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THE FOUR SPACES AND THE FOUR FREEDOMS: AN EXERCISE IN SEMANTIC DECONSTRUCTION OF THE EU DISCOURSE
Knowledgeable people will certainly confirm how intricate and ambiguous is the language of the EU officials. How one can explain, for example, that the EU relations with Russia are expected to be “strengthened”, while relations with Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus ought to be “enhanced”944? How one can discern – with a certain degree of intelligibility - a semantic difference between “the strategic partnership” and a “reinforced relationship”945 in reference to one country - Russia, especially when both notions are mentioned in a single document? How exactly one can find a logical difference between two semantic “twins” - “the overall aim” and “the ultimate objective”946, again utilized interchangeably in a single text, then leading to a sudden and quite ironic appearance of a hybrid notion of “overall objective” (a combination which leaves aside for some reason another possible constellation – “ultimate aim”)?
The uncovering of precise meaning of key notions lavishly employed in the EU documents concerning the whole spectrum of relations with Russia is a hard job. For example, there is some uncertainty in the usage of “instrument” as an operational concept in EU’s policies towards its immediate neighbours, including Russia. ‘Instrument’ is widely conceived as “a new mechanism for financing trans-border cooperation between Member States and neighbouring countries”947. Yet another – and arguably competing - interpretation equates instruments with Association Agreements signed by the EU with its neighbours948. In a different context instruments are referred to much more general issues such as market opening, regulatory convergence, trade facilitation and infrastructure network development949. The general picture may become even more astonishingly fragmented as soon as one accepts another version of “instruments” as “technical assistance and twinning”950.
In this paper I insist that the terminological mess partly depicted above is not a matter of mere incompetence or simple coincidence; it has to be faced as a constitutive element of the EU discursive strategy of uncertainty, which presupposes leaving as much room as possible for different interpretations of basic concepts that form the background of the EU – Russia relations. The stricter is the definitional apparatus, the fewer possibilities are in a possession of diplomats for manoeuvering and keeping options open. And vice versa, the elasticity of key definitions offers ample opportunities for everlasting re-invention and re-reading of key concepts, which might be a comfortable practicality in situations of multiple choices.
There are two major sources of methodological inspiration that were used in this analysis. Firstly, in this paper I apply the approaches dating back to Michel Foucault to the sphere of the EU – Russia connections. In a Foucauldian sense, the research tasks would be to find out the rules and conditions that predetermine the formation of certain statements pertinent to the topical area under question; to uncover the hidden intentions staying behind the various discourses; to fix the semantic boundaries of these discourses; to understand their correlations and interconnections with each other; to explain what traces were left by these discourses and how these traces could be utilized and re-utilized in political purposes; to comprehend how the discourses under considerations are institutionalized, publicly accepted or rejected/criticized; to see how the groups of statements re-organize the pre-existing fields composed of diverse discursive elements, and how they draw new lines of inclusion and exclusion.
This paper also ventures to explain the institutional deficiencies in the EU-Russia cooperation through discourse analysis. In Foucauldian terms, discourses converge with social practices, they are revealed in a set of social relations that change due to discourses themselves. Arguably, it is definitional inconsistencies that are conducive to policy imperfections and failures. This is also a Foucauldian approach grounded in pointing to close inter-correlations between discourses, on the one hand, and social institutions, types of behaviour, expectations, demands and practices, on the other. Policy-makers might be easily disoriented and misled by multiple ambiguities embedded in official texts, while the EU – Russia communication may turn into an imitation of cooperation: in a felicitous remark of Michael Emerson, “the EU pretended to be constructing a set of common European policy spaces with Russia, and Russia pretended to be converging on common European values”951.
Secondly, the reading of the EU official discourse on Russia through Foucauldian lenses seems to be quite compatible with the ideas developed by Yurii Lotman, known as a founder of the Tartu-based school of semiotics. In particular, I found quite relevant Lotman’s understanding of the language as a certain code which the recipient uses as a tool to decipher the messages addressed to him/her. Therefore, the process of communication envisions a set of rules for both “speakers” and “listeners”. Of particular interest is the indication to the fact that one text may contain a number of meanings – supposedly, a more professionally prepared reader will be able to discern in it a lot more than an “ignoramus”952.
I’ll venture to demonstrate that a combination of two traditions in discourse analysis – dating back to Foucault and Lotman – opens a good perspective for research in the EU discourse on Russia.
Semantic Couples as a Discursive Tool
That the EU does not speak with a single language while dealing with Russia is a matter of fact which could be easily testified. However, the key question remains: is this evident discursive ambiguity a sporadic and uncontrollable result of the EU bureaucratic machinery tending to produce a variety of loosely defined concepts, or it has to be considered as an intentional way of what could be hypothetically called “managing the uncertainty”, or – in other words - using different discourses for different scenarios which are being (or might be) considered.
