Finland, the European Union, and the strategies of the Northern region
Regional categories such as the North are anything but apolitical and permanent. They more often provide overlapping frames for policies whose contents change over time. Regional actors themselves tend to struggle with space and public visibility, and the goal of strengthening a region’s profile is often a matter of conscious political strategy. Furthermore, as part of geopolitical strategies regions are defined on the basis of natural conditions, common history, and culture in a way which seeks to naturalise their existence, but which at the same time makes them open to interpretation (Mishkova and Trencsenyi, 2017). This chapter discusses how the notions of northernness and northern cooperation have been conceptualised in different phases of the European Union’s (EU’s) Northern Dimension (ND) policy, and how they relate to other definitions of northern regions in contemporary political discussion. The main material is comprised of interviews with officials and politicians who are working or have worked on the ND, as well as speeches of representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and parliamentary debates on the ND. The chapter seeks to recognise why certain regional definitions operate better than others and identify the factors which hold them afloat and push them aside in the context of geopolitical turns.
Northern Europe has been conceptualised in terms of its regional, political, and cultural relationship with the rest of Europe since ancient times. As the Iron Curtain came down, the reconceptualisation of Northern Europe accelerated both from within and outside the region. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the shift of Russia’s geopolitical interests towards the North, and EU and NATO enlargement increased international policy interest in Northern Europe. This created various strategies in the countries of the region to exploit the emerging opportunities and strengthen their position as part of a new Europe. Traditional regional delimitations, largely based on state borders such as Norden, the Nordic countries, and Scandinavia, were challenged in the political debate by new regional delimitations that went beyond the east-west divide and sought to create a stronger regional identity for the North (Aalto, 2006: 7-8; Joenniemi, 2000). The concept of the North began to emerge alongside and to replace Norden, which was considered to refer to the past (see e.g. Scott, 2009, 649-50): it was a broad, flexible, and modern definition of space that dismantled old categorisations and gave the expanding EU a new sense of actorness (Moisio, 2003: 82; Aalto, 2006: 7-8; Joenniemi, 2000: 126).
One of the new alternative ways of regionalising Northern Europe was Finland’s ND initiative, which became the official policy of the EU in 1999 (Heininen, 1998; 1999a: 64-5). The policy was renewed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland during Finland’s second EU Presidency (2006). The revised policy was intended to focus on EU-Russia cooperation, and it was based on the idea of a more equal special partnership in environmental, cultural, transport and logistics, and social and health care programmes. Originally, the ND was seen as Finland’s distinctive way of perceiving the North and branding itself as a new EU member state. In many ways this represented a separation from the traditional Norden thinking, which relied on the bridgebuilder role between the big international actors and the idea that peace, stability, and prosperity could be promoted by this enduring identity. As the concept of Northern Europe expanded in the 1990s with the Union’s eastern enlargement drawing attention to the Baltic Sea region, the debate on the ND shifted from the north-north focus of the early years towards the Southern Baltic and Poland. Jalava and Strath (2017: 51-2) maintain this was a serious attempt, especially by researchers, to reconceptualise Norden.
An important premise for horizontal Arctic cooperation is said to have been Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1987 Murmansk speech, which suggested opening the Northeast Passage for trade and cooperation between Arctic countries. This led to the “Rovaniemi Process”, initiated when eight Arctic countries gathered in Rovaniemi in 1991 at Finland’s initiative to sign a joint Arctic environmental protection strategy. Over the next decade the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council were established as key Arctic institutions. “Barents cooperation” began officially in 1993, when the Barents Euro-Arctic Region (BEAR) was established at Norway’s initiative. The area comprises the provinces of Finnish Lapland, Finnmark, Troms, and Nordland on the Norwegian side, the provinces of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in Russia, and Norrbotten in Sweden. Like the ND a few years later, Barents cooperation sought to address the opportunities and challenges posed by the post-Cold War situation. As with Finland through the ND, Norway sought to be the leader of a European project in the region and act as a link between Russia and the Nordic countries, as well as the Barents region and continental Europe (Elenius et ah, 2015: 417-19; Zimmerbauer, 2013: 93).
Established in 1996, the Arctic Council is a key Arctic institution that serves as a link between other Arctic institutions. Unlike the ND or Barents cooperation, the Arctic Council and its associated Arctic cooperation cannot be considered a project originating from a single state. The Arctic
Council is an intergovernmental organisation comprising eight Arctic coun- tries: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Russia, and the US, with observers from several European countries and China, India, Japan, and South Korea, as well as a wide range of international organisa- tions. In addition, many indigenous organisations belong to the Arctic Council. The EU has long sought observer status, but thus far this has been denied because of resistance from Canada and Russia. The EU’s interest in observer status reflects its ambition to strengthen its position in the Arctic (Raspotnik, 2018: 58-81).
