The EU’s and Russia’s North
Pertti Joenniemi, Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen (IIS), email@example.com
Paper for presentation at the CEEISA/ISA International Convention, Budapest,
Hungary, June 26-28, 2003.
This paper is part of an EU-funded research project on “The European Union and Border Conflicts: The Impact of Integration and Association (SERD-2002-00144)
The enlarging European Union is advancing towards Russia’s borders, and the question is whether this stands out as a threat or an opportunity. Is Russia to be seen, in this context, as a major target for the Union’s export of peace or does the encounter rather amount to a clash between two rather different logics and self-understandings that do not tie in with each other? These are questions significant particularly for the part of Northern Europe and the Russian North-West as, with enlargement, the encounter is especially valid across Russia’s north-western borders with Estonia, Finland as well as Latvia, and the enclave/exclave of Kaliningrad drawing also Lithuania and Poland into this constellation. They are, however, also of a broader significance. The question of “What is Russia’s place in Europe” is intimately tied up with the issue of “What is Europe and where does it come to an end”, and the unfolding of the European constellation is, in one of its aspects, linked to how borders and bordering is comprehended.
Russia has not ranked very high on the EU’s agenda, nor has Russia – until recently – been very concerned about the EU. The Union has aspired for somewhat closer relations, as evidenced by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) and the Common Strategy. The aim has been one of promoting structural economic reforms in order to contribute to the emergence of a functioning market economy; to promote flows of trade and investment; and to help bind Russia into a closer and more productive two-way political relationship with the West (Gowan 2000:21). The endeavor could also be seen as one of trying to ‘Europeanize’ or ‘civilize’ Russia. As to borders, the aim has at least on declaratory level been one of avoiding the emergence of new dividing lines, albeit in reality the emphasis has been on trying to protect external borders without hindering legitimate transactions and travel. The Union has, on the one hand, departed from a set of rather uniform policies that equally apply to Russia but has also, on the other hand, pursued region-specific policies that might allow for special arrangements and exceptions. The insistence on the Schengen Convention rules pertains to the first category whereas the EU’s Northern Dimension initiative stands for the latter.
Russia has, for its part, adopted a basically positive view on the EU and the ‘shared values’ of democracy, respect for human rights and individual liberties as spelled out in a number of joint documents. The level of engagement as well as awareness about the essence of the EU has left much to be hoped for, but basically Russia has pursued constructive policies. The views on the EU’s border policies variegate in a similar manner: there are hopes that the lowering of borders would energise some of Russia’s North-western regions but there are also fears that the Union’s enlargement will lead to political encirclement and exclusion, and consequently banishment to the fringes of Europe. The latter type of fears turned particularly distinct in the context of the recent clash pertaining to Kaliningrad with the Russian leadership having pursued – at least temporarily - a rather confrontational policy vis-а-vis the EU. The episode indicated quite clearly worries about the enlargement being conducive to new economic and political divisions in Europe with Russia being pushed into a peripheral position.
Russia has in general favored uniform policies that treat the different parts of the country in a similar fashion, and has been worried about exceptions. The fear has been that such policies might bring about tensions, dividing lines and dissidence inside the country. The reactions to the EU’s Northern Dimension have been lukewarm (although the reading could also be that Russia is critical about the lack concrete content provided to the initiative, and is critical precisely because there is too little of factual regionalisation (cf. Aalto, 2002:156)), although on occasions Russia has also proposed localising solutions like developing Kaliningrad into a ‘pilot region’ for EU-Russian cooperation. As to Kaliningrad Russia has argued for open and porous borders with the semi-integration of Kaliningrad into the EU.
My aim here is to explore the meaning of borders and the conceptual lenses that the EU and Russia apply as to the border issues emerging in the context of the Union’s enlargement. Is the framing applied conducive to borders being conceptualised as zones of contact and seen as inviting for interaction or comprehended, instead, as a lines of exclusion and a site to be used in protecting oneself from external threats? The contention is not that the parties apply very coherent, easily detectable and uniform conceptual frameworks but it is yet argued that there is a certain pattern to be traced this then both explaining why some friction has emerged but also providing insight into why borders between the EU and Russia do in general not seem to constitute a major source of conflict.
What Kind of Entities?