The first type of explanation appears to be too facile. My point, largely inspired by the texts of Michel Foucault, is that there are no useless or meaningless phrases and sentences; each of the discursive elements is destined, in one way or another, to play a certain role which needs to be unpacked and, perhaps, re-signified. Sometimes behind rather simple and obvious wording one can uncover a hidden meaning. It is in this sense that statements are usually open for multiple – and frequently competing – interpretations, being built into certain types of articulations. Within these articulations, statements (“order-words”953) are given their status and an expanse for circulation, they become capable of entering other semantic fields (or, in Foucauldian vocabulary, “archeological territories”) and serving certain political purposes. For example, Russia could be called “an important partner” or a “strategic partner”, semantically depending on a political situation, while the idea of “strategic partnership” - officially announced yet still open for multiple interpretations - could be easily reduced to a mere “fruitful cooperation”954.
Ambiguity was always inscribed into the realm of the EU – Russia official documents. The following statement seems to be extremely indicative of this state of affairs: the bilateral trade regime, according to the texts of the 12th summit in Rome (2003), has to be “based on common, harmonized or compatible rules”955. What is telling in this phrase is that the three different modalities of economic relations were mentioned in a single row, turning the whole statement into a sort of universal menu in which everyone is free to choose an option of his/her own liking.
Another perfect manifestation of this uncertainty is a formula of interaction once offered by the EU to its neighbours: “more than partnership and less than membership”956. This enunciation invites for at least two types of interrogation. First of all, it seems to reduce the very concept of partnership which seems to loose its spirit of preferentiality: in a literal sense, the neighbourhood policy has to be considered as something more important than partnership arrangements. Secondly, in this semantic scheme, partnership and membership represent two poles of an unspecified spectrum of policy options open for consideration. It is not quite clear however what lays inside of it: traditional “external actions”957, a policy of proximity, good-neighborhood relations, or perhaps something else.
The status of Russia herself as a partner country may be put under question as well. Here is another telling quotation: “Should Russia become a democratic and co-operative partner, it can contribute significantly to building stability and prosperity in the region”958. Therefore, the partnership arrangements are not unconditionally taken by the EU for granted, as the title of PCA suggests; they are subject to political conjuncture. In the same text one may discover that cooperation could be of different types: “close”, “confident”, “consistent”, etc. The “policy of adjectives”, based upon diversification of key concepts, is meant to expand the EU operational capabilities in order to be ready and able to pick up the definition it feels appropriate at a certain moment.
In fact, from the very beginning of 1990s, there were two different discursive strategies inscribed in what conventionally is regarded as the EU Russian discourse. These two strategies are differently structured and, what is more important, are coined for different political purposes. This discursive cohabitation is nicely reflected in the very title of the “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement”. Few commentators noticed that the title itself contains a sort of uncertainty incarnated in a tacit and alleged opposition between the two key words. One may wonder why both of them gave birth to famous PCA abbreviation. As soon as one logically admits that cooperation is simply a particular case of partnership, the simultaneous usage of the two terms would turn into a mere tautology.
Yet there could be an alternative (and less banal) explanation pointing to the intrinsically dual and ambiguous nature of the EU discursive approach to Russia. The “partnership and cooperation” couple could be therefore split/decomposed into two autonomous and self-sustaining types of discursive articulations. The table attached is meant to illustrate the divergence between the logic of partnership and that one of cooperation. Each of these two poles is to be viewed, on the one hand, as a “nodal point”, i.e. privileged discursive point of reference “that fixes the meaning of a signifying chain”959. Again, this is a Foucauldian move to identify the center of discourse (a locus where it is formed) and its periphery. On the other hand, these two poles are “floating signifiers”, i.e. political concepts open to interpretation and redefinition960, which each time ought to be filled with more or less specific chain of concepts.
Here are some other semantic couples which are easily identifiable in the EU documents:
As one may see, the first group of inter-related concepts reflects a more Russia-friendly discourse presupposing a pretty close state of bilateral relations (what I call for convenience ‘Discursive Strategy 1’). The second column of notions is most appropriate for a scenario of strained relations with Russia marked by less pronounced enthusiasm and much stronger reservations, if not doubts, concerning the perspectives of bilateral projects (‘Discursive Strategy 2’). In a Foucauldian approach, what unites these two types of “verbal realizations” is their focus on the same object, the more or less similar style of enunciation, and topical sustainability. The differences between the two are grounded, first, in the way their elementary details are tied to each other, which leads to different hierarchies of signs that constitute the discourse. Secondly, the internal logics and intentions that shape each of the two discourses seem to be also different.
