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Power of big EU countries raises questions

The recent round of top appointments in the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance seems to have favoured the bigger member countries.

An article published in the Finnish news weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (13 August 1999) points out that the smaller countries have occasionally expressed dissatisfaction over major appointments, but it was only the decision to give the job of the General Secretary of NATO to the British Defence Secretary George Robertson which made countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg protest more aggressively. These countries demanded to know why their representatives were not considered more seriously.

One Finnish expert of European integration sees the development as an extremely worrying sign of big country preponderance. Suomen Kuvalehti quotes Professor Esko Antola who thinks that the big member countries of the EU have begun a process "which aims to change the power relationship between small and big countries".

"The process has been visible for some time. It will create a very difficult situation when the institutional reform negotiations begin next year. Small countries have proportionally a lot of power, for instance in the voting system of the Council of Ministers. This would only increase with the enlargement of the EU. This is why the big countries now want to rectify the situation," Antola says.

"This will become a crucial question for Finland. I don’t understand why we haven’t wanted to take this up. Maybe the attitude is that big countries don’t notice this if it is kept silent."

According to Suomen Kuvalehti, Antola is surprised how silent the Finnish decision-makers have been over the matter. Only the Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, has vaguely warned about the power grabbing tendencies of the big countries. In a speech in June, he emphasised that "a more closely knit union is better for European citizens and small states because it secures them against big power hegemony".

In the interview, Antola warns against innocence over the aims of the big member countries.

"At worst we might end up with a big state directorate. If one wants to make the argument more extreme, we are heading towards the system reminiscent of the Vienna Congress."

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