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Carmen Gebhard, And the Story Goes On: Is Sweden Trying to ‘Keep the EU ND Alive’? in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 142 - 145

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

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142 Chairmanship in 2006-2007, which should provide a deeper insight into the specific approach Sweden has exemplified in the context of the EU ND’s implementation. II. And the Story Goes On: Is Sweden Trying to ‘Keep the EU ND Alive’? At the time Sweden took over the EU Presidency from France in January 2001, the EU ND was just entering its operational phase. The European Council of Feira in June 2000 had adopted the first EU ND Action Plan for the period of 2001-2003 and mandated the Swedish Presidency to elaborate a “Full Report on the Northern Dimension” to be presented at the European Council of Göteborg in June 2001. Despite the distinct Swedish reluctance in the context of the Finnish initiative, the Northern Dimension nonetheless formed part of the priority areas indicated on the Swedish agenda. The Swedish Presidency set out the aim to produce more actionoriented input and to further the implementation of the policy in the sense of concrete measures and activities. Sweden requested the European Commission to report to the Foreign Minister’s Conference in Luxembourg in April 2001 on actions initiated in line with the ND Action Plan, and effected the formulation of the full report as foreseen. However, this should not be taken as a proof for a positive Swedish attitude or commitment. Sweden was merely sticking to the mandate posed by the Portuguese Presidency, and was in this sense simply fulfilling its “technical” obligations. Even though many observers did see the evidence of Sweden actually attaching importance to this very EU policy in the course of its presidency,508 it should be considered that there might have been incidental parallels between the Swedish agenda and the EU ND objectives. Anne Haglund states that Sweden chose to prioritise enlargement and achieved the political breakthrough one had aimed for, this also benefited the development of the ND. Also the second Presidency theme of environmental protection was compatible with the development of the ND.509 While these assertions are certainly appropriate to some extent, the mere fact that most of the issues prioritised by the Swedish presidency do basically coincide with the overall objectives of the ND, should not be misinterpreted. For the purpose of this study, it is rather important to look at how Sweden sought to promote its political interests on the European scene and whether and to what extent it used the EU ND as a framework to achieve certain political results in the course of its presidency. Concerning the Swedish efforts to further development in environmental issues, one must state that the EU ND did not explicitly constitute the main point of reference for the presidency. The Swedish government generally seemed to welcome the policy at that time since it was seen as a “flexible tool for advancing its own interests.”510 In the presidency conclusions, the EU ND appears to be rather detached from other issues, and it is clearly not applied as an overarching policy frame for action, most particularly regarding its core objectives, objectives that would even largely comply with major 508 See e.g. STENLUND Peter: 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. 126-129, here p. 127. 509 HAGLUND Anne: The EU Presidency and the Northern Dimension Initiative. Applying International Regime Theory. Vaxjö 2004, p. 125. 510 Ibd., p. 122. 143 Swedish interests.511 The achievements of the Swedish chairmanship have remained very modest. Haukkala found a very clinical way to characterise the commitment towards the policy Sweden has shown during this phase. It is difficult to prove that Sweden has not done its best to keep the policy alive. To some extent, it appears that there was not much more that Sweden could do, but obviously, it could have done much more.512 However, Haukkala still emphasised that Sweden had shown considerable dedication to the Finnish policy aspirations in 1999, when the EU ND for the first time risked to loose momentum and to be derogated by current political events. The upcoming preparations for the Eastern enlargement as well as the critical state of the EU’s bilateral relationship with Russia had major negative impact on the substance and visibility of the policy.513 By guaranteeing to put the policy on its presidency agenda in 2001, Sweden provided significant support to its fellow Finnish policy makers. Another point of reference to analyse the Swedish attitude in the context of the EU ND implementation process is the Swedish Chairmanship in the CBSS (2006-2007). When comparing the official statements given in the context of the Swedish Chairmanship to their counterparts delivered in the course of the Finnish CBSS presidency in 2002-2003, there can be identified a series of differentiating tendencies. Sweden hardly ever refers to the EU ND as a superordinate policy framework, but rather (if at all) as a policy tool out of many others. Christer Persson, Ambassador and Chairman of the CBSS Committee of Senior Officials in 2006 and 2007 described the Swedish perspective on the EU ND as follows: Sweden, nationally and in its capacity of the present CBSS Presidency, attaches considerable importance to the discussions on, and development of a new Northern Dimension policy. Sweden in both capacities is convinced that the future ND-policy can increase the possibilities of regional cooperation in the Baltic Sea area in the years to come. Furthermore, from our perspective, the Northern Dimension policy also serves both an inspiration and a base for regional co-operation within other bodies and bilateral cooperative efforts. This is an important role.514 The EU ND is seen to be adding some value to existing structures but not to offer any exceptional instruments for concrete enhancement of regional cooperation. In its priority catalogue, Sweden does not mention the EU ND in a broader context or in the form of a major issue for the overall orientation of CBSS activities. It is merely mentioned in the context of a practical initiative in the field of Health Policy and Social Security, where the Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Well- Being (NDPHS) is indicated as a framework to promote CBSS objectives and to enable 511 See Presidency Conclusions. Göteborg European Council, 15 and 16 June 2001. SN 200/1/01. 512 See HAUKKALA Hiski, interview on 22 November 2006. Unpublished personal notes. 513 Haukkala reports about the event of the 1st Ministerial Conference on the EU ND in November 1999, where a great number of EU officials and representatives from other member states failed to appear because of the escalation of the conflict in Chechnya. See ibd. 514 See Speaking points on Northern Dimension by Ambassador Christer Persson, Chairman of the CBSS Committee of Senior Officials. Presented at the meeting of the Chairmen of the four Regional Councils. Moscow, 18 August 2006. 