The Foucauldian reading of the EU – Russian relations presupposes a number of important logical operations. One of them would be to find the points of equivalence between the two discourses. Different words, indeed, sometimes produce similar, if not identical meanings. This is the case of “reinforced” and “strengthened” relations, the two adjectives that could be used interchangeably to substitute each other without any visible harm to their semantics.
The second operation would be to identify possible points of incompatibility. The whole idea here is based on the fact that the same words could be attributed different meanings and, therefore, may belong to different discursive strategies. An appropriate example could be found in different interpretation of the nature of “pilot region” (as applicable to the Kaliningrad oblast) in Russia and the EU. The spread of self-consciously technical project-oriented discourses stands in contrast to the more political (at first glance) Russian discourses of ‘strategic partnership’, which located all major issues in EU-Russian relations in the domain of interstate, frequently bilateral, dialogue on the level of political leadership.
The third operation would be to define the status of the discursive strategies under consideration and the degree of their formalization. Using Foucauldian terminology, the EU – Russia “Four Spaces” discursive field could be located between the “threshold of positivity” (a stage of individualization and autonomization of discursive practices) and the “threshold of epistemologization” (a stage at which a certain group of statements tends to play a role of a dominant explanatory model). To put it differently, the Four Spaces discourse, still lacking due clarity and conceptual precision, aspires to hegemonize the field of the EU – Russia relations. A good indication of these discursive ambitions is the transformation of the Northern Dimension which is expected to become “the regional expression on the North of Europe of the four Common Spaces and their road maps”961.
The fourth operation would be to decompose the discourses we study into a number of “layers”. These may include: single/separate discursive elements (key words – see table above); concepts that predetermine strategic choices; new rules of forming the discursive practices. One concept, therefore, may unleash a chain of other related departures, the topic to be dealt with in more details below.
From Neighbourhood to Spatiality
This is within this context that the concept of “spaces” has to be deployed. The employment of the terminology of “spaces” seems to open a number of interesting research insights on how the discursive strategy of uncertainty looks like.
The problem with the spatial terminology is that it lacks a single discursive tradition. It is intuitively tempting to equate “space” with something open, de-bordered, indefinite, uncontested and indivisible. In this context, spatiality could be contrasted with territoriality, including a variety of its derivatives (like “zones”, “areas” and “spheres”) which are basically interest-driven and territorially-based concepts (for example, “spheres of influence”). Therefore, spatiality and territoriality, as two concepts, may be seen as opposing and contrasting each other: space appears to be a symbol of universality, while territory is a collection of regional singularities. Yet in the meantime, these two notions may at certain point converge and overlap, forming – paradoxically enough – a single mode of conceptualization. Spatiality, being part of post-structuralist discursive tradition, presupposes and is complemented by a kind of “topological” thinking which hinges on such concepts as ruptures, lines, surfaces, dimensions, etc. It is at this point that space-centric discursive practices generate the necessity of “road maps” as symbols of this “topological” approach.
Spaces, however, could bear different connotations; for example, Gilles Deleuze used to speak about “spaces of isolation” and “closed spaces”, those split by sectors962, while some of geopolitical thinkers interpreted space as a “framework of expansion”. Therefore, space could be called a “megametaphor”, or “ontological script meant to anchor conventional assumption about who are political agents, where are they based, what is political, and how they behave”963. “Regional spaces” are usually viewed in a very uncertain way, as areas that “have a certain degree of singularity, despite the non-existence of strong elements of any other sort that tie the agents”964. This is uncertainty that distinguishes spaces from a plethora of more specific “order-words”, like, for example, pillars.
Given the variety of semantic fillings, “space” admittedly turns into an “empty signifier”, permanently open for (re)interpretations and infusions of new meanings. The metaphor of space offers a good semantic frame that is compatible with both “dimensionalist” approach (the semantic link between spaces and dimensions was duly grasped, for example, by Michael Emerson965) and a more state-centric scheme of concentric circles and “binary borders”966.
Politically, spaces – as understood in the road maps of 2005 – are part of an optimistic “Discursive Strategy 1” identified earlier. This optimism is, nonetheless, of a very peculiar nature: thus, within the original EU-based conception of “Freedom, Security and Justice”, Russia was positioned as a source of danger, and not as a constitutive element of this “triangle”. Later on, as a gesture of radical re-signification, Russia was invited to join this initiative that, to repeat, earlier has envisaged the estrangement of Russia, or, in mildest terms, presupposed keeping her at a distance.