The ND, Baltic Sea cooperation, Barents Euro-Arctic cooperation, and other northern regional policies emerged in the 1990s, when the EU was acting as the prime motor in building a Europe of the regions. Regionalisa- tion was promoted by notions of shared policy areas such as the ND and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), as well as EU programmes and their implementation areas, the “Interreg” areas, and the related crossborder cooperation projects. Regionalisation was understood to encompass very diverse regions, ranging from multistate macroregions to intrastate meson- egions. The aims of this new type of regionalisation were mainly connected with promoting competition and a common European market, as well as greater cohesion, and the reduction of regional disparities (Deas and Lord, 2006: 1847-9).
Thus, the new regions have to a large extent emerged with great political intent and under strong external control. This has made them especially vulnerable to changes in the international political situation. Studying the ND makes it possible to examine various northern horizontal regional construction processes linked to Finland’s national foreign policy, the conceptualisation of the Baltic Sea and the Arctic, and the development of the ENP. At the same time, the ND is positioned vertically at different levels of regional construction, mixing EU foreign policy, bilateral interstate relations, local projects, and regional development policies.
The ND as the northern policy of Finnish Lapland
Finnish Lapland had been active in initiating northern policies long before the launch of the ND. An important step was the organisation of the Ministerial Conference, which launched the Rovaniemi Process in 1991, leading to the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. The conference in its turn was the result of the involvement of local university representatives and officials. Cooperation between northern universities had already begun in the 1980s under the Calotte cooperation. This was followed by circumpolar universities’ cooperation, which led first to the establishment of the Circumpolar Universities Association (CUA) in 1992, and finally to the creation of the Arctic University Network in 2001. In academic circles the role of Northern Finland in the emergence of a new Northern Europe had been outlined since the 1980s, especially under the leadership of the Kuhmo
Calotte Academy, whose discussions and publications focused heavily on security policy, and later on opportunities for international and regional cooperation (Riepula, 2018; Heininen and Kakonen, 1996).
Since 1994 the role of the North and Lapland’s success factors have been discussed as part of the Pro Lapponia project’s discussion sessions. Speakers in the series were prominent national politicians, from President Martti Ahtisaari to former Prime Minister Kalevi Sorsa. The Northern Policy Society was established in November 1994. As a scientific society, its purpose was to “work to make national policies better take into account what is happening in the north”. The founding members of the society were researchers and representatives of research institutes in various fields from all over Finland. Although the starting point was to raise awareness of national policy, a Europewide march was soon established within the association’s framework (Riepula, 2018: 367-70).
However, after the signing of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy the vision of northern policy as part of European policy did not immediately extend to the agenda of the Finnish Government. According to Professor Lassi Heininen, the chairman of the Calotte Academy, the reason for Finland’s inactivity was the international system’s slow reaction to the rapid changes. As a result, the Finnish presidency of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council between 1994 and 1995 was unsuccessful, and it failed to develop environmental cooperation in the region or to involve the EU more closely in its cooperation structures. Heininen expressed his concern about the end of Finland’s “Arctic boom”, challenging the government to adopt a new foreign policy approach based on the national policy of the North as part of the country’s comprehensive European policy (Heininen, 1996: 7-8). This was the outline of a summative concept, named Finland’s ND, which referred to Finnish foreign policy’s northern emphasis. It combined Nordic cooperation, disarmament and peace policy, multilateral Arctic environmental policy, and other Arctic cooperation, as well as cooperation with Northwest Russia and the Barents region (Heininen, 1999a: 168).
At this stage the ND envisaged an alternative foreign policy to Central European integration that simultaneously challenged the traditional state-centred model. It grew out of regional autonomy and horizontal interregional cooperation based on the periphery’s interests (Heininen, 1993: 99-100; 1994: 59-60; 1999a, 155-6). This activity of university figures and regional developers in Lapland, and their criticism of the government’s passivity or inaction, was an attempt to ensure matters were dealt with more quickly. The process that eventually led to the launch of the ND as an EU policy was thus based on a strong bottom-up action, in which the scientific community played a key role. The Northern Political Society envisaged organising a special summit in Rovaniemi in 1997 that would promote a genuinely international breakthrough for the ND. The Rovaniemi Conference sought broader international visibility for northern politics and integrated it into the intergovernmental framework for cooperation in the Barents Region, which had emerged some years earlier. Big names were sought as speakers, and all the foreign ministers who had signed the Barents Cooperation Agreement, from Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia, and the Prime Minister of Finland, Paavo Lipponen, responded (130618M2; 080218N7; Riepula, 2018: 370-1). Barents cooperation emphasised a northern and Arctic policy focus, but at the same time the role of the EU was to be strengthened.
Besides the preparation of the conference, organised under the title European Northern Dimension and the Barents Region, the ND policy prompted greater interest from the government and especially from Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen. The international relations dimension of the ND - the promotion of the EU’s external relations - was primarily created by Paavo Lipponen and his staff. Although the initiative’s security significance had been outlined earlier, the promotion of peace and stability through concrete cooperation with Belarus and the Baltic States, for example, was new for the initiators from Lapland. An interviewee believed the integration of Russia into the cooperation was Lipponen’s big idea, but it had also figured in the minds of other foreign policy actors even before Finland’s EU membership (130618M2).
