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Carmen Gebhard, Summary – Questions and Answers in:

Carmen Gebhard

Unravelling the Baltic Sea Conundrum, page 223 - 227

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
223 Summary – Questions and Answers Which labels are commonly used to denominate geo-political entities in Northern Europe? And how do they relate to each other? The question of geopolitical terminology in Northern Europe has proved to be more demanding and problematic than it could have been expected. Common notions like the “Nordic” and the “Baltic States” or “Northern Europe” and “Scandinavia” can, in a regional context, have significant political and ideological connotations that do not always find support within the respective entity. The Baltic Sea Region (BSR) is extremely dense in terms of overlapping and intersecting geopolitical labels. The confusing variety of expressions could lead to the inference that their use is largely arbitrary, and thus, that a differentiating terminological discussion is not relevant. However, considering the frequency of political discussions on these questions as well as the evident employment of concise definition in political speech, it becomes clear that an empathetic approach to this issue is absolutely necessary. In brief, the study has come to the following code of geopolitical labels. Which political and geographical features determine the character of the BSR? In what way and to what extent do these specificities influence or determine politics in the region? The BSR could be characterised with the following catchwords: harsh climate, remoteness, ecological vulnerability, socio-economic disparity, geostrategic exposedness and insularity. This set of BSR specificities is, in various different respects, both curse and blessing. On the one hand, the states and regional entities situated in the BSR have to face the obvious disadvantages resulting from their distinct geopolitical position. On the other hand, these very circumstances together build some sort of empirical foundation for the traditional Nordic attitude of exclusiveness and reluctance. This study has come to the conclusion that a geographically remote position stimulates isolationist state behaviour and enhances tendencies of relative compliance towards an alleged supranational core. This means that EU Member States situated in these geographical positions show an increased propensity for exceptionalist policy solutions and, in terms of ideological internalisation, for relative or ‘false’ compliance with formal membership commitments. This attitude often entails a euro-scepticist rate in the public that is above average. Nordic Countries Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland Northern Europe European Russia, Northern Germany, Northern Poland, Scandinavia, Baltic States Scandinavia Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland Scandinavian Baltic Sweden, Denmark and Finland Baltic States Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland Baltic Sea Region Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, as well as the German Länder of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Schleswig-Holstein and Niedersachsen (Regierungsbezirk Lüneburg) 224 How do these BSR specificities influence the way the region is seen from outside? States and regions situated at the margins of a continent or a political community are often associated with the idea of marginality in the sense of lacking political and strategic significance. Geographically remote areas are thought to be politically unimportant, or at least secondary in respect to the more central regions. This study has been based on the assumption that due to this common way of ‘thinking the periphery marginal,’ states situated in these areas are particularly inclined to develop distinct identities, and in a next step, exceptionalist or isolationist policy solutions. I treated this question also under the headline of “the periphery’s romantic temptation.” This is an allusion to the current habit of romanticising the periphery, and even more so, the Northern ‘margins’ of Europe. In many contexts, Northern Europe, if ever it is not regarded as a ‘blank spot’ on the power political map of Europe, is treated as a marker with a pre-given and unproblematic status. Northernness is often associated with valueladen categories like the “Nordic spirit” and the “Arctic mystery.” Northern Europe is subjected to the arbitrary application of enthusiastic concepts that personate it as something extraordinarily different, and moreover, qualitatively superior or even supernatural. Actors based in the region are seen as largely inoffensive, tolerant and libertarian as well as harmless in the context of ‘realist’ power politics. As a consequence, the fact that Northern European states follow the logic of power maximisation and strategic self-assertion just as much as the more ‘central’ ones do, is often neglected. This study has come to the conclusion that the respective states have another choice than just to accept this imposed image. The analysis has shown that some states use this lack of interest and attention in order to establish alternative systems of political self-actualisation. They reduce their international commitment to the minimum and turn their attention to surrogate ambitions. What accounts for Baltic Sea “regionness”? What makes the BSR a “region”? Defining the BSR in terms of drawing sharp and clear geographical borders seems both difficult and problematic. The “Baltic Sea Region” is indeed thought to be about much more than just a simple conglomeration of national or sub-state entities. Accordingly, this study has tried to identify the various different ways, theorists have found to define regionness as such. Starting out from the mere notion of an entity constituted by a group of geographically adjacent areas, the analysis has led to more sophisticated models of explanation, such as the one of ‘functional regions’ or ‘region states.’ These conceptual considerations did not aim at the identification of the one single valid definition. This assessment of existing approaches rather served to prepare the theoretical discussion undertaken later on in the analysis. How and on what grounds did Baltic Sea Regionalism emerge after 1989? In the early 1990s, the BSR has seen the proliferation of an enormous number of regional initiatives, associations, councils and platforms. The specific international circumstances that resulted from the end of the Cold War paved the way for regional cooperation across the Baltic Sea Rim. This process of region-building across the former East-West divide has often been referred to as the “Nordic Boom,” the Rise of the “New North” or “New Regionalism.” Promoted by the decentralisation of the 225 international system and the removal of the superpower overlay, both the number of regional organisations and interest in what was called “Baltic Sea Regionalism” grew exponentially. There is no consensus in academia about who its real founding fathers were, and where exactly to allocate the starting point of Baltic Sea Regionalism. In fact, the way this phenomenon emerged should not be imagined as a clear-cut process of progressive, gradual and controlled regionalisation. There were many parallel and partly diverging region-building projects that characterised the early phase of ‘constructing the region,’ which turns this distinct course of development into a veritable repository for enhanced analytical investigation. Today’s BSR can be said to be the most networked, and therefore, among the most complex regions in Europe. How did the newly emerging cooperative structures interact with other (already existing and established) formations in the ‘Old North’, such as classic “Nordic Cooperation’? During the Cold War, Nordic cooperation tried to overcome the limits of state-centric strategies and instead, built on a deep societal and cultural commonality. Norden was largely an island of well-being, commonsense, tranquillity, low tension, security and stability which enabled the Nordic states to establish some sort of ‘third way’ in international politics that became known as the “Nordic model” or “Nordic balance.” This study has come to the conclusion that both the fall of the bipolar overlay and the EU accession of Denmark, Sweden and Finland had a strong “nationalising” effect within the Nordic formation. Both events have obviously enhanced competition and as a result, the mere aspect of being “Nordic” has lost most of its binding effect. A major reason for this might be that the instrument of othering has suddenly become more difficult to apply, meaning the diversification of neighbours and regional partners); in fact, given the international air of togetherness and integration at that time, the North could no longer construct itself in opposition to Europe. The EU accession of the Baltic States made them less “different” or “other.” Hence, it became more difficult for the Nordics to distance themselves in the purported exclusivist manner. The shift of Norden towards the BSR and thus towards more Europeanness also implied that the most challenging and proximate security threats were more and more expected to be handled on a European or at least, a Europeanised level. What then actually remained for the Nordic system of cooperation was mostly located in the field of soft-soft policies, such as culture, research and education. The analysis of the Swedish-Finnish relationship has shown that since the end of the Cold War, the intra-Nordic atmosphere has been largely dominated by an air of soft competition and diverging concepts of regional politics and integration. How can Sweden and Finland be characterised in respect of their basic concept about European integration and in what way does this determine the way they perceive their strategic roles in the BSR? Sweden and Finland have very different ideas about the basic value and function of their EU membership. Right from the beginning, their interaction with the supranational level of the Union has been based on very different conceptual foundations and expectations. While for Sweden, the choice to join the European Union was based on strong economic motives and concerns, the Finnish approach has been overtly affirmative from the beginning. Even though Finland also expected a set of direct advantages, it did not 226 reduce its motivation to these prospects. The Finnish accession was strongly marked by the idea of ‘leaving the past behind’ and ‘returning to Europe.’ Its profile as a formal member has in turn been clearly pragmatic and goal-oriented. Finland tried to fulfil its responsibilities as a loyal and solidary fellow member and part of the project, but has still never been reluctant to try to gain the most benefit from the fact of ‘being in the club.’ Finland has joined the Monetary Union and established itself as a fervent advocate of the 2004 enlargements. Hence, the modest success of its major geopolitical project, the Northern Dimension, has been a very frustrating experience for the Finns. Sweden on the other hand, has well tried to be a compliant and unobtrusive member, however, lacking genuine commitment to the overall objectives of European integration. In many key issues of European integration, Sweden has assumed an exceptionalist or reluctant position. The Swedes have rejected the single currency, and still today, they are among the most euro-sceptical populations among the EU-25/7. Sweden has evidently sought to establish a low membership profile, intending to gain important leeway for alternative (bilateral or decentralised) political arenas. This distinct character of the two states in respect to European integration is reproduced in their specific conduct on the regional level. While Finland has tendencially been more in favour of ‘getting the Union involved,’ Sweden has always been keen to reduce the ‘outside’ impact coming from Brussels. From a Swedish point of view, the regional working agenda should by no means be systematically or formally linked to the institutional structure of the EU. Accordingly, Sweden has also been very sceptical about the Finnish attempts to establish a “Northern Dimension” of EU external action. How did the Finnish Northern Dimension Initiative emerge and which development has it taken in the first years? The Finnish Northern Dimension Initiative launched in the end of the 1990s constitutes one of the most important results of the Finnish EU membership. By way of this initiative, Finland tried to direct the Union’s attention to the Northern part of the continent and to enhance interest by other external stakeholders (Norway, Iceland, and most importantly Finland). However, in the first years of its existence, the policy has quickly lost momentum, facing a set of structural problems, and additionally, being hampered by lacking outside interest. Sweden has never been convinced about the added value of the policy. Hence, instead of supporting its Nordic fellow it chose to pursue other, less “supranational” channels in order to materialise its regional interests. Given this extraordinarily bad start of the policy, Finland has recently sought to revive its foreign political flagship by way of promoting a “New Northern Dimension” in the context of its EU Presidency in the second half of 2006. It tried the stimulate genuine commitment by way of restating the importance of the policy concept and by way of emphasising the added value the policy could bring for all partners involved. Given the reserved attitude of Sweden (and in parts of Denmark) and the obvious lack of interest on the side of the European Commission, the long-term effectiveness of this new initiative appears questionable. Moreover, the Finnish ambitions are increasingly sidelined by other EU policies, most importantly the European Neighbourhood Policy, whose implementation has recently lead to significant innovations in the field of regional and cross-border cooperation. 227 Which models of explanation could be employed in order to approach the Baltic Sea Conundrum from a more abstract perspective? In search of an answer to this important question, the study has followed an extensive path of trial theorisation, consulting various different camps in political theory. These trial applications could, keeping the scope of the study in mind, certainly not be exhaustive in every case. However, the whole apparently completed exercise has nevertheless led to the conclusion that a research puzzle as multifaceted and complex as the one of Baltic Sea Regionalism would actually necessitate even more theoretical prudence and comprehensiveness in order to be ultimately adequate. At the beginning of this study, I claimed for a comprehensive analytical framework that does not subjugate the empirical puzzle for the sake of clear-cut and consistent analytical outcomes. Many studies that follow a rigid theoretical framework tend to limit their analytical effort to the reproduction of certain abstract claims established in a detached context (as this is just what most theories are about). Studies that announce right at the beginning that their analysis is informed by a certain approach are likely to miss out important aspects about the phenomenon and to fail to contribute in a substantial way to the existing bulk of expertise in a certain field of empirical research. Seeking to counter this effect, in this study, the theoretical section is put to the very end. This should, however, not create the impression that the first parts are less elaborate or indeed, less accurate and legitimate in terms of the academic code of conduct. I would like to support this claim by asseverating that the theoretical considerations have guided every single step in the course of the more ‘empirical’ parts of the study. To a very large extent, this study has been written ‘backwards’, in fact, the first two sections have been the last ones to be completed. Which model does then solve the ‘Baltic Sea Conundrum’? This study never really set out to decrypt or even solve the Baltic Sea Conundrum. In fact, drawing a global picture of a matter as complex and multi-faceted as Baltic Sea Regionalism on the basis of a rigid and straightforward analytical pattern appears neither feasible not desirable. The overall analytical aim of ‘elaborating a comprehensive model of explanation’ could nevertheless be met in the sense that both the terminological and the theoretical considerations made in the course of this study are likely to have contributed to the understanding of the research subject as such. The added value of this study arises from the pursued trajectory of conceptualisation, abstract identification and theoretical incorporation of the various elements of the research puzzle, and can thus not be subsumed in the framework of an abstract or chapter. With each analytical step, from the development of a clear terminology to the conceptualisation of regionness and regionalism as well as to the critical evaluation of Sweden’s and Finland’s regional performance, this study has strived to move closer to the core of the subject matter. Hence, the fact that it has not resulted in a clear-cut model of explanation to cover all aspects of the thematic complex, must not be perceived as a failure but rather as part of the analytical outcome.

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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.