Creating citizens' Europe

How to create a citizens' Europe? According to Janne Virkkunen, the editor of Helsingin Sanomat (14 April 2001), the wrong way to do this is the one chosen by Brussels — marketing the idea with big money. The EU is thus trying to convince citizens that it is Europe's competent and credible representative.

In his column, Virkkunen writes that EU enlargement triggers many doubts, esecially among citizens of countries like Finland and Austria.

"More and more people are asking what the cost of the enlargement will be and how the free movement of labour will change population structures."

Virkkunen ponders what citizens make of the ever growing number of inter-governmental conferences and the ever stranger acronyms referring to military co-operation or decision-making systems or charters. Brussels jargon is changing into a technocratic language which is ever more incomprehensible for an ordinary citizen.

The editor says that European integration has been impregnated by en elitist character right from the start.

"The whole process has been an elitist project where there has been no need to ask people what to do and how to do it. A system has been created which is based on a bureaucratic and secretive French tradition of administration.

"The enlargement with three new member countries in 1995 has meant the beginning of a change. It is not enough anymore for the present generation that the EU is needed to maintain peace. The EU's acceptability, legitimacy, will have to be newly won from citizens in order for the Union to be a credible citizens' Europe."

Virkkunen examines Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's thinking on the EU. He thinks that it has changed in an interesting way during the last few months. Lipponen has begun to demand that a bureaucratic from-above attitude has to be replaced by a from-below philosophy which encourages the public's direct participation. He wanted the civil society to be included in the process which aims to formulate a constitution for the EU. The Prime Minister wants the most important work to be carried out at a local level, in close co-operation with citizens.

Virkkunen sees Lipponen's views in the context of the growing importance of non-governmental organisations.

"A good question is, how these forces can be connected in a genuine way to the development of the European Union. In theory, it is easy to say that in citizens' society all voices have to be listened to. But what is the weight of this voice compared to the weight of the parliament's voice? And how does one evaluate this weight?

"How does one accomodate the voice of a representative democracy and the voice of a 'civil society' which seeks strength from the Internet? This voice must not be left unheard because it is a voice constantly gaining strength. But what importance should it be given at the national level, not to speak of the European level? To find a solution to the problem is difficult but some credible solution must be found. However, it should not be sought by money and marketing."

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