It is often suggested that the starting point of the ND was Lipponen’s speech “The Union needs a policy for the Northern Dimension” at the Rovaniemi Conference in September 1997. However, it is easily forgotten that the concept’s origin lies largely in Finnish academic debate, which aimed to make the rest of Europe more aware of Northern Europe, and especially Northern Finland. Researchers articulated a new and comprehensive Nordic policy for Finland that was not tied to EU membership but was a sign of Finland’s newly active foreign policy as part of an open Europe. During the membership negotiations foreign policy actors who preceded Lipponen like Foreign Minister Heikki Haavisto, Prime Minister Esko Aho, and President Martti Ahtisaari used the term and firmly connected it with the EU debate. In the early 1990s the terms “Nordic Dimension” and “Northern Dimension” were used in parallel and very selectively to refer both to Nordic values and Finland’s special circumstances, and their added value to the EU (Heininen, 1993: 96; 1999a: 157-9; 1999b: 32).
The Baltic Sea area challenges the north of the North
The ND officially became an EU policy in the late 1990s during Finland’s first EU presidency. The idea of northern policy, outlined by scholars and northern Finnish actors and constructed around the Barents region and the Arctic, represented a new kind of horizontal regional thinking but relied mainly on traditional concepts in referring to Norden. However, as the eastern enlargement of the EU drew closer, the definition of the northern region began to stretch towards the south and the Baltic Sea. The opening of the Iron Curtain also strengthened the integration of the Baltic Sea region, and eastward enlargement further accelerated this process. With the exception of the short strips of Russian coast, the accession of the Baltic States and Poland to the EU in 2004 essentially made the Baltic Sea an inland sea.
Since then there has been a great deal of political will to strengthen the geopolitical position of the Baltic Sea region, although the region’s history cannot be considered especially convergent, and perceptions of what is seen to belong to the Baltic Sea region have changed considerably over time. The regionalisation processes around the Baltic Sea have therefore been strongly top-down. The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) was established in 1992 by a joint declaration of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Baltic Sea States and the European Commission. The EU has played a central role in the Baltic Sea’s regionalisation, exemplified by a multitude of policy initiatives, the Interreg, PHARE, and TACIS programmes, and the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. Sweden’s 1996 initiative for Baltic Sea Region cooperation was in many ways comparable to the ND initiative: both aimed to strengthen political stability and regional economic development, build cooperation with Russia, and act as a coordinating framework without separate funding or their own budget line in the EU (Gotz, 2016; Gantzle, 2018; Koivurova and Rosas, 2018).
The rise of the Baltic Sea’s profile was directly reflected in the Finnish ND debate in the early 2000s, which was coloured by criticism of the initiative’s lack of concreteness and credibility, and disappointment with Russia’s role in the cooperation. Eastern enlargement prompted a reconsideration of Finland’s role in European northern politics and the renewal of the ND. The issue was raised in parliament by Tarja Cronberg, a Green MP, former director of the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute and head of the Regional Council of North Karelia, who called for a re-evaluation of Northern European cooperation and the elimination of overlaps: “Finland should therefore redefine its objectives, framework and priorities for cooperation in Northern Europe, and arrange the necessary resources. Parliament must be proactive in this regard and strive to form the necessary overall picture” (Cronberg, 2004). Cronberg’s mission was to create a new and stronger institution in Northern Europe, a special parliamentary body involving the EU, the Nordic countries, all the Baltic Sea countries, and Russia. Its aim would have been to create an institutional body for the ND, which would have linked the northern regions of Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea region under the same umbrella organisation. The new body would have brought together the region’s multiple institutional bodies - the Nordic, Baltic Sea, Arctic, and Barents Euro-Arctic Councils - within the framework of the ND. In particular, the Nordic Council would have played a key role, because its resources would have served as a basis for the new institution. The proposal served as a counter-appeal to the creation of a prominent EU initiative for the Mediterranean, but it was also intended to show that the Baltic Sea was more naturally considered part of Europe and cooperation within it. The focus of the ND was beginning to shift towards Central Europe (Cronberg, 2004; Hautala, 2004).
The proposal for a common Northern European institution failed to go beyond the parliamentary debates. Instead, attention shifted to the relation- ship between the ND and the EU’s Baltic Sea Strategy, which was under development. The most active Finnish politician in the Baltic Sea region was the National Coalition МЕР Alexander Stubb (later prime minister), who belonged to the Baltic Europe Intergroup, founded in 2005, with six other MEPs from the UK, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Finland. The group outlined the first draft of a comprehensive European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region which Sweden was vigorously pursuing during its presidency, and which was finally adopted by the Council of Europe in 2009 as the EU’s first Macro-Regional Strategy. The presentation by Stubb and the other MEPs highlighted the link between the Baltic Sea Strategy and the ND, emphasising the role of the Baltic Sea as a key area of the ND (Kosov and Gribanova, 2016).