Besides being different in size, amount of population as well as economic weight, the EU and Russia differ in terms of the processes underway: The EU is enlarging whereas Russia has shrinked with the demise of the Soviet Union and aspires for stability after considerable turmoil.
There are also significant qualitative differences in the sense that it is commonplace to comprehend the European Union as being intimately related to globalization. It is part and parcel of an age that renders strict territorial delineations and borders obsolete. The borders between the entities included become – much of the thinking goes – as useless as the medieval city walls when the feudal era came to an end (Denieul, 1997: 10).
Whereas the EU is placed in a postmodern category (cf. Ruggie 1993), Russia is taken to be rather modern in essence (Haukkala, 2003: 276). The EU governance has multiple tiers, there is a considerable dispersion of powers between the local, regional, national/federal, European and international domains. Legal sovereignty is dispersed and the economic structures are highly internationalized, as are many non-governmental activities. Subjective identities of the individual are becoming multiple, and the internal perimeters are highly permeable, even non-existent for many practical purposes (cf. Emerson, 2002: 7). Concepts such as ‘shared sovereignty’ or ‘reducing the importance of borders’ are not seen as representing a threat to the EU’s identity.
Russia, on the other hand, remains rather sovereignty-geared and similar conceptualizations and departures are thus in a Russian reading – particularly within the influential ‘realist’ and geopolitical schools (cf. Joenniemi and Sergounin, 2003) – seen as problematic, if not dangerous. They are taken to undermine established self-understandings in bringing about disharmony and lack of clarity. “Few in the Kremlin would have questioned the assumption that the sovereign state is the basic means of comprehensively organizing modern political life”, claims Andrey Makarychev (2000:26).
It has to be added, however, that the departures to be traced do not seem to lead to a constellation with the EU advocating open borders, ambivalent statehood and fuzzy spaces whereas Russia opts for rigid and protective arrangements in areas where the two entities increasingly encounter each other. On occasions it has, if fact, been Russia that has stood for open and inclusive solutions while the EU aspires for the establishment of rather firm and largely exclusive borders. Kaliningrad is a case in point with Russia advocating a continuance of the openness that was there for quite some time in the aftermath of the Cold War. Russia has also adopted an assertive stance in opting for a dismissal of visas in the relation between Russia and the EU, and aspires thereby de facto for an inclusion in the Schengen system. In the case of Kaliningrad Russia seems to be able to live with being basically compelled to adapt to the EU-rules. And more generally, there are no clear signs that the lack of a far-reaching meeting of minds in border-related issues would lead to a vicious circle of mutual expectations in the EU-Russia relations (Haukkala, 2003: 276). As to Kaliningrad, a system is being put into place and implemented based on an agreement between Russia and the EU, this indicating that compromises are possible. The EU’s stress on borders conducive to co-operation as well as cross-border contacts, and yet protective in view of the various adverse effects such as international crime, illegal immigration and illicit drugs and arms trade, appears to meet some understanding. One may doubt whether Russia is eligible for inclusion into the Schengen system through a skipping of visas, but the Russian proposal for joining in appears to indicate in any case that the logics of the two entities as to borders and border practices are not that far from each other. To the extent the border issues reflect a contest over order between the EU and Russia – as argued by Pami Aalto (2003: 256) – it tends to be a relatively mild contest.
3. The Union’s Approach
More particularly, the European Union is, as to one of the underlying logics, essentially a peace project. This is also reflected in the Union’s approach to borders. Borders are not seen as inhibiting the terrain of classical geopolitics, of state versus state, and of war and peace, or geographical territory understood as a power resource. The policies pursued do not aim at drawing lines in order to allocate territories or to inscribe a new order among states or, as stated by William Walters (2002:564): “Schengen is not about political power understood as confrontations between territorial power containers” (see also O’Down and Wilson 1996; Rupnik 1994).
