Nizhny Novgorod, 2003


The NDI has experienced a relatively slow start. It is still quite far from the initial ideas expressed by the Finnish Prime Minister in the context of launching the initiative. This does not imply, however, that region-building, network governance and various bottom-up type of processes would come to a halt in Europe's northern corner. By contrast, they are quite likely to continue.

This is so, among other things, as the role of the EU and its NDI has been that of enabling rather than one of driving and directing to start with. The European Union stands out as an important co-actor and facilitator being thereby able to link in and make use of the energy and creativeness entailed in the process but there are also significant region-specific actors with policies and aspirations of their own. The contest that has emerged in the context of the recent encounter between the EU and northern Europe has forced the EU to develop various new ideas. Most recently they have emerged, for example, in the form of an e-Northern Dimension, the environmental partnership, schemes for region-wide energy policies, formulating joint terms of trade for Europe's North or ideas pertaining to the transforming of the Baltic Sea into a 'fast lane' in the sphere of shipping. More generally, processes have been set into motion that in the longer run are bound to lead to the creation of a region-specific agenda as well as endeavours to implement it.

The Union has provided encouragement and has worked as a model in the post-bipolar era due to its magnetism and attractiveness, but this does not seem to imply that the Union itself would have had a single policy and a well co-ordinated determination aiming at transforming the previously rather non-regionalised and strictly delineated northern Europe into an increasingly 'fuzzy' or 'postmodern' political landscape. Intermediate spaces abound and there is considerable fluidity in the region, although much of this has seen the light of the day without any distinct EU leadership.

The EU constitutes an important player and one interested in the European North but it may yet be noted that the pursuance of region-building has been challenging also for the Union. There are distinct limits to its actorness in the sphere of 'foreign affairs' in general and in particular in view of developing and pursuing innovative policies of networking governance. An improved performance and the distilling of a distinct line would require, it seems, essential modifications in the very nature of the Union. They include measures such as a co-ordination between the different pillars, settling a variety of institutional rivalries, establishing clearly more horizontal departures and a further blurring of the boundaries between internal and external policies. These are highly difficult matters to sort out, and this notwithstanding that the Union is, as such, based on multilevel governance and it is meant to be a post-sovereign polity. Already the complexities inherent in the cross-pillar formulation require a price, one that is also visible in the pursuit of subregional integration and the shortcomings of the NDI. The institutional rivalries between the Council of the EU and the Commission over competencies in the sphere of external relations imply, in some of their aspects, that the mandate of the Commission is bound to remain unclear, including also the relationship to and actorness in entities such as the Council of Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and Arctic Council. There are restrictions in the delegation of power, establishment of relations beyond the bilateral ones as well as problems entailed in the usage of financial instruments that in some cases hamper rather than promote the spurring of subregional co-operation.

All this provides substance to that the Union's engagement tends to be short term, ad hoc and often inconsistent (Johansson, 2002:390). Instead of a firm visions there appears to different constellations of interests and concerns (Hyde-Price, 2002:58). There is ground for accusations pertaining to passiveness and half-heartedness or the claim that the Union's potential in northern Europe remains underutilized (Haukkala, 2001:20). The list of problems, shortcomings, matters to be remedied and failed endeavours is actually rather long. It purports the image that the Union has fallen short of expectations, and the fate of the NDI might be seen as bringing this out with particular clarity. To a large degree the Union remains built on compartmentalised thinking: the tree pillars, the sectored DCs and the individual programmes devised mainly on regional basis but without engagement in the type of horizontal coordination that would be required by the NDI (Haukkala, 2001:114). In general, it seems that the EU has acquired a significant role in contributing to regionally in the European North but at the same time it remains profoundly challenged by such a development.

