EAGLE St.- to Index
Seminar on the "Elusive Concept of Sovereignty"

For the first time Finns made their own choice

A paradox is haunting Europe. While nationalistic feelings in European countries have been running high in recent times, nation-states have simultaneously had to cope with increasing pressures of international integration.

Finland faced these contradictions from an historically unprecedented position. While contemplating European Union membership, the Finns could make their decision independently, without simply being forced to comply with conditions dictated from outside, as in the past. In the Irish-British context, on the other hand, the question has been raised as to whether the citizens of these islands could express their identity less in terms of impervious nation-states than in terms of locally empowered provinces (Ulster, Scotland, Wales etc) and larger transnational associations (e.g. the British-Irish archipelago and the European Union). At the heart of the question everywhere is whether Europe is able to create democratic structures that can allay fears created by the weakening of national parliamentary systems.

These observations on European integration were among the themes which emerged in the seminar organised by the Finnish Institute in Eagle Street in London.

According to Professor Risto Alapuro (University of Helsinki), Finns have reacted to European integration -- and Soviet disintegration -- with both statist nationalism and painful (or liberating) examination of the years of 'Finlandization'. Alapuro pointed out that an instructive demonstration of the prevailing nationalist assumptions and their complexities was provided by the process that led Finland to join the European Union in the beginning of 1995:

"As never before, the decision was not reactive: this time Finland did not face a fait accompli, making the country comply with conditions dictated from outside, as was the case when the major European wars -- the Napoleonic wars and the two World Wars -- determined the country's path. Now the Finns themselves had to make the choice."

Even if some Finnish nationalists have recently been flexing their xenophobic muscles, a new degree of national self-confidence may in Alapuro's opinion also lead to more tolerance of cultural diversity and to a less suspicious attitude towards foreigners in general. Be that as it may, the two external co-ordinates of Finnish identity and politics have been fundamentally altered:
"The Finns are very sensitive both to the disintegration in the East and to the integration of the West. The character of this combination seems unique among countries reacting to the ongoing transformation of Europe, and makes traditional nationalist assumptions, based on Russia as 'the Other', problematic."

Ireland’s new identity in Europe

For the Irish īthe Otherī has, of course, been the United Kingdom. Being part of a larger Europe has helped the Irish to re-invent their national identity outside the Irish-British context. According to Professor Richard Kearney (University College Dublin), contemporary Ireland is in historic transition, which calls for new modes of self-definition in keeping with an overall move towards a more federal and regional Europe:

"In the new European dispensation, nation-states will, in all probability, become increasingly anachronistic. Power will be disseminated upwards from the state to transnational government and downwards to subnational government. In this context, future identities should, arguably, be less nation-statist and more local and cosmopolitan."

Kearney thinks it is fascinating that while the Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland argue from opposite claims of sovereignty, they have no difficulty in sharing sovereignty within the parameters of the European Community. Why?

"Because, once removed from the disabling conflict of Anglo-Irish sovereignty claims, the urgent social and economic needs of their common Ulster region became paramount."

Kearney extends his observations to a more general aim of pooling sovereignty. He spoke of "the need i) to separate the notion of nation from that of the state; ii) to acknowledge the co- existence of different identities in the same society; iii) to extend the models of identification beyond unitary sovereignty to include more inclusive and pluralist forms of association - such as a British- Irish Council or European Federation of Regions."

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