Thus, in the context of the enlargement process, the EU strives to expand its ‘area of freedom, security and justice, in order to create what the president of the EU Commission, Romano Prodi calls: ‘a wider European area offering peace, stability and prosperity to all: a new European order’ (quoted in Grabbe 2000: 519). The aim is one of doing away with the borders inside the Union, one effortlessly traversed by the flows of capital, goods and people, and to avoid the emergence of sharp and divisive borders at the outer edges of the Union. Yet, the outer borders are conceptualised as regulatory instruments necessary for the delineation of the internal sphere of freedoms. Whilst internal borders are losing in significance, emphasis is increasingly laid on the external perimeters. There is, in this sense, a ‘double move’ (Walters 2002:561) with the effort of establishing internal freedoms being accompanied by a set of political anxieties about the ability of borders to keep out various ills such as crime, illegal migration and terrorism (Andreas and Snyder 2000; Geddes 1999; Koslowski 2001). Similar moves and concerns also label the northern borders of the Union and in particular those with Russia (Eskelinen et. al. 1999) as a likely permanent outsider.
Over the recent year the EU has been increasingly riding on the assumption that the Union should have an all-encompassing, continuous external border, one operated on the basis of a uniform set of departures. The aspiration has certainly been there, and to some extent it has been successful, although it seems still true to argue that the Union continues to aspire for ‘variable geometry’ rather than uniformity, and this is visible also in the sphere of border policies. There is Schengen Accord but there are also Schengen-related opt-outs (UK, Ireland) and there are non-member opt-ins (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). Some countries move faster in the implementation with the Amsterdam Treaty allowing for ‘flexible integration’. Moreover, the accession agreements with candidate countries (the agreements with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are of particular importance as to Northern Europe and border policies vis-à-vis Russia) imply that that the EU norms and policies extend well beyond its EU member states. The upshot of all this is, as stated by Christiansen and Jørgensen (2000: 74): “that there is no single border to the EU complex that might be said to delimit a single administrative space, defining at one stroke population, territory and raison d’être of the policy. Instead, membership and space which are defined by different policies overlap. The walls ‘erected’ by individual policies intersect”.
It is also to be observed that there is no single, overarching policy center in charge of the EU's border policies. As argued by Stetter (2000), decision-making with regard to such issues as immigration, asylum, policing, juridical cooperation, and crime prevention is not located in a new European state, per se, but in the intersection of governmental and supranational institutions and their dynamics, mostly now housed within the EU (see also Walters 2002:568). There appears to be different interpretations whether the Union’s border policies are to be seen as having broken out of any modern constraints (as evidenced by the frequent talk about a Europe whole and free, with no more Berlin walls), or whether the modern logic is still there influencing the policies pursued. Some argue that the growth of supranational and regional influences in border control and immigration policies constitute one aspect of a wider “loss of sovereignty” for the state under globalizing conditions (Sassen 1996:11-12) whereas others claim that borders are still valued by political authorities, and that we are far from departing the logics of sovereignty and modern statehood (Hardt and Negri 2000:xi-xii).
Christopher Browning (2002) has been able to straighten out the record in a study on the EU’s policies vis-à-vis Kaliningrad. He points out that the Union is struggling with two conflicting aims. On the one hand it aims at preventing the infiltration of crime and illegal immigration from the Russian enclave in order to be able to preserve its internal freedoms. On the other hand the aim is one fostering the Union’s external security as well as enhancing the EU-Russian relationship by providing Kaliningrad - an entity part of Russia but increasingly marooned within the EU - with open and porous borders (with Lithuania’s and Poland’s membership Kaliningrad turns into an enclave inside the Union with the border practices being EU-practices, and EU separating Kaliningrad from mainland Russia). This is done in order not to restrict the Oblast’s freedom and to isolate it from its environs as well as from mainland Russia.
The Union has clearly prioritized its internal security, and acts in this sense very much according to a modern logic: “the Kaliningrad question becomes one of how best to manage the boundary, not to overcome it”. This logic, Browning claims, stands in clear tension with the widespread view that the EU’s raison d’être is that of securing peace within Europe, the achievement which has been frequently applauded”. The Union’s aim, in order to overcome Europe’s divisions, has been one of promoting cross-border networks as well as multiple overlapping local, regional and European identities to meliorate the exclusive nationalisms of the past. Internally – he remarks – the result of an avoidance of a major clash above all between France and Germany has been the emergence of a ‘neomedieval/postmodern’ space in which the nation-state divide between borders and governance has become increasingly fuzzy, the aim being to lock peoples of the EU into a sense of common destiny.
