Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 145

French President Jacques Chirac’s support–and indeed any support–for the Baltic candidacies to NATO would not have been possible in the absence of Baltic progress on the Membership Action Plans and on economic and political reforms. It was the successful reforms that Chirac chose to underscore during his public appearances in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. On that basis and on those conditions he pledged France’s “total support” for the admission of the three states into the European Union until 2004. While acknowledging Estonia’s early lead and consequent placing in the “first six” group of EU candidates, Chirac noted Latvia’s and Lithuania’s performance since 1998 in catching up with that first group. That performance, he said, makes it possible for France and the EU itself to aim for completing the accession negotiations with all three Baltic states by the end of 2002. France takes the position that early admission of the Baltic states to the EU facilitates and complements their admission to NATO, the two organizations serving distinct if mutually reinforcing functions. That fact seems by now to have tacitly been conceded by those Germans who recently argued that EU membership would adequately ensure the Baltic states’ security and obviate the need for NATO membership.

The French president’s stand could not have surprised Russia. He took it in Moscow itself during his visit there earlier this month. In an interview, which received little international attention, on Ekho Moskvy Radio, Chirac endorsed the Baltic states’ aspiration to join NATO in terms that anticipated those he used on his just-completed Baltic visit.

The visit also produced a breakthrough on the sixty-year-old issue of the three Baltic states’ embassy buildings in Paris. In 1940 in German-occupied Paris, French authorities had handed over to Soviet Russia those embassies that had housed the Baltic states with Nazi consent. To this day, Russia possesses those embassy buildings and sites de facto, in spite of the Baltic states’ valid legal titles to both. Similar situations arose in several other European countries. After 1991, Russia refused to return the embassies to the restored Baltic states. Most of the countries concerned have compensated the Baltic states for the value of the embassies and sites. France now follows suit. It finalized a settlement with Lithuania and agreed on the terms of settlements with Latvia and Estonia during Chirac’s visit. The stake is not merely financial. It is also one of international law. Compensation confirms the uninterrupted legal titles to the embassies and, thus, the legal continuity of the Baltic states throughout the Soviet Russian occupation. It now remains for Italy to return the Lithuanian embassy in Rome, handed over in 1940 to Soviet Russia, then the ally of Mussolini’s Nazi allies (see the Monitor, October 4, 2000; Fortnight in Review, October 6, 2000).

In recent days, NATO’s new members have strongly reaffirmed their support for the admission of the three Baltic states to NATO at the alliance’s next summit. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski have used especially firm language in their endorsements (Ekho Moskvy, July 3; BNS, LETA, Radios Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, Western news agencies, July 23-24, 27-29; see the Monitor, April 11, May 14, June 11, 20, July 5, 13; Fortnight in Review, April 13, June 22, July 6).