From the CIAO Atlas Map of Europe 

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Bridging the Iron Curtain? Co-Operation around the Baltic Rim

Pertti Joenniemi

August 1999

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute


1. Introduction

The Baltic Sea region, for decades divided by the Iron Curtain and the politics of the Cold War, appears to have become, in the 1990s, a laboratory of rather innovative ways of dealing with the divisive nature of borders. Novel politics have developed at various levels: below the states, on the level of multilateral agreements among states, and on the level of states.

But how far do these reforms carry and what are, more particularly, the borders that emerge under the new kind of conditions? Is there ground to assume that the recent changes towards a more cooperative political landscape are durable or is a return to a divisive and polarized pattern with firm borderlines the most probable alternative?

The dominant reading has, during the recent years, been an optimistic one. The Baltic Sea Region (BSR) has, for most observers, become a reality, and one that transcends the old geopolitical categories of east and west. For them the previous partition, with its distinct and security-related borderlines, is a thing of the past. They argue that the region is no longer to be viewed as ‘a blind alley on the outskirts of Europe’. Instead it should be depicted, it is felt, as a dynamic zone of growth close to the ‘centre’ of the continent. Some even find reason to believe—as does for example Carl Fredriksson (1998:39), a professor in international business at the university of Umeå—that the Baltic Sea region “will be a ‘hot’ region as regards growth, trade and investment in the next ten to fifteen years”. He claims that it is right now experiencing—after dramatic decline in the Eastern Baltic Sea states and deep economic problems in the Western Baltic States—a stronger economic expansion than most other regions in Europe. It may even rank, he claims, among the ten ‘hottest’ growth regions in the world.

One possible explanation to such an integrative scenario pertains to the policies pursued by the European Union. These policies extend beyond the borders of the EU itself and tend to produce separate spaces amounting to region-building in the Baltic Sea area. The Union, based on a certain “civilizational” logic, spawns novel policy regimes that are designed for spaces that are neither properly ‘inside’ nor properly ‘outside’ the polity. It bridges the previous cleavages and produces overlapping constellations with rather fussy borderlines (cf. Christiansen and Tonra, 1998).

A somewhat different—and more sophisticated—framework of interpretation is offered by Ole Wæver (1995). He views the European political space as an outcome of neo-medieval type of ‘empires’, out of which the European Union and Russia are relevant in the case of the Baltic Sea area. This imagery, which purposefully exaggerates the departure from ordinary state-centric policies, is based on Brussels and Moscow as two centres providing the gravity for a set of concentric circles. Essentially, the argument is that institutional density, which within the state is assumed to be even across the territory, is in fact much higher at the centre of the ‘empire’ than it is at the outer circles such as the Baltic Rim. Both Brussels and Moscow have developed, the argument goes, a rather flexible approach to the more remote areas within their sphere of influence. Both have their ‘near abroads’ where they may cooperate, although competition is basically what the game is about.

However, there are also views present in the debate that point in a contrary direction. Samuel P. Huntington (1993), for one, holds that a dichotomous relationship between “East” and “West” will prevail. A “velvet” curtain will run, in his view, between the Baltic countries and Russia dividing the “Western” and “Slavic-Orthodox” civilisations from each other. Although the Baltic countries have, with recent developments, found their proper place on a civilisational map, a deep line of demarcation is still there. It is, in Huntington’s opinion, one which undermines—reflecting a broader divide—all talk about the Baltic Sea Region as something unified and cooperative. The most apt narrative relevant for the BSR is thus, he asserts, one based on the existence of a clear-cut cleavage dividing the Baltic Sea area into two opposite sides with meagre prospects for evolving into anything of a mega-region. The old agenda of threats, security and divisive borders is still there instead of concentrating on dynamization, integration, free flows, networks and such like.

This is to say that there are several—and sometimes quite divergent—views present in the debate on the unfolding of political space around the Baltic Sea. Some are premised on the idea that previous lines of division are turning—due to factors that pertain to integration and the “information age”—into frontiers that mediate cooperation. Such views allow for de-bordering as well as the crossing of lines, this providing the Baltic Sea Region with a certain standing of its own. Some others ride on the assumption that specific actors external to the region are still in command, and that their policies also tend to include some very competitive elements. And finally there are those arguing that the basic pattern remains a rather divisive one with a ‘clash of civilisations’. Such a split would then undermine the impact of the integrative forces around the Baltic Sea.

This paper aims at examining the dynamics of the integrative forces at play around the Baltic Rim and their impact on the borders in the area. It tries to capture the inroads that region-formation has made during the 1990s, review the cooperative structures and networks that have emerged and chart the policies pursued by the main actors. Such an appraisal of the region’s dynamics is then utilized to pass judgement on the relevance of the various narratives that aim at catching what the unfolding of political space around the Baltic Rim is basically about and, in particular, to inform about the region as an arena for various boundary-producing practises.


