The NB8 and the vague sense of shared identity

Fredag, 3. September 2010     0 kommentti(a)
Kaisa Korhonen
forskare - forskningsprogrammet Europeiska unionen
If regional integration has become an interest-driven exercise, has the search for a common identity as the cornerstone of structured cooperation become meaningless?

The so-called wise men report on the future of Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8) cooperation was presented to the eight foreign ministers on 27 August in Riga, Latvia. As the NB8 framework was established in the early 1990s in order to support the transition in the Baltic States, a strategy-update was definitely needed and the final report with 38 concrete suggestions was produced in a matter of months.     

Taking into account this extraordinarily tight deadline, many aspects of this report are praiseworthy. The focus on a goal-oriented search for a common agenda, where the global competitiveness of the region is the centre of attention, is welcome. Not advocating institutional reforms is also preferable, since institutional change ought not to be embarked upon without a clear policy-driven agenda – as the European Union’s decade-long reform process demonstrates. Finally, it is important and certainly politically correct to propose the extension of cooperation beyond the intergovernmental, so that it will benefit regional organizations and business communities alike. Increasing people-to-people contacts and the visibility of NB8 cooperation are sound proposals.

The report suggests that NB8 cooperation follows the prevailing logic of regional integration studies in many regards, but arguments for cooperation not built on cost-benefit calculations are barely visible. There are only rather vague references made to “a certain set of values and qualities” that arguably are characteristic of the Nordic-Baltic region.  While many identity related arguments (which after the regained independence of Baltic States circled around the common historical roots and a shared destiny in an integrating Europe) have only been lightly touched upon, NB8 public diplomacy is discussed at length. Can a deeper regional integration be sold today only by raising interest-based arguments and carrying out public diplomacy campaigns?   

I doubt it. Public diplomacy comes often down to raising people’s awareness of the existing forms of cooperation and does not create any commitment to a common cause. A serious devotion to the costly, time-consuming and risky business of place  branding might actually produce this sort of sense of belonging and feeling of joint ownership, but this report does not discuss “branding” in such a devoted manner.  

Besides, value-based arguments in favour of the NB cooperation are difficult to make, since there is really no Nordic-Baltic identity. There is the Nordic identity that Norden is not willing to share with others, whereas joining forces under the Baltic umbrella does not fit together with the national self-images of the Nordic countries. Finally, the NB8 is not (yet?) a partnership on equal footing. Even this report is much about how the Baltics ought to join the Nordics in their joint activities.

As a conclusion, it still seems fully reasonable to argue that NB8 cooperation on foreign and security policy is likely to remain unanchored in the hearts and minds of the people until it truly becomes characterized by mutual learning and mental interdependence among all (or most!) Nordic and Baltic countries, and not only between Finland and Estonia.

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