Carmen Gebhard, Promoting the Finnish Perspective: Finland’s EU Presidency 2006 in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 145 - 150

Regionalism and European Integration Revisited

1. Edition 2008, ISBN print: 978-3-8329-4084-3, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-1239-5

Series: Nomos Universitätsschriften - Politik, vol. 164

Bibliographic information
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. 146 body proper and the unclear functional objectives. What proved to be the strongest drawback was the reluctant attitude of the European Commission, which should, in accordance with the legal foundations of the policy, constitute the major institutional actor guiding the implementation of the policy. What had already become clear in the final wording of the policy was continued throughout the later stages of the implementation process. Observers have repeatedly reported about the passiveness of the European Commission within the EU ND working bodies, and moreover, in respect to its responsibilities within the respective DGs. If at all, the Commission appeared to be solely concerned with the ‘Russian dimension’, not least reducing the EU ND to this substantial geostrategic issue. Whenever the initiative gained new momentum, it was mainly due to Finnish efforts to get the policy project back onto the current EU working agenda, whereas the European Commission showed little enthusiasm and hardly ever set active measures in order to develop the policy framework further or to proceed with the implementation process. In 2002, the Business Advisory Council (BAC) of the CBSS launched a fervid call for action to elicit “A New Start for the ND.”523 It was claimed that the EU ND had widely failed its initial objectives, most particularly in respect to the enhancement of the visibility of the “Northern agenda” on the European and international scene. The policy was – to a large extent – not more than “an extra label on Phare and TACIS projects.” Moreover, the BAC criticised the constantly low commitment of the European Commission, stressing for example that “only one person within DG External can be said to work on an every day basis with the Northern Dimension” and that “in the other DGs, as well as among most of the Commissioners, the ND has attained very marginal attention.”524 Given this negative long-term course of developments, the recent Finnish efforts to keep the policy afloat (if ever it does not have to be reanimated indeed) could be interpreted as yet another chapter in the series of Finnish frustrations while trying to make the ND a more vivid policy. [...] Finland has always tried to make the EU ND a genuine EU policy – which it has never been indeed.525 What Heininen once called the “new mantra or flagship of Finland’s EU policy”526 has turned into a “nightmare,” and from the outside perspective, into a “yesterday’s meal nobody is interested in anymore.”527 The Finnish Presidency has seen a series of wellintentioned measures to counter the negative flow that had paralysed the policy over the years. Finland’s quest for a “New ND” first emerged in early 2005 when the awareness about the limitation of the then current second Action Plan started to become pressing. The viability of simply launching a third Action Plan for the years to follow and to continue working normally has never been assumed. The negative experiences made in the first years of implementation had reinforced concerns about the future of the policy and fuelled prospects about what could be done to enhance its quality and substance. 523 See Business Advisory Council of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). A Call for a New Start for the Northern Dimension. Presented at the ND Business Forum, 4th Annual BDF Summit, 14 October 2002. Document available on the website of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (Stockholms Handelskammare) [2 February 2008]. 524 See ibd., p. 1. 525 HAUKKALA Hiski, interview on 22 November 2006. Unpublished personal notes. 526 HEININEN Lassi: Ideas and Outcomes. Finding a Concrete Form for the Northern Dimension Initiative. In: The Northern Dimension. Fuel for the EU? Helsinki 2001, pp. 20-53, here p. 20. 527 HAUKKALA Hiski, interview on 22 November 2006. Unpublished personal notes. 147 Finland eventually chose to fight in order to get the policy construct where it had wanted it from the beginning: to the level of genuine joint commitment by both the European Commission and the fellow Member States. Analysts have recognised much earlier that the original setup was almost destined to fail. Without the introduction of a long-term political vision in the Northern Dimension concept complementing the existing format, the initiative is destined to remain in the oblivion of a de facto second-class policy framework serving as a surrogate of foreign policy. […] The absence of a strategic vision of Northern Europe and the need stressed by member states to attach substance to the initiative with short and mid-term projects are two aspects of the same question: the weakness of the EU as a foreign policy actor.528 The tune at the beginning of the Finnish Presidency has been very positive. The abashing motivation behind the Finnish efforts could only be guessed from several allusive statements delivered by governmental representatives. In the preface of one of the numerous promotion folders produced in the run-up to the presidency, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen gave a small hint about the ‘real’ background of the new Finnish initiative: The ND as a term is well known both in Finland and elsewhere in Europe even though its content and achievements have remained unknown to general public. One could even say that the ND has suffered from a sort of ‘marketing and communications problem.’ For example, few people are aware that environmental projects worth as much as EUR 2 billion, which are crucial for Finland, Russia and the rest of Europe, are currently being implemented by the ND Environmental Partnership. The Partnership is an excellent example of the fact that by joining our forces we can achieve more than we could on our own.529 However, in this very same folder, notwithstanding this vague indication by the Prime Minister that “there might have been a problem indeed”, the main author concedes more overtly albeit not yet critically enough that the policy has multiple structural weaknesses. The EU’s Northern Dimension may be difficult to identify at times. On the one hand, it is scattered throughout the world in hundreds of projects largely unaware of one another. On the other hand, it is omnipresent as an umbrella term in policy and geographical discourse, covering pretty much everything. Even the region itself lacks clear delineation.530 Haikkilä definitely found a good way to point at problems without letting them appear as such. He was probably just trying to master the mission of having to write a convincing reader about an unconvincing policy. Unsurprisingly, the official documents that followed in the course of the presidency sought to achieve a similar balance between the objectives promoted and the underlying honest concerns. 528 CATELLANI Nicola: The EU’s Northern Dimension after the Enlargement. In: BARBE Esther/ JOHANSSON-NOGUES Elisabeth (eds): Beyond enlargement. The new members and new frontiers of the enlarged European Union. Barcelona 2003, pp. 160-183, here p. 174. 529 VANHANEN Matti: To the Reader. In: HEIKKILÄ Markku: The Northern Dimension. Europe Information. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 188c/2006, Helsinki 2006, pp. 7-8, here p. 8. 530 HEIKKILÄ Markku: The Northern Dimension. Europe Information. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 188c/2006, Helsinki 2006, p. 9. 148 The first important step in the course of this ambitious policy revival had been the formal approval of a set of “Guidelines for the Development of a Political Declaration and a Policy Framework Document for the ND Policy From 2007” at the fourth ministerial meeting on the EU ND, held in Brussels in November 2005. Building on these guidelines, in November 2006, the Finnish Presidency presented a “Political Declaration on the Northern Dimension” at the ND Summit in Helsinki. The EU was represented by the Finnish Prime Minister Vanhanen, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and High Representative for the Common Security and Defence Policy Javier Solana. Russia was represented by Vladimir Putin, Norway by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Iceland by Prime Minister Geir Haarde, and Finland by President Tarja Halonen. Telling from both EU and Finnish Press Releases, Sweden was not officially represented. The decisions announced in this context were intended to transform the EU ND into a “common permanent policy” to be pursued by four equal partners: the European Union, Russia, Norway and Iceland.531 One of the major specificities of the new policy framework is that it aims at ‘equal co-financing of a realistic number of agreed and concrete projects together with the active International Financial Institutions and bilateral donors in the ND region.’ The present policy framework document is a joint achievement of the partners. The ND partners recognise that their cooperation framework can only be driven by the spirit of partnership and based on shared confidence. The ND is henceforward a common project and a common responsibility [emphases added]. Knowing the previous history and record of the Finnish efforts in the EU ND context, there may be identified some elements in this quotation that indicate the basic considerations lying at the background of this new initiative. The recurrent use of expression like “joint”, “common” and “shared” can be ascribed to the Finnish experience about the lacking commitment of the parties involved within the ‘old’ framework. The notion of “henceforward” can be interpreted in a similar way, in the sense of ‘as from now’ and ‘unlike in the past.’ The arguments that recurred in most official statements in the context of the policy revival could be categorised as follows: – the argument of Europeans being collectively responsible to maintain the substance of the policy, given the fact that it is the only one of its kind in Europe (“no other mechanism exists for such extensive cooperation”); – a persistent claim for more ‘genuine’ commitment by the parties involved; – the necessity to recall the added value of a joint venture in regional cooperation (“joining our forces in order to achieve more than we could on our own”); – gain awareness about the clear Northern European responsibility of the EU; – apparent weaknesses, such as lacking structure should be seen as an asset. 531 Given the explicit focus on these four constitutive partners, the absence of a Swedish representative might well have been result of deliberate considerations. However, it should be emphasised at this point that Finland is obviously not trying (any longer) to develop a broad intra-Nordic commonsense on this issue. The presence of other Nordics such as Denmark or Sweden would have been conducive to the overall standing of the new document. Quotations are taken from the framework document if not stated otherwise. See “Northern Dimension Policy Framework Document,” adopted by the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland at the Northern Dimension Summit in Helsinki, 24 November 2006. 149 What appears most problematic is that Finland has assumed a defensive position, putting itself into the role of the begging one. From the promotional material distributed in the context of the Finnish Presidency, it becomes clear that Finland has long since begun to develop and cultivate its own version of the policy – a “Finnish perspective” on the Northern Dimension. Important evidence in this respect can be found in the output of the Northern Dimension Research Centre (NORDI) situated in Lappeenranta/Finland.532 In one of its recent folders published in the course of the Finnish Presidency, there can be found the following description of the nature and the objectives of the EU ND. The Northern Dimension exists on two levels. On the macro level, the Northern Dimension is a political concept for attracting the EU’s attention to north-east Europe and for emphasising the importance of the Union’s cooperation with north-west Russia. On a more concrete micro level, the Northern Dimension consists of the founded Partnership for Public Health and Social Well-being (NDPHS) and