2. A New Grammar

During the years of the Cold War there was more that divided than united the Baltic Sea area. It was primarily depicted as one of the scenes of conflict between opposing systems. The borderlines and territorial delineations remained quite strict leaving little room for local entities to challenge the prevailing bipolarity. This order ruled out—with very few exceptions—any shifting and overlapping patterns of co-operation and instead favoured clearly bordered configurations. The economic and human ties across the East-West divide were minimal (Westing, 1989: 117).

This has, however, changed to a considerable degree. The Baltic Sea region—and the northern part of Europe in general—has quickly capitalised the demise of the bipolar order. The opportunities to co-operate across previous dividing lines have been extensively utilised, so extensively that within a rather short span of time the area has turned into one of the most regionalized parts of Europe. The crossing of borders has moved beyond the realm of ideas and visions as various regional entities, ranging from small and local ones to very large cross-border arrangements, have emerged, this leaving a considerable imprint on the political and economic landscape.

The projects are, no doubt, part and parcel of a more general process in Europe with regional formations emerging in a variety of forms, but it seems that the Baltic options for easing cooperation both within and across state borders, thereby blending different levels of action, have been utilized with particular determination. Alyson Bailes (1998:183), a British scholar, even thinks—in trying to explain the recent trends—that “the northern European groups might have a stronger sense of locality to build on”.

The regionalist arrangements seem to have an important role in mediating in a Baltic Sea Region of different speeds, as they do in Europe in general, and in down-grading some of those tensions that exist between those “in” and the ones that have to remain “out”. They are needed to soften the impact of enlargement by preparing the selected ones in a relatively soft way, but also to deal with those cases that will—at least in the short run—be left outside (cf. Cottey, 1998:244). Moreover, the regionalist arrangements are viewed as offering a direct arena for engagement. The transcending of previous barriers is taken to present options and resources needed in the improvement of one’s own relative weight in the contest between centrality and marginality in the new integrative Europe. The pooling of resources transcends previous restrictions, borders being their prime representation. The territorial dimension has thus turned far less rigid, this allowing the thinking of border regions as continuous and integrated politico-economic landscapes, e.g. in terms of frontiers rather than borders.

Obviously the post-Cold War period manifested itself very soon in the emergence of a kind of Baltic feeling. The idea of a Baltic Sea Region, as a sphere moulding both danger and difference, gained credibility in inter-subjective terms and as a discursive product. Divisive issues were pushed—although some of them remained on the agenda—into the background whereas the stress was on a common heritage, common interests and common problems. Notions such as Baltic Europe, Mare Balticum, Region North and Ostseeraum surfaced into debates and policymaking language (cf. Stålvant 1993:49-50). The unification of Germany, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the re-birth of the three Baltic states created considerable optimism—although also some dark pessimism could be discerned—and the unlocking of the old order was broadly depicted in terms new possibilities, invitations to interaction and a return to unifying historical experiences. In some cases, most particularly in the relations between Russia and the Balts, the discursive principle underlying the formation of political space has clearly been on an “inside/out”-type. However, more often than not it has been one allowing for overlapping spaces and rather blurred borders.

Events have been shaped, to a very large extent, by the opening up of contacts between peoples, organisations and institutions. The region is spawned by a dense network of associations, conferences and joint ventures. Those involved are often situated at the border between the public and the private: co-operation between parliaments, environmental organizations, political parties, churches, harbour cities, chambers of commerce, businesses and such like. The driving forces often have a bottom-up character then to be complemented by various top-down measures such as the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Nordic Council or the Baltic Council (Joenniemi and Wæver, 1992:25; Schulz: 1999:49).

The very concept of a BSR has been broadly accepted and driven forth by both statist and non-statist policies. The states are not only involved in processes of regionalisation in the sense of creating sub-state divisions; they also accept and in some cases actively advocate regionalism that transcends statist borders and weakens the ordinary sovereignty-based delineations of borderlines. Moreover, the moves have not just been important in principle; they have also been rather successful. The Yearbook on Baltic Sea and Barents Integration concludes that there is considerable substance to region-formation in northern Europe: interaction across previous borderlines has increased, trade has expanded greatly in the recent years, and there are considerable flows of transnational investment (Hedegaard and Lindström, 1998:5-8).

Obviously the BSR has a presence in terms of framework of reference, a broad variety of networks, patterns of interaction as well as institutions. It may be observed, however, that the institutional aspects have so far remained somewhat weak, joint identification is emerging rather slowly, there are competitive relations both within and between the regionalist endeavours and the states as well as the EU which mostly prefers to channel its financial resources for the management of border spaces in a manner that does always not bolster projects such as the Baltic one. This does, however, not undermine the Baltic endeavour, although it would be much more effective with a pooling of resources and the joint addressing of various practical problems.

