The Baltic States and Brexit

Sometime last year I got into a rather heated exchange with a Latvian lady on the subject of Brexit. I think she’d done what I described here: raise a subject on which it was a near certainty I’d agree with her, only I didn’t. She seemed to think that those who voted to Leave were completely idiotic and that a matter of such importance should not have been put to a popular vote; she thought such issues are too complex for ordinary people to understand and that is why we elect representatives to handle such matters on our behalf.

It is not an unusual view to hold, but what interested me was that it came from a Latvian. Had this conversation not come at me so quickly I might have asked her whether Latvian independence from the Soviet Union ought not to have been decided at the discretion of the representatives of the Latvian SSR and their masters in the Supreme Soviet back in Moscow. After all, the issue of Latvian independence from the USSR was no less complicated and fraught with potential pitfalls than Britain exiting the European Union, so perhaps it would have been better to leave it up to the representatives of the people rather than the people themselves? Okay, there is the issue that the Latvian people’s representatives were not elected, but then nor were those demanding independence.

I couldn’t help but be a little cheesed off that somebody, whose own people demanded independence from a supranational political system they didn’t want and never asked for, and who personally enjoys the benefits of that independence, would be so critical about British people wanting similar independence (as they see it).

What makes this interesting is that the Baltic States aren’t quite out of the woods yet. They are fully paid-up members of the EU, having received enormous funding to get their infrastructure and institutions up to scratch – with quite some success, I would add. However, they all share concerns that Russia might have designs on some or all of their territory and after the seizure of Crimea and the abysmal attempt to do the same with Eastern Ukraine, people are wondering whether Putin & Co aren’t trying to restablish their Soviet spheres of control. If that is the case, the Baltic states aren’t going to get very far asking the EU for help: the Germans would sell them down the river if it means Siemens didn’t lose its operating license in Russia, and the French probably don’t even know the Baltics are part of the EU. The Poles would make a lot of noise but not be able to do much about it; the Netherlands was unable to raise as much as a squeak when the Russian military shot down a plane full of Dutch citizens; and everyone else is flat broke or has an army that could carry out manoeuvres in a pub car park, including armour.

In other words, the Baltic states are completely reliant on Nato to keep the Russians out, which in this case means the United States. However, in diplomatic terms (and probably  a token military one as well) it also means the Brits. If we can imagine a scenario in a few years time when the Russians are massing tanks and troops on the borders of Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania on some pretext and revving the engines noisily, Britain will be one of the countries they will be pleading with to intervene (meaning, persuade the United States to intervene). How Britain responds ought very much to depend on how the Baltic states behaved during the Brexit negotiations.

It is a given that these countries are minnows in the EU and will be desperate not to rock any boats, but nevertheless the future threat from Russia might focus their minds a bit, particularly on the issue of sovereignty and independence. If the Baltic states decide to vote in favour of hardball tactics designed to punish Britain’s insolence for voting to leave, many Brits – including this one – may be forgiven for thinking independence and self-rule aren’t really important to the Baltic peoples after all. So if Putin does come a-knocking one day, don’t look at us for help: you’re on your own.

Whereas if they vote down any attempt to punish Britain, and make certain gestures towards recognising Britain’s right to withdraw and govern themselves from now on, then they will be demonstrating that these are principles that they do still hold dear themselves, and perhaps they are worth putting ourselves in harms way for.

In short, I think the behaviour of the Baltic States during the Brexit negotiations will be interesting and worth watching closely. If I were Theresa May I’d be reminding the respective leaders of their Soviet past and the Russian army nearby, and having a quiet chat about the principles of democracy, freedom, and sovereignty. Or, to save the busy woman’s time, she could just send each of them a link to this post and they could let us know their stance in the comments.

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17 thoughts on “The Baltic States and Brexit

  1. …a matter of such importance should not have been put to a popular vote; she thought such issues are too complex for ordinary people to understand and that is why we elect representatives to handle such matters on our behalf.

    That is a very frightening attitude, indeed. She, among many, has been indoctrinated to believe in the infallibility of soi disant “experts.” Query her historical basis for that belief, especially in a political context? That doesn’t mean that the demos won’t make mistakes, but such mistakes tend to be corrected more quickly than when left in the hands of an purported elite set of philosopher kings, who tend to become enamored with their own “expertise” and thus blind to their own missteps.

  2. Tim N,

    Good insightful post.

    “In short, I think the behaviour of the Baltic States during the Brexit negotiations will be interesting and worth watching closely. If I were Theresa May I’d be reminding the respective leaders of their Soviet past and the Russian army nearby, and having a quiet chat about the principles of democracy, freedom, and sovereignty. Or, to save the busy woman’s time, she could just send each of them a link to this post and they could let us know their stance in the comments.”