Yet the Union has achieved, despite a variety of difficulties, a leading role and Europe's North stands out as an area where subregional co­operation has been taken, over a short period of time, exceptionally far. The development has its ups and downs but the unfolding of intermediate spaces, networking and bottom-up configurations is bound to continue. In a sense, the lack of a coherent policy and the abstention from riding on one logic only are part of the endeavour. Integrating the European North into the Union's normal policies would bring with a number of benefits in terms of clarity, legal status, degree of commitment etc., but it would not suffice and meet the needs of the region itself. The northern 'laboratory' requires and mandates experimentation. It challenges existing institutional, legal, transactional and cultural boundaries within the Union and calls for policies beyond the ordinary. An ability to modify a number of established boundaries - without extending formal membership - would furnish the Union with additional actorness in the sphere of network governance. It would further bolster the ethos underlying the NDI for example in the form of allowing actors external to the EU to participate in various processes in which policies relevant also for the Union itself are being discussed and formed.

In fact, it is possible to argue that network governance has been taken so far in northern Europe that the various boundaries, limitations and constraints also within the EU itself have turned clearly visible. A variety of contradictions and paradoxes stand out. The requirement for success is often -and this comes out with particular clarity in the dealings with Russia and Russia's North-western regions - that there exists an ability to compromise and go beyond departures that are a 'must' seen from the perspective of the EU's standard policies. Without such ability there would be no true dialogue, an encounter between equals, or a subregional form of multilevel governance in any other form than one strictly subordinated to the EU's leadership. The division between policy-making and policy-taking prevails if the EU's only approach would consist of formulating programmes of its own. In some ways, it would be rather tempting to apply to the North the programmes similar to those pursued in the Mediterranean and in the context of the Barcelona process. They would for many observers make more sense than the NDI, an initiative plagued by considerable vagueness.

Yet it is obvious that resorting to a more ordinary strategy would bring with it standardisation, a weakening of a multilevel approach and perhaps also loosing touch with a broad variety of non-governmental actors. It would constitute a projection of pre-set policies and demands of homogeneity placed upon actors and spheres not yet within the EU's domain. This is to say that the lack of coherent policies also has its positive sides. The Union stands to benefit from that it is not perceived as an ordinary political actor and a regional 'major power1 furnished with a ready-made set of interests and policies but one that is more in tune with the special requirements of Europe's North. The 'fuzzy' features of the region may be conducive to the pursuing of a flexible form of integration that allows the application of different policies in different regions, including the transcending of important boundaries by allowing for solutions that are more than association but less than membership applied in a region-specific context. This goes against a modern logic calling for clarity, harmony and unambiguous co-ordination, but it is perhaps precisely this modern logic that has to be dethroned also in sorting out the paradoxes of the EU's policies to the North and in the context of the NDI. The approaching enlargement may imply that the position of regionality is in general strengthened within the Union, and that would in turn imply the Europe's North gains feature's of a region from which to learn about mistakes as well as achievements on the road towards a kind of Europe of 'Olympic Rings'.

It is in any case obvious that the spatial markers defining Europeanness have been blurred. They have turned more dispersed than previously and even peripheral actors seem to be able insert some influence. In addition to two previously dominant markers of the East and the West, space has been opened up for a third one. Markers of space such a northernness are no longer centrally controlled. They are not as strictly predefined as before. It seems that there is no single, dominant authority legitimised to 'draw' the map - or to propose a check-list of criteria that will assure entry into 'Europe'.

Instead there appears to be a miscellaneous polyphony in respect to the "northern sphere" (cf. Jukarainen, 1999). This constitutes the opening that Finland has utilised in launching its Northern Dimension initiative, an opening which also bolsters the position of Russia in allowing to join in, if it so wants, as one of the voices part-taking in the dialogue that frames the post-Cold War Europe. In addition to consolidating its position in the post-Cold War context, Russia is offered the option of contributing and getting engaged in the forging of an increasingly regionality-based politico-economic landscape. This has not been easy, taking into account that Russia has for some time viewed such processes with suspicion. The reading has sometimes been that such endeavours are there to further marginalise Russia's influence and stir difficulties in the relationship between the core and the more peripheral areas. However, more recently a more positive approach to regional co-operation has become apparent. Russia has been able to coin at least some initiatives of its own, and has in general turned into a subject with a variety of views and positions. It clearly endeavours at being engaged and • not excluded from the current that essentially influence the new Europe.