As to the economic substance of region-formation, it may be observed that some patterns of area-wide interaction have emerged during the recent years, although they are still of a relatively feeble character (cf. Vartiainen, 1998: 124). The region is neither one of high mobility nor one of free trade, primarily because movement and trade into the EU is heavily restricted. Trade is also suffering from lack of hard currency and collapsing markets in the East, but one may also discern in some cases rising trade barriers between countries. There are—as observed by Thomas Christiansen and Ben Tonra (1998)—many more borders in the region since the demise of the Soviet Union.

The core actors weaving a Baltic network consist of the Nordic as well as the Baltic countries (cf. Peschel, 1998:15). Some of the economies of the region have picked up considerable speed—at least up to the mid-nineties—such as those of Finland, Estonia, Poland and Sweden. The economic and social history of the region has witnessed different attempts to manage a wide variety of problems, ranging from long-term stagflation in Germany and the Nordic countries during the end-eighties, to the total legitimacy crisis and collapse of the previous socio-economic regimes in Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries. More recently, the Russian crises of the end-nineties has certainly had some impact on the situation, but not in a decisive manner. The region itself has been in focus of investments and for example the capital stocks of Estonia and Latvia have multiplied over a relative short period of time. Places like St. Petersburg have experienced some development based on investment flows and even relative poor regions such as Kaliningrad and Murmansk have gained a slight upturn. The trends seem to indicate that there has been a shift from the export of goods to that of capital (Lundquist and Persson, 1998:70).

Trade in the area—composing of some 40-50 million people—has expanded greatly in recent years. Internal trade accounts now for some fifth of the total trade in the region. In the case of Latvia 80 per cent of its trade takes place with other parts of the area. Increasing trade has also paved the way for more travelling, but the added mobility has not—contradicting occasional fears for mass migration from the rather poor eastern parts to the relatively affluent western parts of the BSR—led to any significant intra-region migration. For example in the case of the Baltic countries the total out-migration is just some 20.000 persons per year (cf. Karppi, 1998:127; Hedegaard and Lindström, 1998:7).

It may be concluded, on a more general note, that the integrationist forces are still relatively weak within the region. The economies of some major actors, such as Germany and Poland, are geared towards the central and not the northern parts of Europe (Peschel, 1998:15). The economies of the region are only partly linked to the core areas in Europe. There are the well-developed but sparsely populated Nordic countries and the new transformation economies of the ex-Soviet Union. The diversity is considerable, although it does not only work against cooperation. In fact, the diversification constitutes in many cases and incentive for cooperation and de-bordering.

It may also be noted, in a similar vein, that the economic potential of the Baltic Sea region is unevenly distributed. Some of the richest and some of the most poor parts of Europe are located around the Baltic Sea. The average GDP per capita of Poland is about a third of the EU average, and in the case of the Baltic countries a fifth. It presumably takes a decades before the weaker ones reach a level which makes it meaningful for the region’s most advanced economies to have an equal exchange with the more poor ones (cf. Hedegaard and Lindström, 1998:8). However, the trends seem to point in that direction and the expansion of the European Union in a north-eastern direction is probable of furthering such development.


3. The Impact of the European Union3. The Impact of the European Union

The Baltic Sea has on many occasions been depicted as an “internal sea of the European Union”. It is, moreover, pointed out that the internal market covers—with Finland and Sweden as members, Estonia and Poland on their way towards membership and Latvia and Lithuania with association agreements—some 95 per cent of the coastal line of the Baltic Sea (Schulz, 1999:47). The Union is undoubtedly an influential actor within its own sphere, but it has also a considerable impact on the outside, or the “near-abroad” as this sphere is sometimes called. Regions such as the BSR are targets of policy-export, although the policies exported are not coherent or uniform but consist of a mixture of elements. Some of these elements are conducive to region-building, albeit the effect can also be an adverse one for the endogenous processes within the BSR.

The need for such an export is there as the EU—in contrast to the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS)—is exclusive in character. It is so as membership—or the promise of membership—is extended only to some countries in the region. Latvia, Lithuania and Russia have so far been left outside. Norway has applied but opted out as a result of referenda. Four countries out of ten are members, five have applied and one has been interested in membership whereas four have in the end settled for other type of relations.

