Actors vs. Structures
Let me start with the first of these two demarcation lines. Supposedly, compulsory and connective types of impact are based upon a perception of the EU as a decision-making subject, while enabling and constructive patterns seem to focus on structural parameters of influence thus questioning the EU subjectivity. The problem looming large here is that these two perspectives require not only two different theoretical approaches but also two different vocabularies.
Semantic conflict between the two interpretations – actor-driven (“reductionist”) and structural – was nicely described by Alexander Wendt who argued that “it is impossible for structures to have effects apart from the attributes and interactions of agents. If that is right, then the challenge of ‘systemic’ theory is not to show that ‘structure’ has more explanatory power than ‘agents’, as if the two were separate, but to show how agents are differently structured by the system so as to produce different effects”90. This conceptual posture opens a number of new research perspectives that could in the future be picked up for further research.
An actor-driven perspective
An actor-driven perspective in fact equates the Europeanization process with the EU policies. In spite of its presumed simplicity and broad explanatory possibilities, it faces a problem of conceptualizing the very issue of actorship.
The basic intricacy here is that within the framework of trans-border relations, the EU may perform three functions simultaneously – that ones of actor (which could be self-evident), subject and agent. The Union is obviously an actor when it takes specific moves, either individually or in a coalition with other international organizations. Yet in a variety of occasions it seems more expedient to characterize the EU as a subject rather than a mere actor. However, there are two theoretical departures that have to be identified at this point.
Firstly, at certain points actors could be equated with subjects. It is expedient to refer to the interpretation given by Slavoj Zizek assuming that “subject emerges in an act of decision. Subject is the very agent which accomplishes the operation of hegemony”91. In a different occasion he reformulates this approach by saying that “in an act, I precisely redefine the very co-ordinates of what I cannot and must do”92. “Acts”, therefore, presuppose “the radical transformation of the very structuring principle of the existing symbolic order”93.
Unlike structures that technically apply certain rules, subjects do decide, and in this sense they are political entities. As political entities, they have to “engage in acts which can be authorized only by themselves, for which there is no external guarantee”94. The real act takes place when something emerges “which cannot be explained away as the outcome/result of the preceding chain”95. It is a “gesture that can no longer be accounted for in terms of fidelity to some pre-existing Cause, since it redefines the very terms of this Cause”96. In other words, “the Subject is the distance between the undecidability of the structure and the decision”97.
The “act proper” changes the identity of the subject. However, this is the very subjectivity of the EU that Russia tries to question through a variety of discursive moves to include the distinguishing between “false” and “true” Europe, fostering individual relations with countries like Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, and raising concerns about the possible institutional weakening of the EU after the 2004 enlargement.
Yet – and this is the second point - the problematization of subjectivity goes much farther. The post-structuralist literature has significantly challenged the conception of the subject as an independent unit capable of autonomously design its action and unilaterally define its system of external communications. Of particular help in this regard is Foucauldian heritage that “effaces the idea of the self-constituting subject”100. The concept of Foucault could be read in the following way: “the subject cannot be autonomous… The subject always sets off against a social background that influences him”101. What is important to note is that, according to this perspective, the discursive context is always embedded in both compulsory and connective types of impact – since “the subject is culturally constructed all the way down”, one may speak of “a plurality of subject positions, each of which is a function of the discourse that defines it”102.
What stems from this highly theoretical reflection is that in what we call an actor/subject-driven type of influence one may certainly find a niche for inter-subjective relations, an area where the EU communicates with its neighbours, including Russia, on an equal footing, at least recognizing the subjectivity of its interlocutor(s). Therefore, along with one-way influence grounded in the EU policies towards Russia, one may discern some reciprocity embedded in inter-subjective relations. Should we admit the plausibility of this theoretical departure, the whole picture of the EU – Russia trans-border relations might be complemented by new colors. For example, in the Kaliningrad issue Russia has made the EU to implicitly admit that the enlargement process is not a “peace project” by definition; rather it has to be viewed as a painful process of mutual accommodation and adaptation, in both political and legal realms.
