ask His Excellency John Major how the change of Latvian government can influence the integration of Latvia into Europe?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

I think the most important thing for the governments, whether Latvian or any of the others, is to continue to work to integrate themselves both in the international institutions - the Western European Union, the CSCE, moving towards European Union membership, Partnership for Peace - and also to begin to integrate the nature of their economies and the general free-trading impetus that dominates Western Europe, I think those are the best ways to develop but it seems to me that that is what is happening. Some of the economic progress that has been made has been quite staggering and that economic progress needs to continue if there is to be a greater and other relationship in the future.

I should just say one thing because there is sometimes a tendency I know when talks of the Baltic states to talk of the Baltic states as though they were all the same. The reality is you have got three independent countries each with their own interests; many of those interests overlap understandably so but they are different interests, they are independent countries and I believe they would wish to be seen as independent countries and I perhaps ought to make that point but I think the general direction is the one I set out a moment ago.

EDWARD LUCAS (BALTIC INDEPENDENT):

Prime Minister, there is a lot of concern here about the Kaliningrad region of Russia which is host to many tens of thousands of Russian troops. Would Great Britain like to add its voice to that of Sweden and the Baltic states in urging Russia to demilitarise this region very speedily so as to reduce the potential instability that this concentration of forces presents to the whole Baltic Sea basin?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

We are certainly very keen to see an agreement reached between Lithuania and Russia over Kaliningrad and I believe from my discussions this morning that that agreement is now within reach. I think that is of interest not just to Lithuania and Russia but of interest to a number of other Central and East European states as well as the other two Baltic states. I don't think I wish to go further than that.

EDWARD LUCAS:

It was on militarisation.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

I understand that point very clearly and I am just coming to that. I don't wish to go further than that. I think it is right for them to reach an agreement - that is what Lithuania and Russia are doing - and I don't believe it is for us to go further than that.

Nobody is in any doubt that Kaliningrad is Russian territory and the important thing therefore is to make sure that there is a proper transit agreement in the first place and at this moment I don't propose to go beyond that.

LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER, MR. WALDIS BIRKAVC:

Of course, this is not only a Lithuanian question or a Lithuanian problem, it is a problem for the two other Baltic countries as well and as we have seen during last year, both Latvia and Estonia gave very strong support on the question of the withdrawal of Russian troops so we are very clear that Estonia and Latvia will support the Lithuanian activity to find some solution to the Kaliningrad problem and they are of course afraid after the withdrawal of troops from Estonia and Latvia of the important problems this will raise and of course, as I said before,. we will support fully Lithuania in trying to find solutions which are acceptable for Lithuania and that means those that are acceptable for us.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister Major, there were some aspects about military relations with Russia discussed. That is still a big topic in all three Baltic states with different aspects of the question but in your stay in Warsaw recently you strongly spoke of Britain's help for Poland becoming a full NATO member. I guess most of the Baltic people still want to hear some answers about our prospects of becoming NATO countries.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

I set that out both in Poland and here. The implication of Partnership for Peace is that NATO will expand its membership. The question is not whether NATO will expand its membership but when, how and how far and one can't be clear about precisely when that will be. We certainly wish to do that without destabilising the peaceful circumstances that now exist in Central and Eastern Europe so I think these are matters that need to be taken gradually and by agreement and I think that rather than setting out ultimate aims with the disruptive implications that self-evidently that could have, it is better to proceed with the Partnership for Peace agreement and the Partnership for Peace arrangements that have been established.

Each of the Baltic states are members of Partnership for Peace. think people have perhaps underestimated the medium and long-term significance of this development. There is a changing shape across Europe at the moment, that changing shape is moving quite satisfactorily and it needs to continue. What nobody needs to do is to disrupt that by pushing too fast or too hard in a way that may disrupt what looks like a satisfactory development of security arrangements.

QUESTION (RUSSIAN AGENCY):

I would like to ask the British Premier to once again go back to a very pressing problem here in Lithuania and that is the problem of Russian military transit through Lithuania. There have been voices treating the intention of Lithuania to sign an agreement with Russia on transit as treason. This is an important thing not only for Lithuania but also for the region itself. What would your opinion of that be?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

I think my opinion of that would be one shared by most of my European partners and that is that it is in everyone's interest that a satisfactory transit agreement to Kaliningrad is reached and I believe that one is now within sight. I am sure it is right.

I understand very clearly, given the history and background of Lithuania and indeed of each of the three Baltic states, the concerns that arise in many people's minds about that transit agreement of troops and material through to Kaliningrad. Nobody could fail to understand the concerns that people may feel based on history about that but I think the circumstances have changed and we have moved on and I believe it is right to reach such an agreement. I think it is a statesmanlike decision to reach such an agreement and I strongly believe that that would be the view of most of my European Union colleagues as well. I hope such an agreement will be reached. It will take some courage to reach such an agreement but I believe it is the right decision.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister Major, you said earlier today that you were optimistic about Baltic security in the future but if things don't go so well, say Russia turns more belligerent and turns on its neighbours, then will Britain will be willing to stand by the Baltic states? Should the Baltic states have the confidence that Britain will stand by the Baltic states if such a thing happened?

I would also like to ask the Baltic prime ministers what their degree of confidence is that the West will come to their aid.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

We have taken a consistent position that the Baltic states are independent, should have remained independent, thankfully are independent again and I believe the greatest security that the Baltic states can get will come not least by their increasing trade and other integration with Western European institutions and Western European trading patterns.

You erect a doomsday scenario and ask what would happen in the event of that doomsday occurring. I don't think people are likely to answer that question in those terms but I have to say to you that I believe that the Western European countries and the Western states generally would feel strongly about maintaining the independence of the Baltic states but we see no threat to them at the moment. Perhaps if I were a Balt, I would see it differently and I absolutely understand that and I do not dismiss the concerns that many people feel but I believe matters have moved on. The departure of the Russian troops is a very significant step from within the Baltic states and I both hope and expect they will not face the sort of scenario you set out but certainly it is a very strong wish of the United Nations and everybody else that the Baltic states should retain their political and economic independence.

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER, MR. MART LAAR:

The most important thing is to avoid the possibility of such a scenario and I totally agree with Prime Minister John Major that the best thing for us is to integrate as fast possible with all Western institutions open to us and just now we can see that all European institutions are open to us. This is maybe the most important thing that is happening to us now.

LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER, MR. VALOIS BIRKAVC:

I can add that a very important thing in this connection is to be very cooperative amongst the Baltic states and to continue our efforts and step-by-step process of integration in all the European international organisations - step-by-step but fast.

LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER, ADOLFUS SLEZEVICIUS:

I agree with my colleagues on the principle of an umbrella for the security of the region. In my understanding and the understanding Of our government it is speeding up the integration into the European economic and security structure. We are moving this way, the [indistinct] is very good and after 31 August when we have a completely new situation in the Baltic states this process will move very fast.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

Let me just add a point to that. what I said here today about the necessity for the independence of the Baltic states is not something we just say to the Baltic states; that is a message that the United Kingdom has consistently delivered to Russia over the last few years. I delivered that message in the past to President Gorbachev and also to President Yeltsin and I believe many other Western Heads of Government have done the same thing as well.