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Carmen Gebhard, Relevance of the Topic – Europe in a Nutshell in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 16 - 18

Regionalism and European Integration Revisited

1. Edition 2008, ISBN print: 978-3-8329-4084-3, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-1239-5 https://doi.org/10.5771/9783845212395

Series: Nomos Universitätsschriften - Politik, vol. 164

Bibliographic information
16 B. Relevance of the Topic – Europe in a Nutshell Northern Europe and the BSR are traditionally considered as part of the European periphery, that is, the margins of an alleged European ‘centre’ or ‘core’. Generally, academic conceptions often doubt about the relevance political processes in so-called ‘peripheral’ regions potentially have for EU politics and the further development of the European project as a whole and thus, neglect several related factors in the course of their analysis or theory construction.6 Even studies that claim to offer a global view on Europe’s geo-political landscape often neglect the politico-strategic impact impulses from the ‘margins’ might have on the ‘centre’. Also in the general discourse of International Relations (IR), geographical remoteness is often equated with political marginality. Tómas Ingi Olrich found a clear albeit very sarcastic way to describe this common perspective: The North is marginal and will remain so. Its position is marginal in the geographical and geological sense, since it is perceived by the major players of world politics as a frontier post or back garden, if it isn’t simply regarded as no-man’s land.7 This study, however, builds on the assumption that the political development in the BSR is of decisive importance for the development of the European project and the course of the integration process as a whole. It is contended that (sub)regional dynamics potentially influence or even sideline macro-level integration and thus, are likely to affect and determine the course and finality of the overall process. From my point of view, the geo-strategic importance of the BSR in today’s Europe is virtually indisputable. During the Cold War period, it was an area of relatively low tension and little political action.8 However, with the fall of the unnatural division of the Iron Curtain the region (re)gained its key position in the European geo-strategic landscape. The Baltic Sea has returned to being a uniting rather than a dividing element for its littoral states.9 Throughout the past two decades, the countries in the region have shown enormous potential to overcome the political and economic cleavages of the past. However, numerous challenges have remained, next to new ones that have emerged in the course of political transition in the southeastern BSR. This study builds on the assumption that the way the EU member states in the BSR decide to tackle these challenges does not only determine their own role as politico-strategic actors in the region but is also highly significant if not symptomatic for their conduct as member states of the European Union. 6 Browning provides a positive exception in this regard. See BROWNING Christopher S. (ed.): Remaking Europe in the Margins. Northern Europe after the Enlargements. Aldershot 2005. 7 OLRICH Tómas Ingi: Implementation of a Northern Dimension. In: Northern Research Forum (ed.): North meets North. Proceedings of the First Northern Research Forum, held in Akureyri and Bessastaðir, Iceland. 4-6 November 2002, pp. 119-121, here p. 119. 8 During the Cold War, the Nordic countries consciously tried to keep the political tension in the region as low as possible. “Finland’s cautious policy of coexistence, Sweden’s neutrality, and Norway’s and Denmark’s footnotes to their NATO membership all played a reinforcing role in diminishing pressure in the Nordic-Baltic region.” PERRY Charles M./SWEENEY Michael J./WINNER Andrew C. (eds): Strategic Dynamics in the Nordic-Baltic Region. Implications for US Policy. Dulles 2000, p. 121. 9 See HYDE-PRICE Adrian: NATO and the Baltic Sea Region: Towards Regional Security Governance? NATO Research Fellowship Scheme 1998-2000. Final Report, p. 3. 17 With the EU accession of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the Baltic Sea has almost become an inland sea of the EU, as today it is flanked by eight of its Member States. Some have even referred to the Baltic Sea as being the ‘European Sea’ (lat. Mare Europaeum).10 In fact, there are many seas surrounding Europe, but the Baltic Sea is the only one fully surrounded by Europe.11 In recent years, the EU border to Russia has lengthened significantly. The EU’s future external relations to Russia will to a large extent be set in this region, because it forms the area where the fundamental strategic interests of both Russia and the EU intersect in many respects.12 Whatever you call it, there’s a buzz about the Baltic. What was until recently little more than a heavily polluted body of water divided by a Baltic Wall has rapidly evolved into the most dynamic, politically unified region of Europe, and an area responsible for 15 percent of the world’s trade.13 Even Samuel P. Huntington drew his world-renowned ‘Velvet Curtain’, the Eastern border of Western Civilization, right through the BSR and underlined its crucial role in the geo-strategic landscape. The most significant dividing line in Europe may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia [...].14 Taking all the political dynamics of the recent years, the BSR may be seen as some sort of “representative cross-section of today’s Europe”:15 The unique composition of cultures, identities and political traditions we find in the BSR somehow makes the region a microcosmic version of pan-European relations.16 This is not least applicable to the post Cold War and post enlargement development of both the European project and the course of Baltic Sea Regionalism. 