Alexander Stubb and the other politicians who raised the Baltic Sea issue maintained that increasing the weight of the Baltic Sea region within the ND would at the same time increase the weight of the North within the EU. The aim of the Baltic Europe Intergroup was not to create a new regional concept to replace the ND but to shift its focus towards the Baltic Sea region. Alexander Stubb stated this clearly in the November 2006 debate in the European Parliament on the Baltic Sea:
The report has three aims. One: to support the Northern Dimension. Two: to make the Baltic Sea a priority of the Northern Dimension - we firmly believe that should be the key area of the Northern Dimension itself. Three: we want to raise awareness of the Baltic Sea as a brand, as a concept.
(European Parliament, 2006)
The Committee on Foreign Affairs’ report, The Baltic Sea and the Northern Dimension (Finnish Parliament, 2007), provoked a lively debate in the Finnish Parliament, not only about the condition of Baltic Sea cooperation but also about the relationship between the Baltic Sea Strategy and the ND. The committee saw the Baltic Sea Strategy and the ND as separate policies which nevertheless strongly supported each other. The report outlined that from the Finnish perspective the ND was the implementation of EU-Russia cooperation in Northwest Russia, and its scope was wider than the Baltic Sea region. The Baltic Sea Strategy on the other hand was predominantly an internal EU policy, unlike the ND, which emphasised its joint ownership by the EU and partner countries. The committee believed the Baltic Sea should be given a higher profile in both EU and Finnish policy, which would be made possible by the 2009 Swedish EU Presidency (Finnish Parliament, 2007).
Some MPs were concerned that the Foreign Affairs Committee’s policy meant that the ND would be overshadowed by the Baltic Sea Strategy. More broadly, the question concerned the role of northern regions in European politics.
In Northern Finland this Northern Dimension is seen as a policy of the Nordic countries and the northern regions of Russia. ... Although the Baltic Sea is one of the top priorities of the Northern Dimension, 1 do not think the northern region should be forgotten,
said Mirja Vehkapera (2007), a Centre Party MP from Oulu, who was later elected to the European Parliament. It was also recalled that the ND was born as a broader concept than the Baltic Sea and should be retained as such. Although the report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs does not completely ignore the ND, there is a clear change from the debates of the 1990s, in which the Barents region was considered a key area of action for the ND. It is therefore no surprise that raising the profile of the Baltic Sea gave rise to a regional confrontation in which the issue was perceived as a shift of attention and an allocation of resources to Southern Finland and Helsinki at the expense of Northern Finland (130618M2).
The 2006 reform of the ND, its increasing focus on EU-Russia relations, and ultimately the diminishing weight of the policy as the EU-Russia crisis took hold gradually eased this confrontation. There was growing consensus that the Baltic Sea Strategy as an internal EU policy tool and the ND as the EU’s foreign policy tool complemented each other, affording Finland a better channel to advance its own goals within the EU. The discussion of the Baltic Sea Strategy in the Council of Europe and the Commission clarified its relationship with the ND and shifted the emphasis to the initiative’s domestic nature. In contrast with the original presentation of the Euro-Baltic Intergroup, the Council of Europe and the Commission clearly distinguished between the Baltic Sea Strategy and the EU’s external cooperation, stating that relations with third countries must be dealt with specifically through the ND (Kosov and Gribanova, 2016).
The ND’s Arctic Window
In place of the ND framework the discussion on the northern regions has in recent years focused increasingly on the Arctic, which has given it a more global and multidimensional flavour. As the ND has become a narrower EU foreign policy tool for Russia, the Arctic as a policy frame has expanded towards the south. Like the ND, the Arctic is a regionally vague and constantly reinterpreted concept, but unlike the ND, it contains clearer criteria for reference to biogeographical and climatic factors. Although the criteria, whether concerning latitudes, vegetation zones, the Arctic Sea connection, or climatic conditions, vary depending on the determinant, they are specific and, in many ways, applicable to everyday life. In the Arctic profiling and identity can therefore take on a very different significance to the ND.
From a geographical perspective Lapland is alone considered an Arctic region of Finland, and it has been able to use the concept effectively in its regional development, from tourism to research, albeit thus far largely eco- nomically. One interviewee said that everything done in the North was suddenly Arctic. Everything came with an Arctic twist - frequently a refer- ence not only to cold conditions and long distances (120618N8), but more broadly to the good life in the clean Arctic environment. The Arctic has been branded for tourism with the help of Santa Claus, hotels, restaurants, and various events, and it clearly entails strong materiality and physical structures (110618N9).