It has turned evident, within that context, that staying with the promise of the EU not to create new borders but to knock down the existing ones, constitutes a rather demanding task. The 'partnership' outlined within the NDI has not been as extensive as it initially sounded, although the initiative operates mainly in an inclusive manner. The previous bifurcated discourse casting the North as something quite different than - and perhaps even opposite to - 'Europe' has by and large come to a halt. Both the concepts of 'North' and 'Europe' are in the midst of considerable change. They have been imbued, in the more recent discourse, with new meanings. Northernness seems - due to a conceptual metamorphosis - to expand, assume a more autonomous position and increase in political relevance as a signifier of 'Europe'.

In being de-bordered, the North may reach beyond its previous boundaries. It may acquire new meanings and turn less entrenched. The dominant images pertain to connectedness rather than isolation. It does not shrink and turn into a image of the more central areas - as might be expected on the basis modernity conquering and covering ever larger parts - but expands by regaining lost ground. It is hence something rather difficult to discipline and co-opt. Images of the North are not just coloured by the short summers and darkness, i.e. some negativities if the conditions are to be compared with those prevailing at the more southern latitudes, but also by long winters with plenty of snow. It is these deviants and somewhat undefined features that now often attract interest and may even invite a positive reading. Being linked to northernness carries with it the promise that there might still be something adventurous, unexplored and new to be discovered also within the EU and Europe itself.

Moreover, northernness does not just qualify some fringe locations. It increasingly stands out, as indicated by the Northern Dimension, as one of the defining elements of europeanness. In doing so, northernness further undermines representations of any strictly unicentred Europe/EU and adds to the credibility of a variegated one. Northernness may be located in the context of a concentric Europe by providing shape to the outer circles and pushing the circles outwards, but it fits even better the figure of a 'Europe of regionalizes'. The marker is elevated into a representation increasingly on par with many others in the struggle about the essence of the European Union, one that is less pre-given, authentic and natural and a Union that seems able to combine a certain uniformity with emphases on diversity, pluralism and difference. It would, in this perspective, be one of the steps taken in order to liberate Europe from the politics of modernity and to set in on a postmodern road.

By operating in terms of inclusion, the NDI challenges images of the EU as a fortress. The issues of connectivity soften the figure of a Schengen- Europe, and various other security-related Europes with strict and tightly controlled external borders. A strictly bordered Europe is complemented - if not contrasted - with conceptualisations of a Europe with a rather fuzzy north-eastern border by strives to open up for a free movement of capital, services, goods and people. The North is, in the context of the EU, depicted as a meeting-ground rather than a marker of outer boundaries and a site of frontier mythology. Instead of marking an outer limit it aims at bridging entities that have been seen as being apart from each other. More particularly, the distinction between members and non-members within the EU gets relativised as the Northern Dimension attaches considerable importance to the Union's co-operation with non-members, among these Russia. However, the concept does not only apply to the Union's external sphere. It also qualifies some aspects of the inside and stands out, more generally, as a representation that could achieve considerable impact on the Union as a whole. It seems to apply particularly to the outer circles but may also be broader in reach. Yet the core seems to accept, as indicated by the approval of the European Council and the various ministerial meeting that have been held since, northernness as one of the parameters for europeanness. Europe-making has obviously moved some steps to the North, but the steps taken may be just the beginning of a longer and more far-reaching process.