Finally, there are situations when the EU – perhaps paradoxically - turns into an agent of other countries’ policies. This is the case of the EU playing a role of intermediary in the Russian – Latvian conflicts provoked by territorial claims from the part of Riga and by complaints about the rights of the Russian-speaking minority raised by Moscow. What is often overlooked in this conflictual disposition is that both parties – Russia and Latvia – intentionally tend to use Brussels as a pressure instrument against the other side. The EU, from its part, seemed to be eager to serve the policies of other countries through playing a variety of roles – that ones of an observer, a broker, or a peace maker, while leaving up to Russia and Latvia to strike the final deal104. This not only blurs the line between actors, subjects and agents but also elucidates a variety of roles that might be played by the EU.
The attached scheme visually presents this situation of multiple roles played by the EU as seen from the perspective of Russian – Baltic relations. Russia is accusing the Baltic countries (arrow 1) in violating the rights of the Russian – speaking communities and simultaneously is appealing to the EU (arrow 2) in search for an outside subject able to exert some influence upon Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. To some extent, it might be postulated that the EU, in Russian eyes, is an agent and at the same time a subject. From its part, the EU responds by integrating (arrow 4) the three Baltic nations into the Union and therefore making them comply with the EU regulations concerning ethnic minorities, on the one hand, and by influencing the Russian behaviour (arrow 3) in the direction of stimulating a more business-like attitude to her immediate Western neighbours, on the other hand. The EU subjectivity in this multi-vector realm is not taken for granted; rather it is conditioned by the availability of a critical mass of communicative and political resources that make the EU a recognized source of utmost influence upon the parties in conflict.
Being part of different structural arrangements, the EU may not act – in a conventional sense of this word – but in the meantime exercise influence by the virtue of its ontological existence, its very presence, even without taking particular actions. The EU evidently lacks any coherent and long-lasting policy towards the border-located regions of Russia, but it nevertheless remains a dominating subject which is necessarily taken into all accounts. The very fact of the EU geographical proximity incites a peculiar set of social demands in the regions of Russia’s North-West. The EU subjectivity is manifested, to a large extent, through a force of example. Discussions concerning a wide range of issues – like possible mergers between Russia’s subnational units, the structure of budgetary expenditures, people’s access to information – are heavily influenced by the vicinity of the EU. To put it differently, a great deal of domestic politics becomes inscribed into a web of Russia’s international obligations.
A good example of the EU influence upon the Russian regional identities could be found in the appearance of Russia’s “Northern discourse”, to a significant extent modeled after the ideas of Nordicity as developed in some of Scandinavian countries. This type of discourse may easily attract its adepts in Murmansk and Arkhangel’sk oblast, the republic of Komi and other Northern regions of Russia. A democratic message seems to be quite visible in repeated appeals to revive the North by concerted efforts of local people who are expected to concentrate their efforts and energies on developing the Northern expanses. This type of emerging discourse tries to find a compromise between globalization (in the form of envisioning a new “world order” based on a Northern way of life or thinking of a “Northern variant of globalization”) and regionalization (which comes up through such categories as inclusive trans-border cooperation and federalist ideas).
Presumably, structural type of impact may take at least two different forms. Both variants suggest “that laws and norms exercise a compliance pull of their own, at least partially independent of the power and interest which underpin them and which are often responsible for their creation”107.
Firstly, this is a networking influence that presupposes the existence of a horizontal community of actors (both governmental and non-governmental ones) with a shared agenda and common interest in fostering specific changes in Russia or elsewhere. Usually the networking type of influence leads to the appearance of “rules that do not have the status of law”108 – such as common understandings, mutual expectations, shared beliefs, etc. By and large, it corresponds to what might be called “a network sociality” where “the social bond at work is not bureaucratic but informational; it is created on a project-by-project basis, by the movement of ideas, the establishment of only ever temporary standards and protocols, and the creation and protection of proprietary information”109.
The networking type of influence could be analyzed on different levels and lead to different effects. On the one hand, it makes Europe part of what might be perceived, following the logic of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, as Empire which “establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers. Empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command”110. This reading of Empire as an “ontological fabric” operating though mobile, fluid and localized procedures seems to be rather close to the concept of “governance without government” which relies as well upon the similar structural logic which could have been related with the idea of the “Global Capital” as an anonymous machine moving, in terms of Zizek, without a particular Secret Agent pushing it forward111.
Yet on the other hand, the networking type of influence is heavily grounded in an idea of “New Regionalism”, which starting from mid- 1980s was connoted with an area in which the institutionalized frameworks of sub- and trans-regionalism have emerged, displacing and dismantling the old East-West divides. The “New Regionalism”, according to these lines of articulation, was believed to be not any longer about “sovereignty, military security, borders, cutting off from centers, etc. The main question is to link up, to be a part of, to participate…”112.