This concreteness is probably the factor that finally attracted the EU’s interest in the Arctic. Previously, little attention had been paid in general to the attempts to build a specific Arctic window for the ND. The initiator this time was Denmark and its autonomous region, Greenland, located between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. Awareness of and access to the island’s rich natural resources have steadily increased, which has also increased the desire of the Greenlanders themselves to benefit from the central role of the Arctic and to promote circumpolar cooperation in the northern regions. Because Greenland was part of it, Denmark was the only Arctic EU country until the enlargement of the mid-1990s, and despite the withdrawal of Greenland from the European Communities in 1985, it was still the only EU country with access to the Arctic Ocean. Importantly, the aim of the Greenland Government’s Arctic Window proposal was not only to build bridges between Arctic and non-Arctic countries, but also, and particularly, to improve the situation of indigenous peoples (Tomala, 2017; Loukacheva, 2007).
When the Arctic region caught the EU’s attention in the twenty-first century, Finland modified its strategy and began to emphasise the importance of the ND as a tool for implementing the EU’s Arctic policy. The Arctic re-emerged as a major geopolitical issue in 2007, when climate change, melting sea ice, and competition for the region’s natural resources appeared in the headlines. Although the Arctic’s accessibility and usability has proved more challenging than anticipated, awareness of opening sea routes, oil and gas reserves, and deep-sea fishery areas strengthened the interest of other major powers in developing their Arctic policies. The EU has had an established Arctic policy since 2008. The three Arctic Communications (2008, 2012, and 2016) (European Commission, 2008; 2012; 2016) frame this policy, which is based on existing agreements and multilateral cooperation mechanisms, as well as respect for the Arctic states’ central role as Arctic actors (Raspotnik, 2018; Numminen, 2011; 0sthagen, 2013; Conde Perez and Yaneva, 2016)
It has become clear since the Ukraine crisis that the ND has not been a success story for EU Arctic policy. The 2009 Northern Dimension Meeting in Stockholm and the 2010 Ministerial Meeting in Oslo still highlighted the potential of the Arctic Window for partnership cooperation, emphasising close cooperation with the Arctic Council and the Barents Arctic Council. However, in the longer run the involvement of indigenous representatives in ND processes has evidently been more lasting (Chairman’s conclusion, Stockholm November 12, 2009; Joint statement, Oslo November 2, 2010).
Recently, the ND’s Arctic Window has not received attention in the Fin- nish national policy debate, and at the EU level it can be counted as one of many regional initiatives that have faded. However, the EU’s interest in the Arctic continues to grow, though its influence in the region is limited in the absence of an Arctic Ocean connection. The EU still maintains a strong economic presence, and there is a strong interdependence between it and the Arctic. The EU’s presence is in practice visible through its regional policy and related funding instruments, as well as through various multilateral institutions and agreements (such as the Barents Euro-Arctic Council). However, according to Andreas Raspotnik (2018: 70-90) the ND and its Arctic Window should have been used more effectively to raise awareness of the Arctic within the EU, while not neglecting its original transatlantic character. The EU’s Arctic policy has also been criticised for focusing too much on the foreign policy dimension instead of developing its own internal Arctic policy (Osthagen, 2013: 85-6).
As described above, the Arctic as a multidimensional concept has been removed from the ND frame both in political debate and the public domain. Today’s Finnish Arctic discourse greatly resembles that of the early days of the ND. For example, the economic potential of horizontal cooperation for the exploitation of northern resources, the Arctic Ocean Railway project, and the arguments for the region’s long common history and culture remain on the drawing board. At times Arctic and ND policies are synonymous with an emphasis on Arctic expertise, innovation, and services.
We have the Northern Dimension, mentioned here several times, and using it sustainably is extremely important, and here I would emphasise Arctic technology, where Finland must be the world leader in terms of different Arctic solutions, quality, logistics, and conditions. ... A pure nature and its use in tourism and health will also open new doors. We have a northern alternative to offer.
(Lindstrom, 2012, author’s translation)
As with the ND, Arctic cooperation is used widely in Finnish political debate to profile Finland and strengthen the EU’s role (Repo, 2015). Although the purpose of this chapter is not to discuss the role of the Arctic in Finnish foreign policy, based on the ND debate, one may ask whether the Arctic has become a new identity project for Finland since the fading of the ND. There appears to be at least some aspiration to convince others that Finland as a whole is Arctic, as is exemplified by the Arctic Strategy drafted in 2010 and revised in 2013 (Lahteenmaki, 2017, 165-6). Yet, with the exception of Lapland, Arctic identity is anything but well established and credible. The demarcation of whether Finland really is an Arctic country, how different regions can benefit from the Arctic, and how regional coop- eration concepts such as the Barents cooperation work for Finland remain under intense discussion (e.g. 070318M6).
Although at the local level the Arctic is mostly uninstitutionalised, it is constantly exploited by the regions in their EU programme policies and in related calls for funds (070318N10). The naming of Finland as a whole as an Arctic country is therefore constantly reproduced in terms of EU policy. In this sense the definition of the Arctic is gradually moving southwards, as evidenced by North Karelia’s adoption as a member of the Barents Regional Council in 2016. The organisation of the “Northern Potential in the Barents Region” networking event in Joensuu in February 2019 shows that such interest in profiling Eastern Finland in Barents cooperation exists.