But semantically, spaces however are just a mere vague substitute for something common and shared, a catchword borrowed from academic milieu and implanted in a highly politicized soil. In this sense, the way spaces are understood in the sphere of the EU – Russia relations, appears – perhaps quite unexpectedly – to be rather close to a Foucauldian reading of space as a communicative, mental and semantic construct, a field where discourses are being formed and meanings produced. Spaces could be understood as laboratories that accumulate and spread ideas expressed as discursive constellations, identify points of incompatibility and equivalence of their elements.
It has to be recalled that the idea of “spaces” has appeared in the EU – Russia discourse in the aftermath of Moscow’s disavowal of her participation in the ENP (European Neighbourhood Policy). To officially recognize herself as a mere neighbour was a gesture of humiliation for Russia (a stance verbalized in a famous phrase pointing to the fact that Russia is not a Morocco). The irony was that Russia became the only country bordering on the EU that refused to recognize herself as its neighbour in the sense that Brussels attached to this word. Therefore, a substitution for the rejected neighbour status has to be quickly invented, unless the EU wished to keep Russia at a distance.
What is even more telling is that the transition from the ENP to the Four Common Spaces reveals the difference between the two forms of political subjectivity that Russia could think of. The ENP, to a certain degree, could be viewed as a failed “act of interpellation”: the EU called Russia a neighbour but she refused to recognize herself in this capacity. By this gesture of disavowal, Russia opted for a different pathway of gaining her subjectivity – not through accepting and legitimizing the EU’s interpellative call (and the symbolic identity attached to it), but through resisting to it. This is from here that the idea of “subjectivity through exception” comes from967. To put it differently, this is a certain form of exceptional arrangement (based upon Russia’s symbolic exclusion from the group of the EU neighbours) that forms and sustains Russia’s subjectivity vis-à-vis European Union.
Yet the “process of self-exception”968, as exemplified by Russia’s voluntary removal from the ENP area, was an incomplete one, since Russia has to find a right balance between stressing her individuality/peculiarity, on the one hand, and staying in close touch with the EU, on the other. By presenting herself as an exception in terms of the EU-developed neighbourhood policy, Russia had to simultaneously engage in a controversial game of inclusion and exclusion. The combination of these two dispositions rendered an interesting and somehow unexpected effect: the Four Spaces displayed the features of both exception and example. To illustrate this slightly provocative argument, let me refer to Giorgio Agamben: “if we define the exception as an inclusive exclusion, in which something is included by means of its exclusion, the example functions as an exclusive inclusion. Something is excluded by means of its very inclusion”969. Seen from this theoretical angle, the Four Spaces edifice manifests the characteristics of not only an exceptional institutional arrangement between the EU and Russia, but also that ones of an example, a model of integration to link two different entities, each one possessing its own subjectivity.
In particular, one may treat the road maps as a model in strictly Lotmanian sense – namely, as an analogue of reality (for Lotman, each discourse is not only a communicative but also a modeling system). Usually, in politics practical activities tend to be separated from “working with models”; yet there are situations which seem to avoid such a separation – these are game-related forms of communication between the subjects in question. It is within this context that we have to deploy the concept of “language games” involving – though in different roles - both the EU and Russia. Language games is “one of the pathways of turning an abstract idea into a form of behaviour/activity”970 and an epistemological instrument which allows for modeling a variety of encounters between the two subjects. The specificity of the game-ridden epistemology is rooted in a simultaneous activation of two types of behaviour – the first one has to acknowledge the limitations of the game-related conditionality, while the second one has to take the game situation as something reflecting practical dispositions of all parties included971. Arguably, the coming into being of the vocabulary of spaces was but a continuation of the language quibble rounded in the fact that the Four Spaces symbolic construct is based upon what might be called, following Zizek, “the central Void”. “The central element … has to remain empty in order to serve as the underlying organizing principle”972 of the discourse.
Therefore, the Four Spaces is, in a way, an inter-subjective construct. To put it differently, all of them are bi-centric (if not bicephalous) spaces, formally instituted by both Russia and the EU. On a deeper level of inquiry, the allegedly inter-subjective background of the Four Spaces could be grounded in and interpreted by a formula nicely described by Slavoj Zizek as “include me out”973. In similar terms of Giorgio Agamben, the nature of the Four Spaces could be understood as a peculiar case of “inclusive exclusion” which serves “to include what is excluded”. In other words, “what cannot be included in any way is included in the form of the exception”974. This is exactly what the whole conception of the Four Freedoms is about. It certainly has much to do with the “ordering of space that is, according to Carl Schmitt, constitutive of the sovereign nomos” in the form of “taking of the outside”, namely Russia.