New Regionalism is, therefore, an anti-hegemonic, de-politicized project grounded in economy, communication and technology113 which “contrast with centralist, statist and security-obsessed attitudes that stress the primacy of national sovereignty and regional hegemony”114. The concept of “New Regionalism” is premised upon regional integration “from below”, an extroverted form of regionalism open to globalization. One may consent with Bjorn Hettne that it was the decline of the US hegemony and the breakdown of the communist system that created a room for “New Regionalism” to develop, thus inviting the participation of actors other than states, including a plethora of non-governmental institutions and social movements. The neo-regionalism built upon networks of interdependence defies the centralizing tendencies; regional identities appear to grow, borders tend to lose their formerly dour significance, and the market-run networks prevail in the economic scene115. The gist of the “New Regionalism” has much to do with the ideas of multilevel governance and discrepancies between the administrative and economic borders116.
The adaptability of networking to both global and local levels has as its effect the de-problematization of the opposition between center and margins in two ways. First, both tend to turn into continually “shifting positions, fleeing any determinate locations” 117. Second, the autonomy of localized administrative bodies does not contradict imperial administration – on the contrary, it aids and expands its global effectiveness”118.
Secondly, multiple/overlapping actorship influence could be added to the picture. Within its framework, the EU is part of a wider coalition of institutional actors (for example, the EU may act in parallel with the Council of Europe in projecting the values of open society, with WTO in fostering changes in Russia’s financial and economic legislation, or with NATO in a selected number of security-related issues). A group of German authors concede that “the Union must complement its current resources with resources from outsiders” and “is in need of external co-financers for its policy initiatives”119, including international and trans-national organizations (such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, etc.)
For example, there is a significant overlap between the EU policies towards Russia’s regions and the activities of the Association of European Border Regions in supporting the regional autonomy. Organizations like the Council of Europe are among few meeting points between Russian policy makers, on the one hand, and the representatives of the three Baltic States. The more such meeting points are accessible, the less the official Russian – Baltic relations are dominated by political and ideological discussions.
Examples of partner organizations may include Council on Cooperation of Border Regions, «Vilnius – 10 group», «Northern Baltic 8» caucus, and the «3 plus 3» initiative that is aimed at establishing institutional links with the Caucasian republics.
Trans-border region-building projects could be results of the European Union (EU) policy (the case of the Northern Dimension), may have been conceived by a non-EU country (Norway and its Barents-Euroarctic project), or stimulated from outside of Europe, namely by the United States (the Northern European Initiative.
Non-European actors are deeply involved in trans-border relations (including the U.S. and some international non-governmental organizations like Greenpeace). The EU is by no means the only force that impacts and redirects the policies of neighboring territories. For example, in the Pskov oblast the major institutional transformations were stimulated by establishing a Euroregion “Pskov – Livonia”, that was to a large extent designed and intellectually nurtured by the East – West Institute, the Soros Foundation and the Eurasia Foundation, all non-EU based «global» NGOs. The East – West Institute, by the same token, has sponsored a project pertaining to reforming of the budgetary relations in Pskov. The U.S. State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy have funded some of the NGO activities in the trans-border territories.
It would be erroneous, therefore, to equate all integrative developments in the regions bordering on EU members only with Europeanization as many non-European actors are involved to a comparable extent. In particular, to properly understand the policy priorities of Latvia and Estonia one has to recall that both of these countries are heavily influenced by the United States. As a part of an alleged «New Europe», Estonia, starting from 2004, has made some efforts to stretch its foreign priorities beyond the Baltic and Central Europe, and has shown some preliminary signs of establishing closer links with Caucasian states, in particular Georgia and Azerbaijan. The U.S. is interested in contributing to shaping the trans-border relations of the new NATO members with Russia. This has been evidenced by choosing Narva as a site hosting the first American Information Office located in the Baltic countries.
This state of affairs could be partly explained through Pami Aalto’s conceptualization of the EU as a “geopolitical subject in the making”, that one lacking a well formulated set of identity and interest projects120, and, concomitantly, often preferring to act internationally in a tandem with other organizations. Within the framework of this type of impact, the EU operates as a group actor, as part of what might be called, following the traditions of the English school, the international society.