the Environmental Partership (NDEP), but it also involves all the activities that are being carried out within the Northern Dimension area by various actors, such as individual countries, coalitions of countries, the Commission, regional councils and authorities, NGOs and corporations.533 A similar interpretation is reproduced in other publications of the Presidency, such as in a brochure on “The Northern Dimension – A Finnish Perspective.” The distinction between two policy levels does not occur in the policy document itself. In many respects, the newly emerging ‘Finnish reading’ deviates from ‘what has been agreed’ and in various respects, it also exceeds the scope and commitment of the official policy framework at hand. This might be seen as an evidence for the liability of Finland to duplicate its project in ‘private,’ trying to balance the fact that even within the new framework, the expected level of commitment by the other parties is not in line with Finnish expectations. The new Finnish ND initiative was to “replace ambitions with objectives” and to substantiate the policy by way of concrete commitments and eventually, visible outcomes. With these ambitious prospects, Finland has exposed itself once again at highest levels. However, this dedicated self-exposure must be seen as an emergency measure that Finland felt forced to take in order to keep the policy from an ultimate failure. Finland has clearly aimed to shift the policy contents to the responsibility of the Union, rather than being the driving force itself. If the development had taken another course, it would not have tried to stand out as a leader allegedly promoting national interest under the cloak of common European responsibility [as that is what Finland has been repeatedly accused of]. What is happening to its ND Initiative was and still is very embarrassing and frustrating for Finland.534 532 The Centre has been established upon a Finnish initiative in 2003, in order to “coordinate research into Russia and Eastern and Central Europe,” and thus, to increase cooperation with different departments and researchers at University. NORDI conducts research related to all fields of the Northern Dimension policy and seeks to fulfil an academic role as well as a public function as a centre for information and exchange of knowledge. For more information, see the official website of the Centre [26 March 2008]. 533 See INFO folder on the EU Northern Dimension. NORDI, Laapeenranta 2006. Available on the website of the Centre. 534 HAUKKALA Hiski, interview on 22 November 2006. Unpublished personal notes. 150 Taking this assessment of recent developments together, and considering the respective attitude of Sweden, the following chapter will seek to give a broader picture of the actual state of affairs as well as an outlook on supposable future developments in this matter of Swedish-Finnish dispute. F. Evaluation: The EU ND Reconsidered The case of the Swedish-Finnish divide over the general nature, content and objectives of the EU ND makes clear that despite lacking interest and commitment from a major part of the EU Member States and – not least from the side of the Commission, the establishment of a genuine “northern dimension” is additionally hampered by an ironic and yet decisive conflict among neighbours and fellow Nordics. The argument that both Sweden and Finland would indeed profit from pooling their efforts directed to their geographical surrounding does not really necessitate sophisticated explanations. They are situated in similar geostrategic positions; even more so, they have an extensive set of shared security concerns and regional objectives, e.g. in the field of environmental or maritime policy. Their common Nordic background would constitute an additional asset. However, despite these close to ideal preconditions, there are no indicators for the readiness or willingness of any of the two to depart from their established positions, which in either case, might have legitimate and consistent normative foundations, but from a practical point of view, have no conceivable advantage. As the analysis has shown, Sweden and Finland do not agree on the most basic aspects of both European and regional cooperation. The Swedish-Finnish divide cuts through all facets of BSR politics. Their divergent approaches towards regional integration result, in the first place, from the difference in how they generally view the purpose and value of EU membership. While the Finnish attitude is rather affirmative, the Swedish position appears to be largely reserved. Sweden is constantly trying to keep the supranational or ‘outside’ impact as low as possible. Evidently, the Swedes prefer channels of bilateral cooperation, and moreover, they are rather in favour of governance shifts ‘downwards’ than ‘upwards.’ Sweden promotes structural diffusion in the field of Baltic Sea cooperation instead of enhancing large-scale framework solutions and further institutionalisation. This ‘grass root’ approach is diametrically opposed to the Finnish conception. Finland is not only a convinced and highly compliant EU member state that seeks to fulfil its official commitment in the best possible way; apparently, it is also very keen to use the opportunities that emerge from its membership. It seeks to deploy the EU channels at hand to pursue its goals and objectives, and it is not reluctant to take over the initiative role in order to customise the given supranational framework according to its needs and interests. In the EU ND context, Finland has therefore often been blamed to (ab)use its membership asset for the maximisation of its own interests, and to proclaim alleged ‘shared’ responsibilities in order to sell its policy solutions and gain support for selfserving political undertakings. Sweden has been very distrustful, and at times, overtly irritated about the Finnish attempts of ‘getting the best for being in the club.’ This lacking confidence has resulted from the competitiveness that emerged within the Nordic cooperative formation after the end of the Cold War. In many cases, this allegedly ‘soft’ competition had very negative effects for both sides.

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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.