The core may find some attraction in adding northernness to the attributes of 'Europe'. A centuries old image is reinvented to organise the post-Cold War Europe. The future is structured with a rather selective and strictly controlled use of labels that pertain to the past. Northernness is thrown into the debate to complement and compete with other images that also aim at utilising the space that has been opened up by the demise of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union. It would, however, be an exaggeration to argue that the move has been initiated by the core itself or that it reflects some themes that are close to the heart of the centre. The origin of the NDI hardly resides with the core. The increased centrality of northernness does not seem to stand out as a kind of take-over and a reflection of the power of the core to cover and impose meanings on spheres previously beyond its reach. This would not be a truthful interpretation of the formative phase of the initiative.

It seems to have an even more interesting background. The Northern Dimension appears to be rather unique in having been coined close to the periphery, with Finland having grasped the opportunity to influence the European setting. The move has been carried out by exploiting an unconventional theme and the leverage provided by the Finnish and Swedish memberships, and more particularly the Finnish EU Presidency during the last part of 1999. Instead of utilising discourses already firmly anchored in the centre, Finland has chosen to initiate a new one that rests on a celebration of plurality, variety and de-bordering. A previous negativity has been - after some soul-searching - provided with new and emancipatory meaning. Northernness has been made, by a policy of naming, into an asset to be exploited in the contest between different 'Europes'.

The consequences may be far-reaching despite that the initiative has been introduced in a rather soft and conciliatory manner. Any signs of a frontal clash have been avoided, and instead northernness has been presented as something rather apolitical, innocent and a 'natural' theme to be addressed once the EU gets extended, with the incorporation of two quite northern members. It has been offered as something complementary and purported as a principle applicable in the margins, off-centre. The strategy chosen may yet turn out to be rather significant as the figure of 'Europe' can also be influenced by engaging oneself in a process of defining what it's periphery is about. Finland appears to be able to do this by applying a certain historical legacy of accepting its own position at the fringes and combining an active peripherality with endeavours of getting access to the centre. It is this duality, or playing it double, which makes Finland and its resort to northernness particularly interesting.

By introducing northernness as one of the defining elements of the European configuration, Finland has undoubtedly been able to strengthen images that are to its own liking. Northernness is now used by those within its sphere instead of representing an outsider's view of the other - as has been the case historically. Being part of a European Union with strong northern elements makes membership much more attractive, acceptable and rewarding. The European Union is not just ready-made and western in character. It turns less foreign once it can be credibly argued to contain aspects that one may also recognise - at a closer look - in oneself. This makes it more easy to justify the policies pursued to national audiences in the member countries, but perhaps also in those countries in the Northern part of Europe standing of the threshold of closer relations with the EU as well as Russia which has to link in without the prospect of membership.

An enhanced standing of northernness - if this turns out to be the result that the process initiated yields - in the context of the EU, significantly lowers Finland's threshold to Europe. The same could potentially apply to Russia. The marker also provides linkages that the neighbouring countries may use in approaching Europe and the EU, therewith elevating the importance of region-building in Europe's North. Instead of being just 'there', Europe is also 'here'. It is on the spot. The distance between 'here' and 'there' is made to shrink in the sphere of markers of political space as the EU turns somewhat more de-centred. Consequently, the northern actors may feel that their prospects for being related to the core, and even more importantly, their changes of influencing what the overall configuration is about and how it is thematised, have grown.

An essential aspect of the process entails that Russia is treated in inclusive terms. It is invited to join and change emphasis from a traditional political-military agenda to an economic-commercial one. It is invited to develop its own northern parts as a resource for partaking in European policies - and not due to a contest or power-political antagonism which used to be one of the reasons underlying Russian or Soviet emphasis on the northern areas. The linkages may be restrained, according to some of the interventions, to pipelines transporting oil and gas. However, in the longer run the contacts are bound to deepen in a manner that connects the Russian economy and enterprises with an integrated EU-Europe. This will inevitably open up rather profound questions about the role and significance of the North for Russia and raise questions about models of development. The Russian rather centralised model - based on traditions of geo-strategic and realist modes of thinking - will be challenged by the Nordic, Canadian or US models in approaching northernness and northern areas.

