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Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia

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Recent History

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are known as the Baltic States because of their position bordering the Baltic Sea. After the end of the World War II, they were under Soviet control until they regained their independence in 1991. After this date, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia worked towards membership of both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). They achieved these goals in 2004.

Relations with Russia have dominated the politics of all three nations since their independence. Large numbers of immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet nations were not granted citizenship in either Estonia or Latvia. Although they had to improve their citizenship process in order to join the EU in 2004, a significant proportion of the population (10% of Estonians and 19% of Latvians) have still not been given these rights. Relations with Russia are critical to all three countries. The Russian enclave of Kaliningrad bordering Latvia and Lithuania, but not Russia, has led to border disputes.

The Baltic States were the first European nations to re-introduce a ‘flat tax’ system. Estonia introduced the flat tax in 1991 and Latvia and Lithuania followed in 1994. A flat tax system is one in which everybody pays one tax rate regardless of income. It has since been adopted by several other Eastern European nations and Russia. The Baltic States’ economies were badly damaged by the global economic crisis which started in 2008. Latvia in particular suffered Europe’s worst recession and Latvia’s government was the first in the EU to fall as a result of the economic crisis; Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis resigned following violent protests about his handling of the country’s economic troubles. Latvia needed a €7.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avoid bankruptcy in 2009.

Facts and Figures

• 91% of Lithuanians supported joining the EU in a national referendum in 2003.

• Before the global economic crisis in 2008, the Baltic States had some of the highest GDP growth in EU.

Lithuania: Key Facts

• Capital: Vilnius

• Population: 3 million (2014)

• % of total EU population: 0.6%

• Official languages: Lithuanian

• Year of EU accession: 2004

• Currency: Euro since 2015

• Schengen Area member: Yes, since 2007

• Seats in European Parliament: 11

Latvia: Key Facts

• Capital: Riga

• Population: 2 million (2014)

• % of total EU population: 0.4%

• Official languages: Latvian

• Year of EU accession: 2004

• Currency: Euro since 2014

• Schengen Area member: Yes, since 2007

• Seats in European Parliament: 8

Estonia: Key Facts

• Capital: Tallinn

• Population: 1 million (2014)

• % of total EU population: 0.3%

• Official languages: Estonian

• Year of EU accession: 2004

• Currency: Euro since 2011

• Schengen Area member: Yes, since 2007

• Seats in European Parliament: 6

Current Governments

All three countries are republics and representative parliamentary democracies. In Lithuania, the President is elected by popular vote along with the members of Parliament. In Latvia and Estonia the Parliament appoints the President after the election.

Lithuania’s Head of State is President Dalia Grybauskaite who resigned as an EU Commissioner when she won Lithuania’s Presidential election in May 2009. She was re-elected in May 2014 and is Lithuania’s first woman President. The Lithuanian parliament is called the Seimas. It has 141 members of which 71 are directly elected within single-member constituencies and the other 70 are elected nationally through proportional representation. The current government is a four-party minority coalition led by Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius who was elected in 2012.

Latvia’s Head of State is President Andris Bērziņš who was elected in 2011. The Latvian parliament has one chamber called the Saeima. It has 100 members elected by proportional representation. The current Prime Minister, Laimdota Straujuma, is a member of the main liberal-conservative party Unity and leads her second cabinet. Straujuma took office in January 2014 after the previous Prime Minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, resigned due to a roof collapse of a shopping centre that killed over 50 people. She is the first woman to serve as Head of State of Latvia.

The Estonian Head of State is President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who represents Estonia in international relations. Political control lies with the Prime Minister, Taavi Rõivas, who leads a coalition consisting of his centre-right Reform Party and the centre-left Social Democratic Party. Born in 1979, he is the youngest government leader in the EU. The Estonian parliament is called the Riigikogu and has 101 members, elected by proportional representation.

Relations with the EU

The Baltic States joined the European Union as part of the 2004 expansion and have been keen members of the EU project. Lithuania was the first state to ratify the failed EU constitution in November 2004, Estonia ratified it in 2006 and Latvia ratified it on the same day that the Dutch voted ‘no’ in a referendum. After France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution, all three countries ratified the replacement Lisbon Treaty in 2008. Perhaps the biggest contribution that the Baltic States make to the EU is in relations with Russia, other former Soviet states and also the Nordic nations. They are members of several international bodies aimed at promoting regional cooperation, such as the Northern Dimension (with Russia, the Scandinavian nations and Iceland). The Baltic States also signed the Schengen Agreement in May 2004, which allows for the abolition of systematic border controls between members, and were fully integrated into the Schengen area in 2007.

Technical Terms

Proportional representation: electoral system where the overall number of votes determines the distribution of seats.

Minority coalition: a collection of parties that share government but do not form a majority in parliament.

PPS: GDP per head is expressed in Purchasing Power Standards (PPS) to eliminate the differences in price levels between countries allowing meaningful volume comparisons of GDP between countries.

External Links

Latvian Government website

Lithuanian Government website

Estonian Government website

Eurostat: European Statistics

CIA World Fact Book


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