Swedish Prime Minister Göran; Persson on the need for closer Baltic ties

The Baltic region is our neighbourhood; as neighbours we all depend upon one another. Time has stood still for 50 years, but now new opportunities have arisen. We will now make the most of these: 1996 will be the year of the Baltic.

Less than an hour's plane travel from Sweden are the 1930s. But the street children in Riga and the beggars in St Petersburg are as European as we are. The refugees from Mostar and Sarajevo are also Europeans.

The people of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, those in central and eastern Europe have a dream: to secure peace and prosperity. For them the European Union is not a threat, it is an opportunity; for them the EU is not a question of enforcement but of liberation.

Social Democracy must continue to lead the struggle for a widened EU. Only then can the vision of broken border barriers and free communication between trusting peoples become a reality. After the collapse of Yugoslavia, the writing on the wall reads no more war. Never again do we want a war in Europe. For hundreds of years the Baltics have been a dynamic area of Europe, but for more than half a century a black cloud has lain across the waters of the Baltic sea. The bonds between peoples and countries have been broken by war, oppression and occupation.

Now things are different. The clouds which have shadowed our neighbours in the east and south-east have broken up. These countries can now rebuild on free foundations. But these new democracies are fragile and are subject to demanding pressures. Their economic systems are now going through a far-reaching process of change. Their institutions are new and untested.

Just over fifty years ago the cry was Finland's cause is our own. It is now high time for us to say that the cause of our neighbours liberated from Communism is also ours. It is a question of helping our neighbours to build up their societies and their economies anew. Fifty years ago, as now, it was a question of securing peace in our neighbourhood. Then and today it is a question of making Sweden stronger by helping others.

The Baltics can once again become one of Europe's dynamic regions. Some 100 million people live around the Baltic sea. The countries to the east and the south-east will soon become tough competitors for many Swedish companies - but they will also become important markets. Their economic progress will be of the same importance to Sweden as was the reconstruction of Europe after the war.

The Visby conference must act as a starting-point for a broad campaign for development and renewal around the Baltic. The EU and the international financial institutions must become involved in Baltic issues. Three goals must dominate these discussions.

The Baltic will become a symbol for peaceful co-existence. Our neighbours in the east and the south-east will be given help to build stable communities on the basis of civil rights. Democratic development will be deepened and strengthened. Contacts between people will be increased.

The Baltic will be a symbol for economic development. The areas around the Baltic will be brought together through trade, investment and infrastructure. Economic co-operation will be developed and trade broadened.

The Baltic will be a symbol for successful environmental policies. By saving the water which laps our beaches at Haparanda and Rostok, Oskarshamn and St Petersburg, we will demonstrate that development and good environment go hand in hand.

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©Kensington Publications 1996