26 October 1999

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Citizens' rights emphasised as part of EU reform

As the European Union in its current form has reached the outer limits of its ability to function, fundamental reform should begin with tackling the biggest problem, the relationship between citizens and the Union.

This is the opinion of a leading Finnish EU expert, Professor Esko Antola. Writing in the national daily Helsingin Sanomat (22 October 1999), Antola observes that a desire to strengthen citizens’ basic rights in the EU has been emerging. Demands of an EU Constitution are now taken seriously, Antola writes.

"This means that issues of basic rights and a constitution have broken the wall of silence although it still is difficult to have these accepted. This is a question of great significance although the practical consequences will certainly not be immediately visible."

According to Antola, it cannot be said that citizens have become alienated from the Union because there never has been a close relationship between European people and institutions.

"The EU is an inter-governmental organisation and citizens participate in an indirect way through national political institutions. The direct election of the European Parliament has not changed this relationship."

Antola emphasises that in reforming the EU, the question is not only about the structure of the Union but also about the philosophy of action.

"Enlargement will bring to the Union a great number of countries whose democratic and civil societal traditions are not comparable to those of the present member states. A Union of almost 30 countries will require fundamental reforms. It is not enough that the existing structures is adapted to a growing number of members as has been the case in the past."

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