Yet the movement is one towards enlargement, and basically the EU’s regionalist policies around the Baltic Rim are about this. The BSR is special in this regard as for example around the Mediterranean the aim is an opposite one of facilitating non-enlargement. The Union aims, in the Baltic case, at creating intermediate spaces between its inside and outside. There is an effort to broaden without creating new dividing lines, but there are also various policies aspiring for the establishment of rather firm borderlines between the inside and the outside. These latter ones consist above all of the Union’s third pillar policies that aim at disencouraging negative effects like illegal immigration and smuggling. These are, in other words, two distinct kind of policies with different aims and they do not always function in sync, or as observed by Thomas Christiansen and Ben Tonra (1998:12):”In actual practice such approaches consist of a multitude of individual policies which are only marginally integrated into a common whole”.

Regional issues, including cross-border co-operation, have both internal and external functions. They have become important internally for the EU as attention has over the years been increasingly directed towards the combatting regional disparities within the Single Market but they are also there to fight against the negative effects of national and Union borders. The tools employed on the inside consist primarily of structural policies and spatial planning whereas the ‘outside’ is influenced within the framework of the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the policies preparing potential candidates for accession to the EU as well as Community Initiatives (CI), most particularly PHARE and TACIS. These two programmes are vital in attracting the attention of the various non-EU countries and in granting the Union a rather central role in the BSR despite its relatively low profile in the sphere of active engagement.

The bedrock of EU’s presence in the BSR is made up of its series of bilateral relations with individual Baltic Sea states, but this is then complemented by more explicit ‘foreign’ policies covering the region as a whole. These policies started to emerge in 1994 with the Commission adopting joint guidelines for the BSR concerning railway and harbour links or projects such as the Baltic Electricity Ring. The Commission prepared, during 1995, a Baltic Sea Region Initiative (BSRI), which was then presented to the CBSS Visby Summit in May 1996. The Initiative outlined proposals for intensifying subregional co-operation and for a more concerted use of the EU’s main structural programmes (Stålvant 1998:66).

The EU has been pursuing, since the mid-1990s, more active multilateral policies, and particularly the ones applied in the context of the CBSS, are there at least partially to offset the divisive effects of bilateral accession strategies that dominate EU relations with a selected number of countries (cf. Christiansen and Tonra, 1998:13). A major break-through consists of that the Commission joined the Council of Baltic Sea States from the very start. There are, however, limits to this activism. The co-ordination of Baltic Sea policies inside the Union is still at its infancy, and the Union has, for example, so far no Baltic Sea desk. Moreover, a Baltic Sea Co-ordination Committee has been established in the context of PHARE, but in general the EU has confined itself to a relatively passive role of enabling development rather than spurring such a trend itself.

The aim does not seem to be one of establishing any supremacy or hierarchy, but to allow the networks to unfold in an active manner. There are no firm structures or aims of installing some grand perspectives, but to make room for certain pluralism, a variety of voices and actors without too much orchestration and efforts of streamlining. Rather than steering and ruling the EU aims at enabling. The borderlines between the one’s ‘in’ and those ‘out’ are there, and there are distinct borderlines in some spheres—such as regulating migration—but in general borders are losing their previous clarity and tend to become fuzzy.

It is possible to envisage a future scenario in which the networks of co-operation which currently co-exist—the Nordic Council, the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS), Baltic Council, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the numerous initiatives on the sub-state level—will be ‘usurped’ by the EU. This does not necessarily involve full EU membership of all participant states, something which currently might be on the agenda for Poland but appears to be much less so for the Baltic states. The case of Norway and the EEA has demonstrated that most provisions governing the Single Market, involving the adjudication of disputes, can be handled by the EU’s legal system even in the face of clear choice of a state to remain outside. The association and so-called ‘Europe agreements’ that currently govern EU-relations with Poland and the Baltic states are clearly a step into this direction, and many internal EU policies already involve the EEA as well as the East European countries. In March 1997, the reform of the PHARE programme explicitly shifted the emphasis from the granting of multilateral aid—something which remains the main objective of TACIS aid to Russia and the other USSR successor states—to the preparation of CEE countries to EU accession. EU Commission and Presidency are also increasingly active participants in the OSCE and the CBSS.

The EU’s “Northern Dimension”, an initiative proposed by Finland in 1997 and mentioned in the conclusions of the Vienna meeting in December 1998 of the European Council, might potentially warrant somewhat different conclusions. The aim appears to be one of calling for a more explicit and better co-ordinated northern policy, and one that also provides an umbrella for the EU-policies pursued around the Baltic Rim, in the case of the Barents region and in Euro-Arctic co-operation (Hedegaard and Lindström, 1999:12; Schulz, 1999: 58). However, it remains to be seen what way the initiative develops. So far it is not much more than a loose label that will be provided with more concrete content in a conference of foreign ministers to be held in Helsinki in November 1999.

