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Carmen Gebhard, Evaluation: The EU ND Reconsidered in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 150 - 153

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
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. 151 Instead of permanently sidelining each other’s policy initiatives, the two neighbours could have tried to find a common denominator (which should have evidently not been impossible) and get together on coherent and effective grounds. However, the fact that this has not happened in the EU ND context, i.e. in a situation that would have provided close to ideal preconditions for a Swedish-Finnish joint venture, makes clear that this divide must result from much more than just an inherent unwillingness to make compromises, and thereby, to achieve more straightforward solutions. In fact, looking more closely at the interests and motives on either side, it becomes evident that even their idea of how to define ‘Norden’ is different. For Sweden, the ‘North’ is clearly centred around the Baltic Sea. For Finland in turn, the ‘North’ is much more ‘northern’ in the sense that it includes also more remote areas like the Arctic and the Barents Sea. These diverging geopolitical perceptions already constitute a major problem. From the Swedish point of view, a policy like the EU ND with a comprehensive geographical scope is far too broad and diffuse. Therefore, other channels appear more attractive to Swedish policy makers. Well-defined approaches with a distinct focus on the key areas of strategic interest gain more attention; this commitment is then, as the EU ND case has shown, not available for policy alternatives offered and promoted by other actors. Another source of divergence that hampers the establishment of a joint northern policy perspective lies in the field of structural conceptions. As pointed out before, the EU ND in its past and present design is not very substantial in institutional terms. It has only a very loose formal structure, with the Senior Officials meeting and the ministerial sessions being its only structural ledgers. The output of these meetings and summits has been very low in the beginning, and has remained modest throughout the whole implementation process. However, evaluating the EU ND on the basis of rigid institutionalist criteria is probably neither fruitful nor appropriate. In fact, in essence, the EU ND has mainly been intended to operate on a project basis, and it was rather constructed as a process than as a “turn-key project.”535 Finnish policy makers have repeatedly emphasised that this flexible structure should be seen as an advantage, bringing added value for all players involved. In fact, not even Finland would have supported the creation of a centralist or supranational body to govern the policy implementation, as not least on the national level, it would have been very difficult to promote. Haukkala claims that in the context of the first policy initiative, the Finns were not only unable but also unwilling to give more substance to the EU ND. Although this has often resulted in growing frustration in respect to the effectiveness of the initiative, one can also view the situation in a more favourable light. This vagueness or open-endedness of the Northern Dimension can also be seen as something that should be preserved rather than overcome by a frenetic bureaucratic development of the initiative.536 535 See DUBOIS Jeroen: The Northern Dimension as Prototype of the Wider Europe Framework Policy. University of Liverpool, Working Paper. Liverpool 2004, p. 5. 536 HAUKKALA Hiski: Whose Governance? Challenging the Dominant Northern Dimension Discourse. In: Northern Research Forum (ed.): Northern Veche. Proceedings of the Second Northern Research Forum, held in Veliky Novgorod, Russia. 19-22 September 2002, pp. 105-107, here p. 107. 152 Even though a further institutionalisation would have enhanced the visibility and effectiveness of the policy, Finland has so far always abstained from the promotion of increased formalisation. The governance concept underlying this specific (a)structural nature of the EU ND is, not least, similar to that of traditional Nordic cooperation, which Joenniemi defines as follows: It has been relatively easy for the Nordic States to tolerate Nordicity. The states have not been seriously offended as the discourse rarely touched upon anything that belonged to the sphere of the Nordic states themselves, it had few interactionist consequences and the states have to a large degree remained indifferent to the whole Nordic spatialisation, nor has any Nordic state been dominant enough to be able to take over, politicise and transform Nordicity into a statist project of its own.537 However, after the negative record of the policy had become evident in the first years of its implementation, these structural foundations had to be reconsidered in any case. As a consequence, Finland has recently developed a certain propensity for further steps of structural formalisation. Paula Lehtomäki, Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development has