    ^ Excellent.

  3. Anyone that cannot see past the false rhetoric and realise that the failed euro program is doomed and is in it’s death throes now deserves everything they get.

    As for a flashpoint with Russia, I think that there are probably some more immediate hotspots that would precede any Baltic escalation. Say in the South China Sea the Chinese banks have just overtaken the European bloc to be the biggest banks in the world by assets. Tensions rise between two egotistical nationalist leaders Trump and Xi with neither of them being seen to back down, engagement rules based on cock size, the USS Carl Vinson blown out of the water by conventional weapons a la Blegrano, nuclear threat imminent, Pence replaces Trump, Li Keqiang replaces Xi, nuclear winter looming, Rand Paul replaces Pence and then both leaders and the other members of the security council agree to a new peaceful world under the auspices of the newly reformed UN. China backs down and hands over its bases in the Spratly Island to the UN but maintains it claim on them, Putin is appointed leader of the UN and the Baltic nations observe the sovereign rule of the supranational UN and its leader Putin.

    The Baltic situation is then resolved without a single Russian shot fired.

    Okay I will get back in my box now.

  4. Interesting analogy. Pretty sure the USSR had no equivalent of Article 50 though, or exit negotiations, for that matter.

  5. Similar experiences with a youngish Greek friend. Totally pissed off we are leaving the EU, even though they chose to come here as their career and life was going nowhere back home.

    As far as I can see, this position is totally about self-interest and is unprincipled, which would be fine if they didn’t then get all “waycist, xenophobe” about it. A rough equivalent would be me moving down south (England) and then ranting about how great socialism is.

    And if we’re so stupid, how come our country is so rich? It ain’t from the soil. Ah well, I suppose the Americans have been getting that kind of ill-informed crap for years, those “thickos” with the high GPD per capita, the stealth bombers and the space programme.

    a matter of such importance should not have been put to a popular vote; she thought such issues are too complex for ordinary people to understand and that is why we elect representatives to handle such matters on our behalf.

    One of the great mysteries to me is how people can leave a country (or in my personal case, constituency) that the public sector has completely screwed up – either through tyranny, incompetence or both – yet still be a leftie/statist. I have a lot of friends from around the world that fit that description.

    Alongside the other mystery of how, having looked at the quality of our elected representatives and their minions, anyone could think they are better qualified to decide about major issues. E.g. Nick Clegg was recently one of the most powerful men in the land.

  6. Funnily enough, I find myself in the same position as Tim fairly often (I’m French living in the UK and a brexiter in spirit, hence a proper heretic), having to argue against every one else at the dinner table! 🙂

    I have noticed however that my remainer friends are a lot more quiet nowadays although it could be that they know I won’t back down or that they still have no answer when I put to them that they are all relatively wealthy and do not act as socialists in their lives, but paradoxically think that some gigantic socialist bureaucratic monster to lord over them is a good idea.

    Also more and more secret brexiters are now coming out of the woodwork. It is quite funny how there seems to be some sort of secret mental handshake to find out whether it is safe to say so.

  7. “a matter of such importance should not have been put to a popular vote; she thought such issues are too complex for ordinary people to understand and that is why we elect representatives to handle such matters on our behalf”

    I have many times heard Europeans based in England being fearful about every having to be tried by jury. They want to be tried by experts!

  8. “many Brits – including this one – may be forgiven for thinking independence and self-rule aren’t really important to the Baltic peoples after all. So if Putin does come a-knocking one day, don’t look at us for help: you’re on your own.”

    They believe that we’ll protect them anyway due to NATO commitments. They might be right, but with the way the EU are behaving we may start questioning why Russia is our enemy at all, when our “friends” will treat us so poorly.

    Except for Crimea and the Cold War, we’ve been allies with Russia more often than not which has benefitted us much more than any alliances with EU countries have ever done. And the EU seems adamant on creating so many ‘red lines’ in these negotiations that no deal will be possible, and by extension no reason to defend the EU.

    They’re putting a lot of faith in NATO commitments, and nothing else, to ensure we’ll come to their aid.

  9. That doesn’t mean that the demos won’t make mistakes, but such mistakes tend to be corrected more quickly than when left in the hands of an purported elite set of philosopher kings, who tend to become enamored with their own “expertise” and thus blind to their own missteps.

    Exactly.

  10. The Baltic situation is then resolved without a single Russian shot fired.

    Anything involving Russians involves many, many shots. Of vodka.

  11. Interesting analogy. Pretty sure the USSR had no equivalent of Article 50 though, or exit negotiations, for that matter.

    That was only put in reluctantly by the EU and heads of governments, otherwise they’d not be able to claim the agreement was not permanently binding and would have had to go to referenda (which they’d have lost, badly). Article 50 was included as a dodge, it was never meant to be used: hence the hatred pouring out of the EU establishment now.