The initiative may, in the end, remain on the level of symbolics but it is to be observed that it has already had some effects of de-bordering. Although the Northern Dimension is, in the first place, a concern of the EU members, also the relevant non-members have received an invitation to participate. The Northern Dimension thus calls, as a process, for a dialogue between the inside and the outside of the Union in the context of developing and EU-specific approach for the northern areas. This allows Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Russia to sit at the same table with the EU-countries. The EU might potentially be provided with a more distinct policy profile in the BSR, but it does not appear that this implies an increasing pre-occupation with border-drawing in the area.


4. The Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS)

The CBSS was established at a relatively early phase to strengthen the inclusive—and intergovernmental—aspect of regional co-operation. Initially, in 1992, the move appears might even have contained some pre-emptive purposes, i.e. the aim was one of not leaving the whole field merely to non-statist actors (Hedegaard and Lindström, 1998: 18). The CBSS consists on the nine Baltic Sea riparian states (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden) plus Norway and Iceland as part of the Nordic package, and the Commission of the European Community. The explicit partnership of the Commission is a novelty and it was also a kind of break-through that the Nordic countries agreed to join a setting where also Russia is present. During the Soviet period the Nordics abstained from such policies, this adding to the divisions around the Baltic Rim.

For some time the CBSS remained an undertaking with modest visibility, partly due to the tensions which prevailed between Russia and the Baltic states. However, the ailing infant has over the years picked up speed and grown into a promising adolescent. It was one configuration among many in the midst of larger domestic and international transformations in the post-Cold War years. It has, over time, attracted more attention with cooperation being lifted to the level of the heads of state and governments and a strengthening of the interstate aspects of Baltic Sea cooperation. The first high level summit was held in Visby in Sweden in 1996 and the second one in Riga in 1998. The Visby summit inspired the framing of a new and different agenda and, as mentioned previously, the EU Commission presented its Baltic Sea Initiative, acknowledging the need for measures targeted at subregional conditions at large.

Along with the idea of avoiding heavy structures in the BSR, the CBSS has until recently been without a secretariat of its own. The administrative workload remained with the member states holding the annual presidency. However, a summit held in Gdansk in 1995 closed with a communique that allowed the exploring of the establishment of a permanent secretariat and a year later, in Visby in 1996, the Heads of Governments finally approved the idea. Consequently a small secretariat, located in Stockholm, has been established.

The emphasis of the CBSS is on declaratory politics as well as collaboration in a number of specific, less contentious and de-politized issues. It has provided ideas, political impulses to a number of infrastructural problems in areas of transport, telecommunications and energy. The CBSS has been working in a rather pragmatic manner tackling various sectoral or functional issues. The boundaries of co-operation are neither outlined in the mandate, nor have they achieved any clarity in practice as they have been shifting from case to case. In some cases the Kola Peninsula might be included, or parts of Northern Norway are included as a relevant sphere of co-operation. Belarus has been included once issues of migration have been on the table (Stålvant, 1998:67).

The establishment of a “Commissioner for Human Rights and Democratic Institutions, including the Rights of Persons Belonging to Minorities” is to some extent an exception from the endeavour of de-politization, although the Commissioner has mainly worked in a low-key fashion and searching for agreement with the governments of the region. Nonetheless, the very institution constitutes a kind of intervention in the domestic sphere further blurring the line between the inside and the outside.

Its raison transcends national self-determination of a territorial character reflects, and signals an acceptance and a endeavour to implement uniform criteria in the sphere of human rights. The states of the region do not just determine the character of these ties with their nationals, as has traditionally been the case, but pledge to follow international codes, and the task of the Commissioner is to assure that this really takes place. More concretely, the Commissioner has conducted several surveys of democratic practices, legislation and specific situations and has forwarded his criticism and recommendations to governments (Stålvant, 1998:59).

What started as a relative modest operation has over time developed into an interesting vehicle for intergovernmental, but also non-statist and local, co-operation. Significant amounts of diplomatic resources and political energy have over the recent years been spent on the organization. Moreover, also the agenda seems to be changing. The CBSS was, until the mid-1990s, mostly dominated by various issues of transition and issues left over from the previous period. It appears, however, that this period is increasingly coming to an end and there is space for another, more future-oriented phase to take over. The CBSS stands out, due to its inclusive nature, as a linkage and a joint platform. It connects actors that are in many other spheres quite distinct from each other, tuning down among other things Russian claims of being discriminated against. Already for these reasons one may assume that it remains a target for political investments.


5. The Policies of the State Actors

With the disappearance of the canonical threats around the Baltic Rim, also the policies of the relevant state actors have profoundly changed. Security remains an essential concern, although the various territorial issues that came to the forefront with the end of the Cold War—or other problems coined by the new situation—have been by and large settled (cf.Forsberg, 1998; Birkenbach, 1998). It may be observed, however, that security does not just function in a divisive manner; in some cases it has also become a joint concern that spurs regional co-operation rather than detracts from it. This appears the case particularly in the sphere of environmental questions (cf. VanDeveer and Dabelko, 1999). One might speak of post-security in the sense that the dominant idea appears to assure that there is no return to a situation marked by regular inter-state conflicts and clear-cut lines of division.

