On 21 January 2015, SEESOX introduced its Hilary term seminar series entitled “Global South East Europe in a multipolar world” focusing on the region’s engagement with the world beyond Europe, dealing with big regional powers such as Russia or China, and addressing urgent issues such as economic development, energy security, migration or diasporas. The first session was a panel debate which focused on the region beyond europeanisation and its engagement with other global and regional powers. The panel consisted of Othon Anastasakis (Oxford), Spyros Economides (LSE), James Ker-Lindsay (LSEE) and chaired by Kalypso Nicolaidis (SEESOX).
Othon Anastasakis introduced the seminar series and argued that while the EU is the key player in the region, there are influences from external rising powers that are making their presence felt more and more. In view of this reality, the question is whether the EU hegemony is being challenged by these growing external influences, and to what degree these new influences empower local actors vis a vis Europe? This is a very pertinent question especially today when Europe is going through a period of uncertainty and economic malaise. Europe’s weakening influence is reflected in the fading of European Commission, the enlargement inertia, the rise of a German Europe, the distancing of Turkey and the latters’ positioning as an independent regional power. Anastasakis distinguished between “normative” and “strategic” multipolarity, the former traditionally represented by the EU in the form of values and rules, while the latter defined by military and/or hard economic power exerted by Russia or China. These are two different visions of engagement for regional actors in an increasingly multipolar environment which may complement each other but may also clash with each other. It was also argued that the region engages with the multipolar world in the form of concentric circles, where the inner belongs to the internal/external influence of the EU, the next circle consists of the historical neighbourhood, former Empires of Russia and Turkey, and the outer circle by the Middle East or China in the continents beyond. From a regional perspective the question is whether the countries in the region are willing to challenge the “normative” hegemon of Europe through the engagement with the “strategic” alternatives, Russian energy deals, Chinese or Middle East economic investments or even Islamic civilizational power.
Spyros Economides argued that the European hegemony is a mix of normative power and economic power, which is its point of attraction but can often cause antagonisms, through the adoption of paternalistic attitudes which we have been seeing more and more in the post-2008 period. He particularly used the example of Serbia and its ambivalent engagement with europeanisation. Economides also wondered whether European hegemony is also challenged by domestic problems, such as, in the case of Serbia, ethnic issues, democratic deficits, or internally generated external objectives which are manipulated by political forces. Economides argued that countries like Russia are revisionist powers which challenge certain international assumptions for example that of secession, which constitutes another challenge to European hegemony. Russia uses economic instruments, victimisation, political influence, cultural or historical links to challenge Europe, in the Western Balkans in particular.
James Ker-Lindsay argued that the EU has lost sight in the Balkans and has opened the way for outside actors to become involved. Russia or China are not going to have a massive effect in and of themselves but more importantly what matters is how the countries in the region are going to use these influences. For Ker-Lindsay the most worrying development regards Turkey’s distancing from Europe and the country becoming a more undemocratic presidential republic. Turkey is an example of how political elites can challenge European hegemony by advocating different choices and alternatives and playing them out on their own people. Other examples include Republika Srpska or Montenegro and the way domestic elites use and manipulate the alternative of Russia as leverage to get to the European Union. Ker-Lindsay is sceptical about the real value of the external actors as significant alternatives to the EU but observes how these are often used and manipulated by political elites for their own internal goals.
In the discussion, there were further questions on the role of the United States and whether this is a departed hegemon, although it was felt that while the US is not as present as it used to be in the 1990s, it still has to be consulted on important issues. It was also pointed out that there is a lot of strategic game taking place, where agents often say something, they mean a different thing and they want something else. In the end, is it better for regional actors to play the game in the form of manoeuvre or to take sides? Finally, it was also discussed how and whether internal regional rivalry plays into this regional-global interaction.