As part of Finland’s third EU presidency, launched in July 2019, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs again sought to raise the profile of the ND (Kestava Eurooppa - kestava tulevaisuus, 2019: 12). At the same time, the new presidency highlighted the connection between the ND and Arctic policy. In the preparatory documents for the Finnish EU presidency such as The Views of the Parliamentary Qroups: The Finnish EU Presidency Programme on 17 October 2018 and The Trio Programme of the Council of the European Union, published jointly by the successive presidencies of Romania, Finland, and Croatia, the link to the ND was through Arctic (and especially climate) policy. The first document refers to the ND as an example of a “pragmatic way of organising Arctic policy” but ignores the initiative’s original goals of building a shared policy. The ND and the Arctic policy are seen as different ways of focusing on northern cooperation while seeking synergies between the two. Flowever, this time it is probably the ND that is seeking a fresh boost by exploiting Arctic issues, primarily by tackling the problem of black coal (170118N2), which is expected to be the next practical focus area for the ND and its Environmental Partnership (090218M4; 170118N4; 170118N5).
The North as a transatlantic and European neighbourhood
The aim of Finnish foreign policy actors was originally to make the ND an overarching northern category that would cover the earlier definitions of the area applied in Nordic, Baltic Sea, and Barents cooperation. In this sense the ND was a serious attempt to build a broad new North (Joenniemi and Lehti, 2003: 135-7). Yet the geographical definition of the ND was initially somewhat loose, even vague. As opinions on policy content and priorities varied, it was considered the best option to keep the door open not only for the Arctic and the Baltic Sea, but importantly, for North America too (071217NT 1). In regional definitions the ND region extended to the northern parts of Great Britain, as well as Greenland. Furthermore, belief in the potential for transatlantic cooperation with the US and Canada was initially strong, as both had shown an active interest in developing northern horizontal cooperation (Heininen and Nicol, 2007: 146-51). Attracting Canada and the US into the Northern Dimension Programme was part of the EU’s efforts to strengthen its transatlantic relationship, but the narrowing of the ND’s focus to the EU-Russia relationship has discarded this dimension. However, the US and Canada are observer countries, and Canada has been active in the Social and Health Partnership and has funded Environmental Partnership projects on nuclear security (Ulkoasiainministerio, 2009).
The launch of the ENP in 2004 in turn linked the ND to the wider construction of the European neighbourhood. The realisation of the ENP after the eastern enlargement was intended to strengthen relations with the EU’s neighbours, thereby increasing security and stability throughout Europe. The idea of creating a shared European political space in the ENP had begun to take shape during the pre-existing EU-funded Interreg border programmes in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Interreg II programme (1994-9) represented a relatively coordinated approach to the EU’s external relations, but its emphasis had been on bilateral cooperation. In the Interreg III programme (2000-06) this was complemented by a common European policy approach based on common European values (Liikanen and Smith, 2019: 19-20). Similar goals reflecting an EU-centric Europeanism can also be identified in Paavo Lipponen’s 1997 Northern Dimension Initiative and the first Northern Dimension Action Plan (2000-03).
Since 2004 the ENP has become one of the EU’s most important foreign and security policy programmes. Controversially, the ENP was presented as a post-Cold War European shift towards a post-Westphalian understanding of borders and relations between states (see Chapter 2 in this volume), but the EU simultaneously held firmly to its own sovereignty and privilege to define the ENP’s objects, methods, and values (Haukkala, 2010). The EU created the ENP decision-making bodies and named the universal values that it wished to promote among its neighbours. Russia felt the EU threatened its own national sovereignty and refused to join the ENP. It was affiliated to the practical cooperation programmes under the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (ENPI), but demanded separate treatment and a relationship with the EU based on equality.
Celata, Coletti, and Polizzi (2015: 46) state that the ENP is based on mesoregional strategies, including the ND, the Union for the Mediterranean, the Black Sea Programme, and the Eastern Partnership. Although the renewal of the ND and the emergence of the ENP occurred almost simultaneously, the ND reform was discussed in Finland quite separately from the ENP. This is clearly reflected in Finnish political material, which emphasises the equality of cooperation with Russia and distances itself from the ENP’s EU-centred approach. Within the EU Finland supported the objectives of the ENP but wished to develop it to enable relations with Russia to be constructed differently. As it was, the ENP was not perceived as having the capacity to act as a policy or structure to reinforce a common north. Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja stated in February 2004:
The European Union is in a process to further define the parameters and overall vision of the new Wider Europe/European Neighbourhood policies. This policy will relate to all immediate neighbours of the Union, east and south. It is well understood that Russia, because of its size and role in global politics, is sui generis, and that our relations with Russia must be predicated on slightly different aspects. We are, however, convinced that there are elements in the Wider Europe thinking which may well benefit Russia too.