So far there has been little discussion along these lines, but the questions are looming large and will have to be tackled sooner or later. Participation in the reconstruction of 'Europe' in a much more open and diverse ways invites also a discussion on the figure of Russia and the type of 'Europes' preferable from a Russian perspective. So far the interventions have remained, with some exceptions, rather traditional. The aspirations for subjectivity and equality have predominantly been restrained to a realist and geopolitical framework, and this has most often also constituted the background for interpreting and reacting to the NDI. It seems that regionalism and trans-regionalism in a European sense and linking in with more postmodern form of political space still take place in Russia only in some exceptional cases, namely in the regions that are deeply engaged in international co-operation - the Russian Northwest, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Tatarstan, Samara, etc. On the Russian socio-cultural-economic map these regions look as tiny islands of globalisation in the ocean of modernity rather than solid continents (Makarychev, 2000).

There has, however, been some plurality present in the debate and there are voices also in the Russian debate representing interpretations that could furnish, if applied in the formulation of the policies pursued, Russia with considerable subjectivity in the contest between the various 'Europes'. In this regard Russia's Northwest is a special region where new models can be explored and non-traditional solutions can be suggested.

Moreover, one could perhaps argue that the introduction and installation of a marker of northernness implies that Russia is no longer a homogeneous whole defined by a certain co-constitutive relationship between the East and the West (the Russian zeal) but there would be more differentiation with northernness being applicable particularly to the north-western part of Russia, thus signalling the formation of some mega-regions.3 It would be part of a differentiation with the more European parts of Russia defining and distinguishing itself with the help of the northern marker. Perhaps the latter can also provoke a process of redefinition of other spatial markers - eastern and southern ones that seem to acquire both new meanings and importance in present-day Russia. In fact, Russia has already got several faces and identities - European, West Asian, Central Asian, East Asian, an inner-looking one and so on. The northern 'face' is only one of many Russia's identities and such a multiple identity is actually helpful, it seems, in dealing with numerous problems and challenges of a postmodern world.

In general, Europe appears to be less closed and predetermined. Meaning is no longer pre-given in the way it used to be. Aspirations for homogeneity provide - paradoxically - space for heterogeneity. The overall configuration is not to be defined just at the core and by the core alone. There is increased space for some of the more peripheral actors to influence the constitutive rules and frames of reference. These actors may contribute, in their own way, to the establishment of some of the key attributes defining what 'Europe' is about. They can, in the best of cases, interfere with the contest between the major markers and cognitive frames that influence the way their own identity unfolds. They may utilise some of the elements used in that process by imposing their meaning on the broader European constellations. They do not have to restrict themselves to contests about centrality as there is also the option of redefining and using peripherality as a resource. The core may retain - or even increase - its power in some spheres, but the periphery appears to have been able to challenge - as indicated by the NDI - the formation of what constitutes a relevant marker at least in some respects.

This is yet another sign of that the constitutive rules underpinning the formation of political space seem - perhaps due to the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, but also because of some more general factors such as the new power relations of the 'information age' - to be changing significantly. The North could - in an uneasy alliance with the South - become one of the key markers of europeanness whereas the West and the East may lose some of their previous ground.

The latter ones could retreat to positions that they had prior to the Second World War, or their demise could be even more profound. What seems to be at least equally important is that the new spatial markers allow for configurations out of the ordinary. The new could be seen as growing in the cracks of the current, concentric order. It is accepted, maybe even stimulated by the prevailing one because it is seen as a positive kind of difference, one that is bound to remain harmless and insignificant. But at some point quantity may turn into quality, and the driving logic of the configuration may find a new source. The Northern Dimension could, against this background, be seen as being part of a broader set of experimenting with principles that initially co-existed with the prevailing concentric figure, but one that also has the potential to begin to shape the European configuration quite significantly in the direction of a far more de-centred constellation.

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