However, whilst the understanding of the EU as a peace project has resulted in a certain postmodernisation of the EU internally, Browning contends that this is not the case as to the Union’s external relations. With the outside being seen as unstable and potentially threatening, the EU has tended to conceptualise its outer edge in rather modernist ways. The security of the insiders and those of the outside is disconnected by claiming that the outsiders have to sort out their own problems. The needs of the Kaliningraders are perceived as being different from those of the EU. The peace-policies, in their original form, are restricted to the internal sphere and seen applicable as such and to be extended to the nearby regions. Moreover, adopting localized and regionalised solutions for example in the context of the Northern Dimension is precluded. There is an inability to think in truly regional terms as the Union fails, Browning argues, to comprehend the people in Northern Europe as equal. With a distinction in ‘us’ and ‘they’ and the consequent bordering, regional solutions are seen as potentially opening the EU subjectivity to contamination from the Russia side, in this case Kaliningrad, and instead the only option is to press for uniform and unambiguous policies. The border turns, in this context, to a first line of defence, including among other things that the applicant countries are required to apply the Schengen acquis and to shore up their Eastern borders with non-members. Kaliningrad, Browning notes, brings this tension in the EU’s external relations – between the Union’s desire to fulfill its peace mission and the negative effects of its desire for modernist exclusionary borders to protect itself from external threats – to the fore (as Kaliningrad eludes, due to its position as a case in-between and as a small Russia increasingly inside the Union, any neat approaches): “The consequence of this perceptual frame, however, may actually be to undermine peace and stability in Europe”, he concludes.
In order for the EU to be fateful to its peace mission, different conceptual lenses would be required. The application of postmodern/postsovereign departures, different solutions and opportunities will likely arise. Browning asserts that the traditionally tight links between the understandings of sovereignty, territory, governance and identity that imbue what he calls the internal/external security dilemma through which the EU currently approaches the Kaliningrad issue should be loosened up. This is, however, no small feat: “…the opportunity for creating a genuine border region, in which the EU’s border will become reconceptualised as a contact zone and invitation for interaction rather than line of exclusion, may well arise, a development, however, that would also entail a significant reconfiguration of EU governance and subjectivity more generally”. In other words, a rather loose and spatial self-understanding boils in the end down to a territorial self-entanglement with rather controlled either/or-type of borders as a result.
Browning appears to be quite right about that the framework of internal/external security draws on and reproduces rather modernist understandings of subjectivity, central to which is the notion that subjects require clearly demarcated territorial spaces and borders over which they exercise sovereign control. And this conflation of identity, territory and sovereignty in turn tends to lead to the reification of selfhood to the negative characterisation of those outside the borders of the EU as potential threats to EU’s security. In other words, the peace project comes to a halt and is restricted to the internal sphere. Consequently, the Union is not able to project its peace-related identity across the new borders. This shortcoming and restraint shows itself clearly in the case of Kaliningrad, but has implications for the discourse on borders with Russia more generally.
The Union is basically treating Russia as a rather monolithic entity. Hence the Common Strategy and the PCA are seen as the essential tools and platforms utilised in dealing with Russia and in the devising of a ‘strategic partnership’. In essence, the effort is one of drawing Russia (albeit passively and without investing much in this effort) into the sphere of EU’s approaches and policies of ordering. The tools available envisage the creation of a common socio-economic space and a free market area, but decline to present any timetable or practical means of attainment of these goals (Aalto 2002: 153). These two approaches set some general goals but they are, on the whole, far less institutionalised (and the regionalist Northern Dimension is even more diffuse) than the Schengen policies. Locally the regionalising discourses are rather strong in northern Europe (with the Council of Baltic Sea States, the Euro-Arctic Barents Council and the Arctic Council as results and with the EU Commission onboard most of them), whereas the EU has prioritised universalising discourses and remained rather passive vis-à-vis the more region-specific endeavors. The Union has thus also refrained from developing any regionalising policies in relation to the relevant Russian regions such as Karelia, Pskov, St. Petersburg and Leningrad regions as well as Murmansk. In sum, it could be concluded that the EU has not been particularly forthcoming as to Northern Europe and Russia in particular as to joint and unifying conceptualisations. There has been some negotiation but not much of a true dialogue. The clash on Kaliningrad demonstrated with particular clarity that the EU and Russia are still quite far from each other, although also the conflicts have remained limited. The prevailing state of affairs has been depicted by David Gowan (2000:13) as follows: “…the EU and Russia have been talking past each other, but at least they do so in the same room”.