Certainly the unification of Germany, the break-up of the Soviet Union, the re-birth of the three Baltic countries, Finland and Sweden joining the EU and Estonia as well as Poland being found eligible for accession has altered the geopolitical scenery around the Baltic Rim. The Russian presence in the region is less dominant than the one that the Soviet Union used to have as it is now limited to the exclave of Kaliningrad and the St. Petersburg/Viborg area. The removal of the Cold War overlay and the unlocking of the previous order has basically been comprehended as opening new options and possibilities, although some historical tensions remain. They have particularly existed in the relations between Russia and the Baltic countries, although the re-emergence of a united Germany has also caused some apprehension.

It may be argued that the state actors in the BSR operate, at least to some extent, with different agendas. There are feelings on the eastern side that security problems, comprehended in a relatively traditional fashion, are urgent and primary whereas many in the western parts feel that they have mainly left the old agenda of security, exclusion, borders, sovereignty and national economies. The latter ones are getting geared up for competition in a new context based on aspirations for centrality. The existence of these two different agendas, and two political languages, tend to create communication problems. The Baltic countries, for example, are less interested in region-specific solutions as they aspire for broad Atlantic contacts. The Nordic countries and Germany for their part occasionally show signs of frustration and wonder why the Balts, or Russia for that matter, does not seem to learn to play effectively the new kind of politics in the competition for regional growth in Europe, a competition where you only weaken yourself by setting up too strong political structures—not to speak of relapsing into the old agenda of threats, security and distinct borders—instead of concentrating on dynamization, integration, free flows and networking (cf. Joenniemi and Wæver, 1992:27).

There has certainly been, over time, some learning present, although within limits. The new type of agenda appears to have the upper hand; it is the one that sets the terms for interaction. Some part of the way the tension between the two agendas has been eased by the eastern side learning and adapting to the western one. It may be added, however, that the western side has also tried—in various ways—to alleviate the security concerns of the others. Efforts of arms control have continued and different schemes of confidence-building have been installed (Lachowski, 1999). An atmosphere has been created—despite some worries about Germany on the rise, an unpredictable and erratic Russia, fears about grey zones, or the emergence of a power-vacuum—that allows region-building to move on, and in turn this movement may ease various security-related issues that have regional ethnic or identity-specific aspects.

As to Germany, a cautious and restrained attitude to region-building has prevailed. Yet the policies have been those of inclusion and de-bordering. In addition to the central state, the Länder—most particularly Schleswig-Holstein—have played an active role in taking initiatives, launching visions, establishing links and networking. The worries that were to some extent there immediately after reunification have been assuaged, and Germany seems to have found its place as one of the important players around the Baltic Rim (cf. Krohn, 1998; Lucas, 1998).

The Nordic countries have actively taken stock of the disappearance of the Cold War overlay. They have advocated various region-specific solutions, although “hard” security has been excluded from the co-operative agenda. Nordic co-operation in the context of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers have been re-arranged to be better in tune with the requirement of the external environment. The politics pursued have been inclusive in character, and the endeavour has been one of establishing particularly close ties to the three Baltic countries. A major move occurred with Finland and Sweden joining the EU in 1995, this leaving only Norway and Iceland outside. This certainly creates a split in the Nordic area, and various policies have been designed to offset this effect. The question of Baltic membership in NATO has to some extent divided the Nordics from each other, and Baltic membership in the EU seems to have a similar impact. Denmark and Sweden have supported the view that they should all start from the same line whereas Finland has been of the view that some differentiation is needed as currently there is place for one Baltic country, once the Maastrich endeavours to reform the EU internally failed to reached far enough. In the end only Estonia was found eligible for EU membership.

Nordic co-operation—institutionalized in the form of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers—has gained stronger features of an outside-in construction. Norden has increasingly become a vehicle for co-operation vis-à-vis the external world—having previously been almost exclusively about internal questions. The committee structure that used to be there has been changed, splitting into three major areas of attention: two committees to deal with external affairs (relation to adjacent areas and relations with the EU) and only the third deals with the traditional heritage of culture and ‘Nordism’.