10 TASSINARI Fabrizio: Mare Europaeum. Baltic Sea Region Security and Cooperation from Post- Wall to post-Enlargement Europe. Copenhagen 2004. 11 See Baltic Study Net. Introduction to the Baltic Summer School Mare Europaeum, Berlin 23 July – 6 August 2006. Website of the Centre for Baltic Sea Region Studies (CEBAST) www.balticstudies.org [27 September 2007]. 12 See MOSHES Arkady: The Eastern Neighbours of the European Union as an Opportunity for Nordic Actors. In: Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS): Working Paper, No. 12/06, p. 3. 13 SANDER Gordon: Off Centre. Baltic hands link across a troubled sea. In: Financial Times, 8 April 2000. 14 HUNTINGTON Samuel P.: The Clash of Civilizations? In: Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, pp. 22- 34, here p. 25. 15 Baltic Study Net. Introduction to the Baltic Summer School Mare Europaeum, Berlin 23 July – 6 August 2006. Website of the Centre for Baltic Sea Region Studies (CEBAST) www.balticstudies.org [27 September 2007]. 16 See HYDE-PRICE Adrian: NATO and the Baltic Sea Region. Towards Regional Security Governance? NATO Research Fellowship Scheme 1998-2000. Final Report, p. 4. See also HUBEL Helmut: The Baltic Dimension of European Unification. In: LÄHTEENMÄKI Kaisa (ed.): Dimensions of Cooperation and Conflict in the Baltic Sea Rim. Tampere 1994, pp. 57-67, here p. 59. 18 [The BSR] connects ‘old’ with ‘new’ Europeans inside the European Union, and with Russia, outside the EU. It links Europe’s wealthiest societies with some of the continent’s poorest regions, and it combines some of the most matured democracies in Europe with some of the youngest. Studying the Baltic Sea Region thus means getting acquainted with Europe in a nutshell.17 Since the end of the Cold War, many cooperative arrangements on the regional and subregional level have emerged. Given this high concentration and structural diversity of regional cohesiveness, the BSR can be considered the most networked, if not the most complex region in the New Europe. C. State of Research I. Looking Back – ‘Northern’ Issues in European Political Science When trying to assess the presence of ‘Northern’ issues on the European Political Science agenda, one must clearly differ between research based in and around the region versus research that was and is being conducted by experts based outside the region. In BSR-based academia, regional affairs naturally retain an entrenched and close to permanent position on the research agenda. Their presence on ‘foreign’ agendas in turn highly depends upon international trends and global developments. After 1989/90, Northern Europe and the BSR gained exceptional attention from ‘outside’, with the uncertain outcome of the post-Soviet transition process being the ‘crowd puller’ in the academic world. Heininen referred to this wave of awareness and academic interest as the “Arctic boom” in IR studies.18 The essential geo-strategic and political changes in Northern Europe, and particularly in the BSR after the end of the Cold War, could not go unnoticed by the international academic community. Both BSR-based analysts and ‘outsiders’ have made extensive research efforts in order to study the potential consequences of the changing political and security environment around the Baltic Sea. Indeed, the main empirical focus of this study, which is the phenomenon of distinct regionalist tendencies in the BSR, made up one of the most prominent research subjects during the 1990s. However, after the first decade, this ‘booming’ academic awareness gradually started to decline. After the 2004 enlargements, and once the field of BSR studies had been substantially ‘balticised’, the academic attention drew again back to the regional research arena. The event of Norway’s second negative referendum in 1994, and the Swedish and Finnish EU accessions in 1995, attracted a lot of public and academic attention both inside and outside the region. In the long run, however, this enlargement round generally had a negative impact on the standing of BSR issues on the European integration research agenda. The Swedish and Finnish EU membership was seen as a major achievement for the stabilisation of the northeastern sphere, with the two new member states attaining the function of regional promoters of ‘Europeanness’. 17 Baltic Study Net, Berlin 23 July – 6 August 2006. Website of the Centre for Baltic Sea Region Studies (CEBAST) www.balticstudies.org [27 September 2007]. 18 HEININEN Lassi: Ideas and Outcomes. Finding a Concrete Form for the Northern Dimension Initiative. In: OJANEN Hanna (ed.): The Northern Dimension. Fuel for the EU? Kauhava 2001, pp. 20-53, here p. 20.

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Zusammenfassung

Seit 1989 ist es im Ostseeraum zu einer explosionsartigen Entstehung einer Vielzahl von regionalen Initiativen und Zusammenschlüssen gekommen. Der Ostseeraum weist bis heute eine europaweit einzigartig hohe Konzentration an kooperativen regionalen Strukturen auf. Diese bilden gemeinsam ein enges Netzwerk von Vereinigungen, die unter dem Überbegriff der "Ostseezusammenarbeit’ interagieren.

Diese Studie analysiert die Hintergründe dieses regionalen Phänomens oder so genannten „Ostsee-Rätsels“ auf Basis eines Vergleichs zwischen den Regionalpolitiken zweier staatlicher Schlüsselakteure, Schweden und Finnland, wobei der europäische Integrationsprozess als übergeordneter Bezugsrahmen für die Untersuchung dient.