The reform of the ND and the emphasis on practical cooperation with Russia based on the equal partnership that Finland had adopted since the beginning of the twenty-first century diverged from the rationale of the ENP, which sought to expand the EU’s influence. However, in the longer run the Arab Spring, the refugee crisis, and finally the Ukrainian crisis have necessitated the content of the ENP to be revised and its rhetoric refined. After 2011 the ENP and the ND moved a step closer to each other. As Liikanen and Smith (2019: 29-30) report, bilateral cooperation between the EU and partner countries is more strongly emphasised in the ENP documents, and there is less emphasis on a common Europeanism. However, before the occupation of Crimea it had already become obvious that building cooperation with Russia within the framework of a strong northern region promoted by the EU remained a distant goal.
An umbrella concept or a regional resource?
The relationship between the ND and other northern regional definitions and structures has been subject to continuous redefinition. Since the 1990s the Northern European region has formed a dense network of regional cooperation structures that have at various times been the focus of attention. The overlapping and pruning of these structures have been an enduring topic, but it has proved extremely difficult to dismantle or combine them (090218M5). For example, the border between the North Calotte and Barents regions has been blurred in regional cooperation, because it is largely influenced by the same actors. In principle, the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has officially described and still considers the Barents Euro- Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Arctic Council, and the Nordic Council of Ministers as instruments of the ND or as a “regional voice in Northern Dimension policy” (Ulkoasiainministerio, 2009). The arrangement has been described as a table, where the ND is the tabletop, and the councils are its legs or pillars (170118N1).
However, it is not evident that the ND umbrella vision has been widely accepted at EU level, bearing in mind that a similar role for a forum covering the whole of Northern Europe was envisaged for Baltic Sea cooperation, for example. Once the Baltic Sea region and the Baltic States had been conceived of as “Baltic Europe”, a new economic and cultural European centre was formed, shifting the EU’s focus from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to the east and north (Tadeusz, 2009). Obviously, drawing a culturally, historically, and politically diverse Northern Europe together under a single umbrella has proved difficult and become a contested field.
The importance of the Northern Regional Councils as independent actors was given greater emphasis in the renewed ND. In a 2005 speech Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja stressed that the role of councils should be further developed in the context of the ND (Tuomioja, 2005). Six years later, however, Tuomioja presented the Northern Regional Councils as being more a parallel regional structure than a subregional cooperation body subordinate to the ND. The importance of partnerships began to gain prominence at the same time, and consequently the ND was no longer as strongly promoted as a comprehensive regional definition of Northern Europe as a whole.
We welcome a close interaction between the Regional Councils in the North and other structures like the Northern Dimension and parliamentary cooperation. Through a more effective division of labour between these institutions, the strength and impact of each one of them can be better recognised.
However, at the regional level the concept could be used as a frame of reference to promote northern issues as part of European policy, and especially in the context of Russian cooperation (120618M7). In the early stages, the ND was actively supported at regional level. In Finland this was evidenced by the National Forum, created in 2000 at the initiative of Paavo Lipponen, which brought together industry, public administration, and research stakeholders at conferences organised under various themes. The aim of the National Forum was to promote the Northern Dimension Action Plan and draw on the expertise of regions, cities, universities, and businesses. Between 2001 and 2002 forums held in Oulu, Lappeenranta, Turku, Kajaani, Joensuu, and Pori attracted influential participants from Finland and abroad. For example, one of the main achievements of the Oulu Conference was the attention given to international financial institutions and their involvement in project financing. In Lappeenranta the first partnership programme, the Environmental Partnership, was initiated, and the construction of the south-west wastewater treatment plant in St Petersburg was promoted. In Joensuu the theme was social and health care, and it inspired the Partnership on Social and Health Care, which was established the following year (Riepula, 2018: 375—81).
Regionally, the National Forums generated high expectations of the opportunities offered by the ND. The forum held in Joensuu in North Karelia in 2002 was a huge regional event, with the participation of Prime
Ministers Kjell Magne Bondevik of Norway and Paavo Lipponen of Finland. Because of the Russian border in North Karelia the ND was considered an extremely important initiative. The ND and its Russia dimension were exploited as a regional perspective covering research, cooperation between cities, and industrial policy. Joensuu even initiated the establishment of a Northern Dimension Information Centre in the city, but the project failed to get underway before the ND policy faded in the early 2000s (070318N9).
Another region neighbouring Russia, Southeast Finland, with Lappeen- ranta as its centre, also sought to play a central role in promoting the ND. The region prepared its own strategy for the ND, emphasising the develop- ment of infrastructure and transport, the social and health sector, and the struggle against crossborder crime. A Northern Dimension Research Centre was also proposed in Lappeenranta, and it was established in 2003 as “Nordi” at the Lappeenranta University of Technology. The priority of this multidisciplinary research institute has been to coordinate and strengthen research and activities related to Russia (ТАК, 2004).