The changes are also conceptual in the sense that Norden is no longer to be viewed as sui generis —a unique form of political space in a category of its own. Instead it has assumed features of a regional arrangement among others with stronger features of inter-governmental cooperation than before. Norden has become one of the vehicles responding to European challenges as well as those presented by the task of dealing with border spaces in the nearby environment. The competitive situation that is now there with a number of neo-regional arrangements in northern Europe is not particularly favourable for Norden with the Baltic and Barents projects being more fresh in appearance reflecting a mentality, in the form of ideas, that is well in tune with the recent falling of walls. There is more adventure in the air in the context of the Baltic and Barents arrangements, as the task has been one of taking stock of the new opportunities by creating something that has not previously been there. However, the Nordic case—being based above all on strong feelings of togetherness and common identity—is still there, although it has undergone considerable restructuring. It has, in essence, been linked with the contemporary European constellations that make up a three-level game between regions, national governments and the European institutions (cf. Stenbäck, 1997:107). The Nordic configurations thus adds, for its part, to the constitutive power of regionality and brings about—together with the other formations—an increasingly multiperspectival northern Europe.

The three Baltic states have had as their first priority to restore their independence, disassociate them from the Soviet Union and later Russia, and to “return to Europe” to the extent possible. They have not been very unified in their policies, and more often than not they have felt that the others are competitors in the aspiration to join NATO or the EU. The internal divisions have not been eased by just Estonia being found eligible for membership in the European Union. The attitude of competition, the legacies of the Soviet period, their concern with security at the expense of many other things, the sometimes tense relations with Russia as well as the presence of Russian speaking minorities particularly in Latvia and Estonia has, however, made progress towards West slower than that of for example Poland.

Russia’s size, status, geography and the existence of a post-imperial syndrome make it a case apart in the BSR. Russia has been the prime actor to be wary of NATO’s enlargement, and the agenda pursued has been of a relatively traditional character. However, over time relations have been normalized, border issues basically settled, troops withdrawn and even the issue of enlargement yielded co-operative structures in the form of the NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in 1997 (Medvedev, 1998). The initialling of a border agreement in March 1999 between Estonia and Russia was a considerable step forward indicating that the parties really strive for pushing aside issues that still divide. Russia has show considerable flexibility by accepting, in taking a joint initiative with Lithuania, that the Kaliningrad-issue may be discussed in the context of the Northern Dimension, and—along similar lines—a joint EU-Russia working group on Kaliningrad has been established. These moves point to a down-grading of the traditional security concerns and seem to signal a deviation from strict principle of state sovereignty. One might even conclude that in the longer run a kind of joint EU-Russia governance may appear in the case of Kaliningrad which increasingly shows signs of turning in to an exclave of the EU.

However, in general the EU and Russia have remained quite detached, Russia having to confine itself—despite wishing to gain membership—to a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. This detachment is evidenced by that Russia remains in the sphere of TACIS whereas most other Central and Eastern European counties have been allowed to link up to the PHARE, and many of then may enjoy financing from pre-accession funds. Yet there is a lack of signs indicating that Russia would perceive the EU as a competitor, or that the EU would openly aim at discriminating Russia. On the contrary, the Russian attitude to EU’s enlargement has remained positive and the EU has aimed at communicating that it is interested in pursuing policies in co-operation with Russia rather than against Russia.

As the aim is one of avoiding the imagery of exclusion, the CBSS gets added value in being one of the main fora that includes Russia. Moreover, it brings Russia and the Balts to the same table (cf. Christiansen, 1999). The EU has recently taken steps to develop a more explicit Russia-policy, and the Northern Dimension Initiative yields at best a platform and a process for Russia and the EU to enter into a dialogue on their relationship.

Although far from harmonious, the intergovernmental scene has been relatively stable. The Baltic Sea “realities” are no longer what they used to be, this allowing the Baltic Sea to develop into something of a joint framework and inviting for a certain atmosphere of de-regulation to evolve. Borders have become increasingly soft in mediating rather than obstructing co-operation, this implying that the importance of exclusive groupings has declined whereas the inclusive ones have gained in eminence.

The agendas of all the state actors important for the region have changed to such a degree that there is hardly a way back to the previous divisive setting. Much points to that the Baltic Sea region is on its way to become, once again, a vital centre and uniting link between countries and peoples—a function of which it has been deprived for so many years. Security in terms of interstate relations is clearly less of an issue and thereby regionness has started to live a life of its own. The idea that the Baltic Rim forms a relevant cooperative constellation has taken root, and it is increasingly recognized that the actors of the region have important common interests. One major reason for this is that they all feel threatened by peripheralization. There are considerable amounts of competition, but it is also admitted the need to join forces is there if the region is to aspire for increased centrality in a cooperative Europe.

Despite much interest and activity in the kind of policy-making outlined above, what often tends to be overlooked in accounts of such policy-innovations and writing on new political spaces more generally is the degree to which states still continue to set—and settle—the political agenda in the region. Many of these decisions are about the configuration of political space, even if this will not always be apparent. The issue of EU enlargement is obviously a key question in this respect, not just in terms of the changes that this implies in the accession states and for the Union itself, but also in terms of the shape that Europe as a whole acquires.


