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Carmen Gebhard, The Irony of Competition I in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 49 - 51

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
49 There is no consensus in academia about who the real founding fathers were, and where exactly to allocate the starting point of Baltic Sea Regionalism. Williams identified ideas about the creation of a New Baltic Sea Region as early as in 1988, when Björn Engholm, then social-democratic Prime Minister of the German Bundesland Schleswig- Holstein, launched the vision of building up a cooperative network across the Baltic by reviving the spirit of the old historic Hanseatic League (“New Hansa”) in the form of a “Baltic Forum”.126 However, the development of Baltic Sea Regionalism in this early period was nothing of a clear process of progressive and controlled regionalisation. There were many parallel and partly diverging region-building projects that characterised the phase between 1989 and 1995. II. The Irony of Competition I The emergence of Baltic Sea Regionalism in the early 1990s has been accompanied by a fervent and enthusiastic rhetoric about the positive dynamics of new Baltic ‘togetherness’ that were to transcend historic dividing lines. The emerging regionalist dynamics that shaped the post Cold War phase in Northern Europe have often been referred to as a “wave of cooperative spirit” or a “rush of togetherness.”127 What has hardly entered the public and academic debate is that this enthusiasm, which in a certain sense unified the wide range of initiatives and region-building projects, actually built on very different grounds. The specific circumstances that can be identified in the BSR case call for a more differentiated perspective. The various newly established associations and projects did not only strive for innovation and proactive originality but also had specific strategic objectives. In some cases, these newly appearing regional entities resulted in the creation of a series of different and potentially competing visions of spatial prototypes, each building on specific normative foundations and different ideological and societal perceptions. The most prominent example in this regard is closely related to the above-mentioned “Baltic Forum” initiative by Björn Engholm, then social-democratic Prime Minister of the German Bundesland Schleswig-Holstein, and the establishment of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). Engholm had envisaged the creation of some sort of coordinating platform to embrace all cooperative activities in the BSR. At first his initiative found fertile soil, most importantly among Swedish and Northern-German scholars. This group of actors was determined to create a post-modern paradigm, in which the nationstate was gradually to lose importance and new forms of interaction, based on networking and people-to-people contact, should take over. It was seen as a region-building experiment, where the actors obviously had their own interests but were joining forces in order to reach a synergetic effect.128 126 See WILLIAMS Leena-Kaarina: Post-modern and intergovernmental paradigms of Baltic Sea cooperation between 1988 and 1992. The Genesis of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) as a historical case study. In: NORDEUROPA Forum 1/2005, pp. 3-20, here p. 4-5. 127 See e.g. ANTOLA Esko/KIVIKARI Urpo: The Baltic Sea Region. A Dynamic Third of Europe. Turku 2004. 128 WILLIAMS Leena-Kaarina: Post-modern and intergovernmental paradigms of Baltic Sea cooperation between 1988 and 1992. The Genesis of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) as a historical case study. In: NORDEUROPA Forum 1/2005, pp. 3-20, here p. 5. 50 However, Engholm’s “model of open participation” had only little in common with a state-level construct. He rather aimed at the establishment of a multi-centric network, a de-centralised forum for various societal groups. The Baltic Forum was to be pragmatic and consensus-oriented. Practical questions should have priority over the fundamental and institutional concerns of international politics. Cooperation should be flexible, open and not prone to rigid hierarchical structures, the main goal being societal dialogue, not political integration. Therefore, the institution should represent a forum for different societal groups instead of governments.129 Engholm’s “New Hansa” initiative was thwarted by a parallel, more traditionally oriented intergovernmental construction. Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Uffe Ellemann- Jensen, then liberal foreign ministers of Germany and Denmark, initiated and encouraged the establishment of the CBSS as a state-level umbrella association that was to facilitate and promote cooperation and coordination among the Baltic Sea littoral states including Norway.130 Beforehand, Genscher had been reported to have complained about Engholm’s proposal, as he perceived it to infringe the federal state prerogatives in foreign policy.131 According to Williams’ interpretation, the final construction of the CBSS eventually met many criteria of the ‘old style’ regionalism even though it was actually part of the alleged ‘new’ regionalist wave in the BSR, following the decline of the Soviet empire. While Engholm’s vision of a ‘Baltic Forum’ was more of a model for “open participation” that was to involve all different types of official and non-official actors (civil society, NGOs, sub-regional