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It is known that the term “New Europe” circulates at least since 1916 when Tomas Masarik has launched a journal, and afterwards published a book under this title.

The most recent comeback of the “New Europe” discourse was made in 2003 by the U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld. By labeling France and Germany an “Old Europe”, the American commentators ascribe to them not only reluctance to support US-led military operations, but also an inclination to protectionism and reluctance to modify their economies to be competitive. In response to a critical article written by Derrida and Habermas, Paul Kennedy has described the “Old European countries” as “laggards in handling the global challenges”1308.

The polarizing effects of Rumsfeld’s enunciation within the United States are obvious. The reinterpretation of the “New Europe” as countries that want less integration and a stronger alliance with the United States was rebuffed by many commentators as “provocative” and “off-the-cuff remark”1309.

The “New Europe” concept contains both modernist and post-modernist features. On the one hand, it is very much in tune with traditional Realpolitik and Westphalian worldview. Yet on the other hand, it is open to reinterpret the role of margins as increasingly important international subjects.

4.1. The New or the New Regionalism?

In the European discourse, a number of readings of the “New Europe” could be distinguished. For the first, starting from the end of 1980s, the New Europe is connoted with an area in which the institutionalized frameworks of sub-regionalism have emerged, displacing old East-West divides1310. The New Europe is 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, to be in the center, to avoid being in the periphery”1311.

This conceptualization renders to the New Europe an obvious temporal context that presumes that the most important “other” in the construction of a European identity is Europe’s own past1312. The “New Europe”, in Pertti Joenniemi’s reading, is an anti-hegemonic, de-politicized project grounded in economy, communication and technology. In his view, the “old” principles of construction of Europe were connoted with modern-era ideas of state-centrism, centralization and homogenization. The transition to a hypothetical “New Europe” implies the overcoming of nation-state “architecture” of sovereignty pertaining to the traditional territorial state1313.

In fact, this reading of the New Europe is heavily grounded in the ideas of the “New Regionalism” which “contrasts with centralist, statist and security-obsessed attitudes that stress the primacy of national sovereignty and regional hegemony”1314. The concept of “New Regionalism”, conflated with a peculiar conceptualization of the New Europe, is premised upon regionalization “from below”, an extroverted form of regional arrangements open to the winds of globalization. In particular, the New European North, described as one of new “circles of internationalization”, has considerably contributed to the attempts of unifying “the whole Europe instead of strengthening the old historical division of Europe into the Roman and Byzantine parts”1315.

In Bjorn Hettne’s opinion, it was the decline of the US hegemony and the breakdown of the communist system that created a room in which the New Regionalism could develop to invite the participation of actors other than the state, including a plethora of non-governmental institutions and social movements1316. The neo-regionalism built on networks of interdependence “defies the centralizing tendencies” and “deviates from traditional conceptualizations and coordinates of politico-economic space in favoring some spots and omitting the significance of others”1317. Under the modality of “New Regionalism”, regional identities appear to grow, borders tend to lose their formerly dour significance, and the market-run networks prevail in the economic scene1318. The gist of the New Regionalism has much to do with the ideas of globalization, multilevel governance and discrepancies between the administrative and economic borders1319.

The temporal understanding of the New Europe thus treats it as an emergent entity1320, or as a set of new ideas of European-ness. In particular, the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen refers to the “New Europe” as a concept applicable to the whole continent1321. This argument is in perfect line with the “Charter for a New Europe” signed in Paris in November 19901322. In this interpretation, “the New Europe will have several important new actors outside the EU, like Russia, Ukraine and Belarus”, which opens the perspectives of its inevitable polarization1323. Henceforth, the basic challenge for the “New Europe” is not to integrate the similar countries but to accommodate differences. This is exactly this reading that Russia strives to support and enhance.

Secondly, there is a geopolitical reading of the New Europe that seems to be much closer to the American conceptualization. It prioritizes NATO as “an institution which ensures the commitment of the United States to the Europeans and, indeed, to their security”1324. Unlike the patterns of “New Regionalism”, the idea of “New Europe” in its geopolitical modality is about taking sides and making a political choice; it is also about military strength and power. It is within this logic that for countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the United States stand out as a model of a good society as seen through the lens of the neo-liberal economic philosophy and the concept of free society in the American meaning of the word.

Therefore, a conflation of two understandings of what is new in contemporary Europe has to be noted. The differences between them are shown in the table given below.

New Europe (U.S.-imposed version)

New Regionalism (European interpretations)

Relations with state

State-centric and divisive

Stretches beyond the system of states

Principles of construction of region

Mostly top-down


Concept of security

Hard security

Soft security

The role of outside actors

The reassertion of the U.S. hegemony

Developed as a by-product of American decline

Before concluding this sub-section, two preliminary conclusions may be drawn. First, the “New Europe” seems to be a rather competitive space. Following Poland's announcement of the ED initiative, Lithuania has started to think about presenting itself as a political leader of the Baltic Sea region. The Lithuanian quest for leadership is underwritten by the functioning of the «Vilnius – 10 group», «Northern Baltic 8» caucus, and the «3 plus 3» initiative that is aimed at establishing institutional links with the Caucasian republics. What is revealing is that, in Grazina Miniotaite's interpretation, «neither Estonia nor Latvia could attain the role of the region's leader because of their complicated relations with Russia»1325.

Second, the “Old vs. New Europe” debate is largely about the discursive construction of Europe, including the definition of its borderlines and the format of center-periphery relations1326. This is at this point that the “Old Europe” concept to some extent intersects with a theory of marginality developed by Noel Parker. American vision implies that what traditionally used to be considered as the core of Europe becomes irrelevant and incapacitated; in the meantime, the territories that used to be treated as margins are strengthening their credentials1327. In contrast to this interpretation, France and Germany seem to adhere to more traditional pro-core standpoint which is in line with Wallersteinian vision of core-periphery relations.

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  • 4.1. The New or the New Regionalism