6. By Way of Conclusion

In general the intensification of interaction in the BSR has taken a turn that was quite impossible to foresee and forecast a decade ago. The area has assumed features of a regionalist arrangement of variable contours and it is part of a Europe of overlapping circles of cooperation. One analyst concludes that it has turned “into a potent factor in policy-making” (Stålvant, 1998:66).

This is not unique as such, although northernmost Europe can be viewed as particularly requiring for new and more co-operative ideas to fall in fertile ground. There has been a strong predominance of geopolitical, statist and sovereignty-geared understandings of political space. Yet regionalization has reached such permanency that there is no return to binary divisions or even clearcut statist spaces. There appears to be very little, if anything, that points to the applicability of a ‘clash of civilizations’ as a fruitful point of departure. Some of the previous division between East and West remains, but there are also a considerable number of separate spaces determined by a variety of issues pertaining to integration, monetary policies, security cooperation, passport questions etc. The network of associations, conferences and joint ventures has turned quite dense.

Obviously, some actors are more ‘in’ than others, but all of them are part of at least some joint endeavours. Over time one may expect the fussiness of borders to increase rather than decrease with some crystallized ‘architecture’ as an end result. The policies pursued by the EU have a crucial impact, but more in the form of enabling than steering and actively aspiring regionalism to take root. Some ‘neo-medieval’ features might be traced, but the pattern is not one of two dominant ‘empires’—Russia and the EU—each establishing their own ‘near-abroads’ in the competition for dominance. So far these two actors seem to apply different logics, with Russia staying with rather conventional, statist views. This difference in the logics explains why the relationships between the EU and Russia seems to contain relatively few frictions. They do not compete to any major degree about extending their outer circles, nor do they clash as both have spheres of their own. They are undoubtedly different as the grand narrative of “Russia” is quite far from the one of “EU”. They do not easily mix in the first place and their self-centredness seems to be conducive to a quite unpractical relationship.

Some efforts to stay with a divisive setting may be traced, and various post-Cold War arrangements on a pan-European level may contribute to this. It appears, however, that these endeavours are declining in strength. There seems to be more space for the internal dynamics, that usually aim at de-politicizing things, around the Baltic Sea region to play out. In the contest between the ‘old’, divisive politics and the ‘new’—a political order being created within the region—the balance appears to be slowly tilting in favour of the latter, although the contest is far from resolved. One can also observed that in some cases the increasing eminence of economic and social issues on the regional agenda may lead to policies of exclusion rather than inclusion.

The most optimistic predictions about the future of the BSR—such as those articulated by Carl Fredriksson—might not turn true, the major reason being that some of the ‘old’ thinking is still there, and that has experienced considerable economic difficulties and suffers from social instability. Being a central actor in the region, Russia’s difficulties—which are not probable to disappear overnight—will quite certainly restrain the options also in the near future.

However, this does not mean an end of regionalization as this process has even up till now been fuelled both by both problems and optimistic expectations. ‘Balticism’ does not necessarily yield any grand perspectives; it rather plays out in a somewhat fragmented and spontaneous variety of activities. Yet it is there, and will in all probability remain so influencing to a considerable degree—and perhaps more than in most other parts of Europe—the unfolding of political space.

One might conclude—in utilizing a categorization coined by Thomas Diez—that some of the “old” principles influencing the unfolding of political space are still there around. They are influential around the BSR, although there is also much that is “new”. A major change consists of that the dominant discursive principles appear to produce overlapping spaces rather than clear-cut divisions of an inside/out-type. The prime identities in the region are multiple rather than singular. And one may add that identities are increasing formed in an unintended fashion through extensive processes of interaction across previous borderlines and not any longer to the same extent as before through explicit endeavours of identity-formation within clearly bordered spaces.

Moreover, security has lost in centrality as an argument although it still remains a significant formative principle. It may be observed, however, that it tends to operate in a “soft” or post-security form rather than in a traditional statist manner, and functions therefore in a inclusive and not exclusive manner. This latter change is particularly significant. A previously very divisive theme has turned, it seems, condusive to co-operation across national boundaries. One might also conclude, on a more general note, that power is certainly perceived as an important and decisive issue. A contest for power and influence remains an essential aspect of the political landscape, although there is less emphasis on statist and coercive forms of power and more interest in the invisible, indirect and consensual forms of power.

Taken together, this sliding from the “old” to the “new” seems to explain why formations beyond the ordinary have seen the light of the day during the recent years in the Baltic Sea area and why it may be argued, with considerable credibility, that some novel politics really have taken root in the region. Such a trend is, in many ways, in tune with developments elsewhere is Europe providing the region with some permanence and making it eligible for a competition with other regional formations.



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