  12. They’re putting a lot of faith in NATO commitments, and nothing else, to ensure we’ll come to their aid.

    Yup. Not smart, IMO.

  13. They don’t seem to believe either in the need for May’s intercession or in Britain being indispensable to a potential NATO effort to shield the Baltics from Russia. Also, they probably see the chances of Putin’s military incursion as extremely low, as opposed to his political intervention, which would be difficult to resist without having the EU’s back.

    The Europeans recognize Britain’s right to secede, but they believe that every choice in life comes with its own costs. If I can terminate a contract at any time but there’s a termination fee, I shouldn’t interpret the other party’s insistence on getting paid as a diminution or disparagement of my right to quit. Whether this fee ought to be called “punishment” for backing out is a question of semantics.

    This particular membership contract is flawed in not specifying an algorithm for calculating the exit fee, leaving the divorcing parties to negotiate it. In this context, May’s talk of democracy, freedom and sovereignty would be interpreted as a cheap bargaining move.

    It could also prompt that most diplomatic of questions, “who are you to f—ing lecture me?” In other words, “Here’s what we’ve achieved, with help from the EU. Can we see your record, please?”

    The Baltics were occupied by a totalitarian power for 45 years. If you tell a Latvian whose grandparents were deported to Siberia in 1941 or 1949 that the EU is just like the USSR, chances are she won’t appreciate the joke. Their institutions of self-government were a Soviet sham.

    However, when the first relatively free election was held in the USSR in March 1989, Latvia’s independence block won 39 of the republic’s 52 seats. In March 1990, it won 138 out of 201 seats in the republican Supreme Soviet. By the time the USSR collapsed, independence movements in all the three countries had majorities in their republican Soviets and dominated the republican cabinets. All that was needed for full independence was for the Soviet superstructure to melt away, which happened after the August 1991 coup attempt.

    Since 1988, when the independence movement began in earnest, the Baltics have achieved it all: democracy, freedom and sovereignty (as much of it as a small nation can enjoy in the modern world) without firing a shot. They have also avoided a civil war between the natives and the post-1945 settlers, although it remains the greatest threat to their existence. Not bad at all.

  14. If you tell a Latvian whose grandparents were deported to Siberia in 1941 or 1949 that the EU is just like the USSR, chances are she won’t appreciate the joke.

    I wouldn’t do that because I’m not completely stupid. But the principle of a population deciding by whom it is governed and to what extent should not depend on the relative benevolence (or malevolence) of the various options on the table. The decolonisation of Africa showed us that.

  15. “They don’t seem to believe either in the need for May’s intercession or in Britain being indispensable to a potential NATO effort to shield the Baltics from Russia.”

    It increasingly seems that the EU doesn’t believe that the UK, the US and Turkey are indispensable to a potential NATO effort to shield the Baltics from Russia as they seem adamant on behaving in a way to piss them all off. One day they are going to find that they are running out of goodwill.

    “In other words, “Here’s what we’ve achieved, with help from the EU. Can we see your record, please?””

    They’re only a member of the EU because the UK pushed for it. Their development comes from a fund where the UK is the second biggest net contributor. And it was the UK that led the way on the EU imposing sanctions on Russia when it took the Crimea. Italy, Hungary, Greece, France, Germany, Cyprus and Slovakia were among the EU states most opposed to sanctions, because they are either scared of provoking Russia or because their own economies depend too much on Russia.

    The key point though is that they don’t have to choose the UK or the EU, so there’s no need to compare “records”. They can have good relations with both, but are choosing not to.

    “This particular membership contract is flawed in not specifying an algorithm for calculating the exit fee, leaving the divorcing parties to negotiate it”

    It’s kind of hard to negotiate when one side is constantly making ‘red lines’ and takes anything the other side wants ‘off the table’ until it agrees to pay a made up bill.

    We know they are just playing amateurish hardball tactics, but if they don’t start acting like grown ups at some point the UK will just have to walk away.

  16. Good EU contract analysis on here, I do this daily. I thought that maybe a pre-agreed Liquidated Damages fee as a cap on total liability would be of value but then you would need to have some kind of master servant relationship and consideration for exchange of a service or product. Can Alex or Adibat help me here and explain if there is such a defined relationship between the UK and the EU? If not master/servant what then an alliance, a consortium, a JV, what best describes it particularly from a commercial aspect.

    But let’s just say that the EU contract was equitable and well set out under law and that both parties had entered into it in good faith and were fully aware of the respective risk that they were taking by doing so including the termination for convenience provisions . Regardless of this, there is one fundamental risk that both parties cannot avoid and that is counterparty risk and at the conclusion of Adibat’s post above this is a good example of the EU copping this risk right in the eye.

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