The distinction between Russia and the EU, perceived in terms of a “chaos – cosmos” dichotomy, adds to this understanding. For Agamben, “since there is no rule applicable to chaos”, it must “be included in the juridical order through the creation of a zone of indistinction between outside and inside, chaos and normal situation”, which is conceptualized as “the state of exception”. To continue this logic, “the exception is what cannot be included in the whole of which it is a member” (Russia is geographically and culturally an undeniable member of the European family of nations and cultures) “and cannot be a member of the whole in which it is always already included”975 (Russia’s membership in the EU will evidently undermine the institutional structures of the Union). Interestingly enough, Russian political elite, according to a widely spread view, is eager to “become part of the EU without joining this union… to be almost within the EU but simultaneously to avoid having to fulfill orders given by it”976. Parenthetically, it could be noted that this logic of accommodation mirrors the EU strategy of presenting itself as the subject without taking political moves, as a key international player which in the meantime evades a great deal of responsibility for its actions.
In the meantime, a zone of exception could be conceptualized as something laying at the intersection of “localization” (i.e. sub-national regions’ activities) and “ordering” (i.e. the neighborhood policy of the EU). This zone “takes the shape of a free and juridically empty space in which the sovereign power no longer knows the limits fixed by the nomos as the territorial order”. Two readings of this “empty space” are possible. The first one may treat it as a gray zone dominated by shadow market operations widely spread in trans-border milieu. Yet in the second context, “the state of exception” could be understood in an innovative sense, as being synonymous with experimentation, piloting, and so on. Therefore, the application of Agamben’s approaches to the Four Spaces may offer a wider modality of exceptions, otherwise associated with predominantly negative connotations.
However, it seems unlikely that Russia feels happy about reaching this kind of compromise based on her exceptionality. Intuitively, Russia anticipates that the “New Neighborhood” idiom might in the nearest future efface the semantics of “Near Abroad”. Yet more important sources of Russian criticism are grounded in disagreements with the basic ideas of the Four Freedoms. What appears to be an inter-subjective construct, turns out to be used as an instrument meant for a sort of “subordinate adaptation”. In particular, some of Russian analysts deem that “the Common Economic Space is not really intended to foster further economic integration … but to make Russia accept certain rules and to force it into a certain framework”980. A similar viewpoint could be found in the European literature as well: “The mechanism of cooperation is simple: in return for effective implementation of reforms (including aligning national legislation with the EU acquis), EU will grant closer economic integration with the prospect of realizing the so-called Four Freedoms”981. According to a Finnish analyst, “the adoption of first the common European economic space and later the four common spaces can be seen as attempts to “operationalize” the rather monolithic and abstract obligation for Russia to harmonize its trade-related laws and rules with that of the EU acquis”982. Perhaps, the most intransigent position was taken by the Moscow-based Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) which lambasted the Four Freedoms for unilateral concessions from the Russian side, lack of legal precision, arbitrary interpretation of key terms used in the road maps, and procedural opaqueness. In SVOP’s opinion, the Four Freedoms are merely an intermediary stage in the EU – Russia relationship and reflect the lack of long-term vision in both Moscow and Brussels983. It appears that the philosophy of the Four Spaces, understood as a “package deal”, could be countered by a philosophy of “concrete, specific projects” advocated, in particular, by a task force led by the SVOP leading figure Sergey Karaganov.
A final point of interrogation could be raised. Both Russia and the EU are entities in a state of flux. In Vladimir Kaganski’s analysis, Russia herself is an example of unformed space, which needs to be reassembled. Though in a different sense, the EU is far from being based upon a well established spatial structure of governance. Therefore, one may wonder whether the two entities in transition are in a position to constitute a durable set of spatial arrangements. One of possible ways of conceptualizing this intricacy could be found in Jean Baudrillard’s supposition that in a situation of post-modernity, “map could take precedence of territory”984. In the context of our analysis one may reinterpret this statement in the following way: the function of the “road maps” is not that much to reflect or to fix a certain state of bilateral arrangements, but rather to incite the process of integration, and therefore to institute and incite the new integrative drive.
Yet, presumably, the Four Spaces inter-subjective perspective could have been analyzed in a different way – namely, as a situation of “inter-passivity”, a term coined by Slavoj Zizek. To certain extent, Russia yielded the political initiative to the EU, and in response received an alternative project with the Four Spaces at its core. The EU, from its part, made a proposal without clarifying its content, thus leaving further moves to Russia. Therefore, the Four Spaces symbolize both Russia’s subjection/subordination to the outside power and some degree of resistance to it.