144 the exchange of information and expertise.515 What could be mentioned as a humoristic and bold indicator for the alleged lacking Swedish commitment to the EU ND implementation process is the fact that all official statements on the EU ND that were delivered during the period of Swedish Chairmanship were strongly relying on each other, and in some parts, the speeches held – by Hans Dahlgren, Swedish State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and516 – by Christer Persson, Swedish Chairman of the CBSS517 were literally copied from an article by Carl Bildt, present Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, published in early 2006 in the “Baltic Rim Economies.”518 The sequences directly taken from Bildt’s text did, however, not even in one instance, mention the EU ND explicitly. In fact, the foreign minister’s essay on Sweden’s role in the BSR goes without any single reference to the EU “Northern Dimension”. Instead, he (and reproducing his statement, also Dahlgren and Persson) just vaguely mention(s) a “regional dimension” that “should not be underestimated”, obviously avoiding to apply the official label of the policy. He also refrains from mentioning the EU as any reference point or factor in the context of Baltic Sea cooperation. The strong commitment to the intergovernmental CBSS is obvious from the beginning of this essay: The cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region in the framework of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) – has helped pave the way for increased regional integration and been instrumental in making the Baltic Sea Region one of the most competitive areas in the world when it comes to economic growth.519 However, it can also be told from Bildt’s statement that Sweden is ever more focussing on a dislocation of governance and responsibility ‘downwards’, meaning that subregional and local actors are becoming more important in comparison to governments. One effect of the changes during the last years is that the cooperation within the CBSS has changed character and reached a more concrete and diversified level. [...] The governments are no longer in the driving seat. It is instead much more business, local authorities, universities and independent organisations that cooperate on many levels and in different capacities. This I find encouraging.520 Similar elements could also be found in a speech held by the then Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson at the event of launching Sweden’s CBSS Chairmanship. While naturally, as a Social Democrat, he did not copy Bildt’s essay, there were still significant parallels in his considerations about the priorities in Baltic Sea cooperation. 515 See Priorities during the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, July 2006-June 2007. Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 16 January 2007. 516 ‘The Role of the CBSS in the Northern Dimension’, speech held by Hans Dahlgren at the Conference on the ‘Renewed Northern Dimension. A Tool for Enhanced Regional and Cross-Border Cooperation”, Tallinn/Estonia, 9 June 2006. 517 Speech by Christer Persson, Chairman of the CBSS Committee of Senior Officials, held at the Northern Dimension Senior Officials Meeting in Imatra/Finland, 22. September 2006. 518 BILDT Carl: Sweden’s Role in the Baltic Sea Region. In: Baltic Rim Economies, Nr. 6/2006, p. 6. 519 Ibd. 520 Ibd. 145 In line with the other statements, he was particularly reluctant to use the official label of the policy and rather focussed on the role and function of regional organisations in terms of their concrete output. The ND appears only once in a subordinate sentence at the very end without any content-related reference. We intend to coordinate closely with the incoming Finnish and German Presidencies of the EU, not least as regards the implementation of the New Northern Dimension policy.521 Next to these broad tendencies, there is yet another important indicator for the overall orientation of the Swedish CBSS Chairmanship towards the EU ND. Looking at the distribution of activities organised by the chair, and comparing it once again to the Finnish CBSS presidency calendar for 2002-2003, it becomes evident that (unsurprisingly) activities with a distinct focus on the EU ND are far less present on the Swedish agenda while Finland had been close to activist in this respect. Since the Swedish CBSS Chairmanship 2006-2007 coincided with the Finnish EU Presidency, the respective Swedish conduct can not least be regarded as a direct feedback and mirror of the concurrent efforts taken by Finland in the context of ‘keeping the policy alive’. The year 2006 has been a key phase in the history of the EU ND. Almost ten years after its establishment, Finland effected a grand scale policy revival of the EU ND. A closer look at the Finnish commitments in this respect will provide a point of reference for the evaluation of the Swedish attitude, since it might make clear to what extent Sweden is lagging behind in terms of solidarity and genuine dedication. III. Promoting the Finnish Perspective: Finland’s EU Presidency 2006 Finland’s EU Presidency in the second half of 2006 has been strongly focussed on the project of revitalising the EU ND and of introducing a new operational concept for the enhancement of its objectives. Finland’s first EU Presidency in autumn 1999 also had the EU ND as one of its key priorities. The first Northern Dimension Ministerial Conference was arranged then, and the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999 invited the Commission to prepare an Action Plan for the policy. Even though the whole undertaking had then been still in its infancy, the inherent weaknesses of the policy construct had already started to become apparent. Haukkala affirmed that the “problems were there right away in 1999.” From 1999 onwards, the EU ND was only loosing more and more momentum. Discussions about how to improve the standing of the policy were part of the every-day working process. At a very early point, Finland sought to map out the possibilities it had in order to bring the policy back on top. The options were clear. Finland could try to either make the whole construct more dynamic, or let it die right away. This second option was ruled out quite soon since Finland had already considerably exposed itself and could not just abscond after having reinforced the issue on highest levels.522 As indicated earlier in this section, the policy has been facing structural problems from the very beginning, mostly related to its inherent fuzziness, the lack of an administrative 521 PERSSON Göran: Presentation of the Swedish CBSS Presidency, held at the Baltic Sea Summit in Rejkjavik, 8 Juni 2006. 522 HAUKKALA Hiski, interview on 22 November 2006. Unpublished personal notes.

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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.