As the ND began to diverge, as a result of the difficulties in EU-Russia relations, into partnership-based ministry-led project activities, on the one hand, and top-level EU foreign policy, on the other, the link to the local level weakened. The interviews show that the grip of regional actors on partnership projects mainly on the Russian side was perceived as minimal and the ND’s local impact non-existent. In general, regional knowledge of the operation of the partnerships or the current state of the ND was low and mainly perceived as a matter for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (120618M7; 120618N8). This change illustrates that the ND had moved from EU internal policy to EU foreign policy, which was guided and defined from above and which, ultimately, with the problems of Russia relations, began to disappear from the topical EU agenda.
Why did the ND not become a region?
The ND began to take shape with the activity of regional developers and the scientific community, with a strong emphasis on regional policy. This also closely concerned the EU’s regional policy: the ND was presented as a counterweight to the EU’s Mediterranean policy, with a special focus on the Arctic and the Barents region, as well as cooperation with Northwest Russia. The objective of the definition of the ND initially enunciated by Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen was to construct a large new European area that would include not only Russia but also the countries of North America.
In Finland, under the conditions of the new EU membership, the ND was initially conceptualised as Finland’s policy in the EU, then as part of the EU’s neighbourhood policy, and finally as an equal and pragmatic action- based partnership between the EU and partner countries, and most importantly Russia. In the EU context the original “alternative” nature of ND policies was given new meanings and intended to serve the priorities of the EU. In this context the north-north focus began to shift, and the ND began to be constructed as a comprehensive umbrella policy covering both Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea region.
With the eastern enlargement of the EU, attention in the Finnish debate began to shift to the Baltic Sea region at the expense of the northern regions, which created a regional confrontation in Finland concerning the ND’s content. This debate on the geographical focus has also continued with the 2006 ND policy reform. Although Finnish Foreign Ministry representatives still speak of the umbrella interpretation of the ND, the spatial fragmentation of Northern Europe and the diversity of competing concepts have clearly shown that the ND has not become an official policy for a “new north”. The European Commission and the Council wished to develop the ND primarily as an EU tool to deal with Russia. This objective gradually lost its importance because of the increasing difficulty in EU-Russia relations as the twenty-first century progressed. The EU’s northern policy has since been fragmented partly because of competing rationales and partly because it has lacked clear common goals. Instead, it has increased its presence in the Arctic as challenges and opportunities have arisen in the region.
The ND has been a highly political and top-down concept, with varying national ambitions and Brussels-based interests. It has thus crisscrossed different levels of regionalisation. This chapter has examined the ND as a supranational umbrella concept that has included other northern regional definitions and even a transatlantic link. The ND has been discussed in the context of north-north, Baltic Sea, and Arctic cooperation, as well as cross- border cooperation in the framework of the ENP. The ND has been moving from being a frame of crossborder regionalisation that departed from former regional categories to an EU foreign policy tool for Russia especially, in which regional development goals are no longer as central. With the development of international politics, in particular the weakening of EU- Russia relations and the establishment of other partnership programmes, bilateral transnational cooperation has become more prominent, and the role of the EU backing the initiative has become less visible. The ND is today more reminiscent of the kind of regional cooperation represented by the Interreg I and II programmes of the 1990s.
The spatial reconstruction of the northern region and the EU’s role in shaping it have proved challenging. The east-west division and strong nation states have not lost their importance in the North, and Russia, with its aggressive policy, has become very reluctant to compromise its sovereignty in any area. The regionalisation that started in the North in the 1990s has been mainly interstate in nature and therefore largely top-down. The status of an institutionalised region, not to mention its shared identity, has not been achieved, which has made the borders of the region very open to interpretation. In theory the preconditions for the formation of an institutionalised region are its spatially limited nature, the designation of regional symbols, the institutions that produce it, and a broad social awareness (Paasi, 1986: 121). Amid the competing rationales of European, national, and regional policies the ND continues to be a long way from meeting these premises.
In evaluating the ND in relation to these conditions for regionalisation, many criteria can be seen as missing. The lack of solid institutions, a transparent financial system, and shared regional awareness have complicated the establishment of an enduring ND concept. In this respect the optimal moment came during the early 2000s, when regional interest in the ND might have led to the initiative’s development into a more comprehensive territorial definition, and after the 2006 programme renewal, which opened up the prospect of more equal EU-Russia cooperation. Since then regionalisation has evidently been more successful within Arctic policy, which has therefore achieved more resonance within the EU. The darkening of the international scene and the concrete economic factors troubling the regional level have led to the personalisation of the ND as the initiative of one state, Finland. With hindsight the strong emphasis on Russia has narrowed the ND’s scope, made it dependent on geopolitical turns, and distanced it for the moment from the original goals of the new North.
Kuusisto, Alina and Virkkunen, Joni, (Interviewers) (2017-2018). 170118N1 170118N2; 170118N4; 170118N5; 080218N7; 1I0618N9; 120618N8; 070318N9 070318N10; 071217M1; 130618M2; 090218M4; 090218M5; 070318M6
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