The Four Spaces: a Critical Reassessment of the Concept

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The Four Spaces: a Critical Reassessment of the Concept

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The Four Spaces: a Critical Reassessment of the Concept

The very concept of the Four Spaces contains a number of highly disputable – and, unfortunately, overlooked – dispositions to be analyzed further in some detail.

The very concept of the Four Spaces differs from other typologizations of the EU priorities – called otherwise “incentives” and “objectives” - which might be found in different EU-produced documents. The table given below illustrates the somehow confusing multiplicity of the EU approaches to interaction with Russia:

985986987988Four Spaces


National Indicative Programme (NIP) 2002-2003, RF

Wider Europe- Neighborhood (WEN)

New Neighbor-hood Instrument (NNI)

European Neighbor-hood Policy (ENP)

Economic Space (EcS)

The implementa-tion of PCA, Common Strategy and the Northern Dimension

Extension of the internal market and regulatory structures

Promoting sustainable economic and social development in the border areas

Commit-ment to shared values

The Space of Freedom, Security & Justice (FSJ)

Trade and economic relations

Preferential trading relations and market opening

Environ-ment, public health, and fight against organized crime

A more effective political dialogue

External Security Space (ExS)

Political and security issues

Perspectives for lawful migration and movement of persons

Ensuring efficient and secure borders

Economic and social development policy

The Space of Research, Education and Culture (REC)

Nuclear safety

Cooperation to prevent and combat common security threats

Promoting local, “people-to-people” type of actions

Trade and internal market

Conflict prevention and crisis management

Justice and Home Affairs

Promotion of human rights, and cultural cooperation

Connecting the neighbor-hood

Integration of transport, energy and telecommuni-cation networks

People-to-people programmes

Investment promotion and protection

Firstly, what is of utmost interest in this table is different ways of grouping and re-grouping the most acute issues of bilateral agenda. For example, within the framework of the NNI, environment and organized crime are put together, while in the Four Spaces concept they are attributed to different “spaces”. In “Country Strategy Paper 2002-2006” security is coupled with “political issues”, which again differs from the approach developed within the Four Spaces framework.. In WEN, economic and security issues are divided into three separate groups – a fragmentation which never occurred neither before nor afterwards. Therefore, it is hard to reconcile different – if not divergent – visions of the EU posture vis-à-vis Russia.

Secondly, a high degree of overlaps and intermixtures between the Four Spaces could be easily detected. Here are the most noticeable examples:

  • the issues of trans-border cooperation are mentioned in both EcS and FSJ;

  • information society is part of REC, ES and – reportedly – ExS;

  • transparency issues are discussed within the frameworks of both EcS and FSJ;

  • economic categories (business, entrepreneurship, labour market, etc.) are employed for describing the contents of both EcS and REC;

  • media is included into both FSJ and REC;

  • part of security-related problems (like safety of transportation) is attributed to EcS;

  • movement of people is split between both REC and FSJ.

Moreover, there is much overlap between the 4Fs concept and other documents approved earlier. For example, the issues related to corruption and “shadow market” operations are extensively covered by the Plan of Common Actions in Fighting the Organized Crime accepted in March 2000 within the framework of the EU – Russia Cooperation Council. These multiple intersections could be interpreted as evidences of a lack of conceptual precision and clarity as far as internal structure of each of the Four Spaces is concerned.

Thirdly, much of the criticism could be attributed to security concept as exposed in the Four Spaces framework. The very divide between the “domestic security” (named merely “security”) and “external security” appears to be questionable. This distinction is blurred by the fact that a number of key issues – like terrorism, minority protection or discrimination of ethnic groups – are simultaneously mentioned in the two security-related “spaces” (ExS and FSJ).

Yet more important is that Security in this interpretation turned into another “empty signifier” – “within a certain transferential illusion, it is supposed that anything can be inscribed into it. The other side of semiotic emptiness is fantasmatic fullness”989. This post-structuralist theoretical observation could be applicable to “domestic security” coupled with Freedom and Justice: the space it is supposed to occupy seems to be unduly large, to include a long list of segments, from intolerance to crime. Moreover, it is scarcely explainable why Justice and Freedom, the two most value-ridden concepts mentioned within the framework of the Four Spaces, are attributed exceptionally to (domestic) security. Does it say that justice and freedom are less relevant for economy or humanitarian affairs? This (mis)placement might be interpreted as an alleged indication of irrelevance of Justice and Freedom to the economy, or to external security.

The triad “Freedom – Security – Justice” seems to lack due precision and therefore is open to different interpretations. One of them could be found in an idea of de-securitization: according to this logic, this semantic triangle was designed as a means of subordinating Security to the values of Freedom and Justice, instead of deploying it within a political framework as it was the case earlier990. This move could result in a kind of semantic dissolution of Security and, hence, de-securitization and de-politicization. This argument seems to be very much in tune with Ian Manner’s formulae “desecuritization through democracy”, “desecuritization through governance”, “desecuritization through integration” and “desecuritization through normalization”991. Perhaps, this row may be complemented by a “desecuritization through depoliticization” chain.

There could be, in the meantime, a second reading: this “space” is meant to produce a justice-based security order fostering – in the long run - freedom. In this interpretation, the whole triad may look like a response to those who blame the EU for thinking and acting in terms of “emergency culture” and “state of exception”.

Finally, a third interpretation is possible – that one placing Security somewhere in-between Freedom and Justice, or, put it differently, between promoting/fostering a variety of communicative flows and controlling/constraining them. Therefore, Security could be regarded as a key notion reconciling the two opposing approaches to a variety of social and economic exchanges and interactions, as a compromising result of intersection between the imperatives of Freedom and Justice.

Fourthly, some questions may arise with some of ideas missing in the Four Spaces concept. One of them is an idea of “social space” introduced in 1999992 but then seemingly left aside. It remains unclear whether the social is supposed to be included into the FSJ. Economic and social dimensions are otherwise mentioned in a row, but here they seem to be detached from each other. One may assume that the symbolic loss of the social may eventually result in a loss of the political, leaving undue space for purely technical solutions.

Moreover, the hottest points existing in the EU – Russia relations are bypassed in the Four Freedoms conceptualization. These include, for instance, ecological standards that appear to be a highly divisive issue. Russia was very critical to the attempts of Finland and Sweden to impose their navigation standards – basically those regulating the environmental sustainability of oil tankers - upon other countries993. Russia has also expressed her disagreement with the idea of turning the Baltic Sea into a special ecological area, arguing that environmental concerns should not restrain economic activity994. What stood behind Russian resistance is her fear to be either marginalized or eliminated from the major transportation routes.

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