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‘When Attraction Turns Mad’ – The ‘Symbolic Power’ of Regional Integration in The EU-Russia Contested Neighbourhood

Europe (Central and Eastern)
European Union
Post-Structuralism
Domestic Politics
Johann Wolfschwenger
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Johann Wolfschwenger
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Abstract

The paper explores the relationship between Moldova’s national identity conceptions and a discourse on foreign policy in Moldova. Methodologically the paper follows a discourse analytical perspective on region-building and foreign policy analysis inspired by the Copenhagen School (Weaver 2002, Hansen 2012). In particular, it develops an analytical framework around the concept of Discursive Nodal Points (Laclau 1985, Diez 2001) to inductively explore the domestic discourse by Moldova’s political elites (mainly parties and political office holders) on ‘Europe’ and ‘European integration’ on the one hand and ‘Russia’ and ‘Eurasian integration’ on the other since Moldova’s independence from the Soviet Union. It shows that agent’s discursive representation of regional integration can be rooted in three metanarratives – that are three antagonistic (Moldovanist, Romanianist and Eurasianist) conceptions of Moldova’s national identity. It is argued that the region-building projects resonate with Moldova’s looming ‘identity dilemma’ which endows them which enormous ‘symbolic power’ in a domestic discourse. On the basis of their national identity conception each of the three camps assigns taken for granted meanings to European integration. Hence, in the specific interregional setting, this leads to strong polarization of the political landscape which is described as unintended consequences of EU-Eurasian inter-regionalism. Finally, three unintended effects from the EU’s perspective are identified: First, the weakening of political stability and societal resilience in Moldova, second, a blurred assessment of the economic costs and benefits of each regional-integration project by Moldova and third, the concealment of wrongdoing of incumbent political elites behind geopolitics. With view on the ECPR joint session, this paper contributes an in-depth analysis of domestic agent’s construction of Europe and European integration in Moldova. From a conceptual viewpoint it may contribute to a debate of delimiting constructivism from poststructuralism in Europeanization studies.