recently made the following suggestion: There is room for even deeper commitment. In addition to ND meetings for ministers and civil servants, we need an operative body between different parties to ensure the execution and follow-up of Northern Dimension work.538 At a conference in January 2007 held in Hanasaari/Espoo (Finland) on the “Northern Dimension and Nordic cooperation” Prime Minister Vanhanen then argued for the establishment of formal coordination mechanisms between the Nordic Council of Ministers and the EU Finland aims to build continuity between its recent Presidency of the EU and its current chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers, with the aim of launching a long-term policy for the ND based on its new framework document. It should not come as a surprise that Finland intends to steer Nordic co-operation within the Council of Ministers closer towards influencing EU policies. Finland finds it natural that the same items should appear on the agendas of both the Nordic Council of Ministers and the EU. In this way, the Nordic Countries may stay one step ahead on EU and EEA issues, both in terms of decision-making and practical implementation. Under the new framework document, the ND will develop towards a cohesive joint policy for the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland.539 From a Swedish perspective, this sort of interpretation about the ‘natural’ course of institutionalisation might well be idiosyncratic. Sweden has always abstained from the development of rigid and formal links between the EU level and its domestic, or at least, regional sphere. Equally, it has always been a strong advocate of Nordic exclusiveness, taking pride in its seclusiveness and self-chosen insularity. 537 JOENNIEMI Pertti: Norden as a Post-Nationalist Construction. In: Id. (ed.): Neo-Nationalism or Regionality: The Restructuring of Political Space around the Baltic Rim. Stockholm 1997, pp. 181- 234, here p. 206. 538 LEHTOMÄKI Paula, cited in HEIKKILÄ Markku: The Northern Dimension. Europe Information. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 188c/2006, Helsinki 2006, pp. 7-8, here p. 70. 539 Speech by the Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen at the conference on the Northern Dimension and Nordic cooperation in Hanasaari/Espoo (Finland), 17 January 2007. 153 Hence, the Swedish reaction to these formalist aspirations of breaking the Nordic ‘seal’ and of opening a channel for supranational intrusion, is easily predictable. In addition to this intricate intra-Nordic situation, the problems within the EU framework remain. There is no clear evidence yet that the Commission is intending to show a stronger commitment for the Finnish ambitions. However, major developments like the final implementation of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) at the beginning of 2007 allow for a preliminary valuation. The combination of existing financing instruments for regional and cross-border cooperation constitutes a major achievement in the EU relationship towards the East, and most importantly, towards Russia.540 However, the policy channel employed for this seminal innovation was not the EU ND. In the context of its new policy initiative, Finland has obviously tried to get Russia more interested by turning the old institutional design into a “common” policy. The EU ND Action Plans had so far only enabled a unilateral problem assessment and working process, while now, Russia is officially involved as an equal partner. The question is whether these almost desperate Finnish attempts of making the policy more attractive can compete with the evident benefits provided in the other policy contexts, most notably the ENP and the Strategic Partnership with Russia. At this stage, the long-term effects of the new Finnish initiative are not yet foreseeable. However, telling from the hitherto problematic course of development and the respective international and ‘European’ attitudes, and looking at the argumentative strategies employed in the context of this policy revival, the expectations should certainly not be too high. Ironically, from today’s point of view, the only terminological choice for the EU ND appears like an ill-fated marker and self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously conscious of the fuzziness the notion of a “dimension” might convey, during its Presidency in 2006, Finland has been noticeably trying to promote the “policy” tag for its initiative. This balancing act evokes the earlier debate about the formal quality of the new EU treaty, whether it should be regarded as “constitutional” in the widest sense, and whether labelling it as such would make it more attractive to people. The choice taken in this context is familiar to everybody. However, the relevance and effectiveness of this kind of sophistication is known, too. 540 Even though Russia has abstained from taking part in the main ENP framework, Russian partners have been declared eligible for the new funding instrument. See note 348.

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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.