entities) and thus, very much complied with the typology of ‘New Regionalism’, the structural concept of the CBSS was more formalistic and state-centric. It was designed according to strictly intergovernmental logics, with e.g. its main decision-making body, the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO), being recruited from the member-state Ministries of Foreign Affairs. Williams identified yet another aspect that brought the CBSS concept closer to the ‘old’ idea of regionalism. The main difference to the initial ideas proposed by Slesvig-Holstein [note: the Baltic Forum] was not only that the activities had been shifted to the intergovernmental level, but that they had been shifted to give a stronger focus on ‘development aid’ for the Baltic States, and thus formulated in the wording of classical foreign policy.132 Engholm failed to keep his image of being the founding father of Baltic Sea Regionalism as his ‘new style’ project was eventually displaced by the formalistic and ‘old style’ counterpart – the CBSS. Williams mentions one last attempt to “counteract the intergovernmentalism of the CBSS.” This time it was not a political initiative but an idea emerging from an academic background. Joenniemi and Wæver, two Nordic researchers, proposed the creation of a “Confederation of Baltic Sea Regions” with 129 Ibd., here p. 14. 130 Iceland joined the CBSS in 1995. 131 See STÅLVANT Carl-Einar: The Council of the Baltic Sea States. In: COTTEY Andrew (ed.): Subregional Cooperation in the New Europe. Building Security, Prosperity from the Barents to the Black Sea. London/New York 1998, pp. 46-68, here p. 56. 132 WILLIAMS Leena-Kaarina: Post-modern and intergovernmental paradigms of Baltic Sea cooperation between 1988 and 1992. The Genesis of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) as a historical case study. In: NORDEUROPA Forum 1/2005, pp. 3-20, here p. 17. 51 loose structures, voluntary membership and a flexible agenda. Anyway, just as the Baltic Forum, this version of a ‘new style’ regionalist formation never took shape. At the time it was presented to the public, in summer 1992, the CBSS had already been established as the model case of Baltic Sea regionalist cooperation. Looking at these inner-German events, two ‘German’ factors can be identified that dominated the “construction phase” of Baltic Sea Regionalism:133 – German party-politics; most importantly, disputes between social democrats and liberals; – internal struggles between the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein and the German Foreign Ministry. This study does not intend to focus on the specific role and importance of domestic discourse within the single states involved in the process of post-1989 regionalism. However, these observations help to characterise the general course of events in the BSR. This example gives important information about how Baltic Sea Regionalism evolved in its early stages, to what extent individual players shaped the development of cooperative links in the region. Interestingly, the emergence of the new inclusive ‘Baltic Sea Region’ occurred in a highly competitive political atmosphere. There is a certain degree of irony in the fact that instead of pooling the efforts in order to achieve common or at least very similar goals, some region-builders decided to mingle their regionalist ambitions with trite every day politics. However, this sort of competition between different region-building projects might have contributed to the number and variety of cooperative formations present in the region of today. While in the case of Engholm’s Baltic Forum, an innovative regionalist vision has actually been outperformed by its intergovernmental counterpart, in other cases, these dynamics might have inspired the creation of a parallel and competing region-building project. Today, the BSR allows both functional overlap and constructive competition. III. The Council of the Baltic Sea States The CBSS was founded in 1992 under the overall objective to create a regional forum for dialogue and coordination between the national governments of the Baltic Sea States. The establishment of the CBSS was based on a Danish-German initiative launched Genscher and Ellemann-Jensen, then liberal foreign ministers of Germany and Denmark.134 133 See ibd., here p. 5 and 18. 134 Catellani points out that the role of the Danish foreign minister was less proactive than it might have appeared. The fact that the CBSS was launched right after a bilateral meeting held in Copenhagen did support the impression that Denmark had been the driving force behind the initiative. “Uffe Ellemann Jensen [...] contributed substantially both to the creation of the CBSS and to the development of a more assertive stand by Denmark within the framework of the European integration process. However, the importance of his activism should not be overestimated, especially in the light of the role Germany played in connection with the launch of the initiative.” Genscher in turn was bound by the consideration that a German initiative in the BSR involving Russia as a partner would have appeared inappropriate for the geopolitical allocation of Germany in the New Europe. See CATELLANI Nicola: The EU’s Northern Dimension. Testing a New Approach to Neighbourhood Relations? Utrikespolitiska Institutet, Research Report 35, Stockholm 2003, p. 5.

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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.