10 February 2000                                                           

eagle.gif (11717 bytes)


Small EU countries and the case of Haider

The haste with which the European Union has rushed to discipline Austria because of its new government causes problems for smaller EU countries. This is a point made by several Finnish commentators who are concerned about knee-jerk reactions backed by bigger members in the Union. They have warned of dangers created by procedural improvisation in condemning the inclusion of Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party in the Austrian government.

The prominent columnist Olli Kivinen (Helsingin Sanomat, 10 February 2000) writes that in the midst of all the fuss one factor has been almost forgotten: the position of small countries in the EU. Kivinen doesn’t think much of the way Haider – following Mussolini – claims to be advancing the case of smaller nations. However, the columnist makes this observation:

"Behind this debate there is a simple truth. If an unpleasant party had come to power in one of the big countries, one could not have even contemplated hasty improvised reactions.

"Of course the EU reflects the reality of the world: the small are never fully equal to the big. It would irrational to think that the weight of five million Finnish inhabitants would be the same as that of 80 million Germans or nearly 60 million French and Britons.

"Therefore the small countries have a clear motive to encourage mutual co-operation. In addition, it is in their interest to insist on decision-making which is based on legality and accepted rules.

"It is in the interest of a community like the EU to establish a principle to protect the rights of small members because the big ones can take care of themselves anyway. Co-operation in the long run will come to nothing unless the small countries are given a disproportional amount of power."

Kivinen reminds readers of the efforts of bigger countries to strengthen their power in the EU decision-making machinery. The columnist finds this justified to a certain extent.

"In the most important decision-making body of the EU, the Council of Ministers, Germany with 80 million inhabitants has ten votes or one to each eight million inhabitants. Finland has three votes to five million, in other words one vote is gained by just over 1,6 million inhabitants. The reality is not so simple but the figures give an idea."

In view of that fact that the question of voting power will be discussed next week at the inter-governmental meeting, the small member countries, in Kivinen’s view, should get their act together in order to avoid being walked over by bigger countries. The political interests of these members could interfere with the economic interests of the smaller countries as well as basic principles of the EU.

Kivinen writes that the events in Austria have revealed how disunited the small member countries are. The Portuguese, who currently hold the Presidency, and the Belgians have been very active in supporting sanctions against Austria. The Nordic member countries have varied in their enthusiasm. This reflects other differences in the approach to the EU, Kivinen writes.

"While Finland wants to enhance its reputation as the best kid in the class, Denmark and Sweden are doubtful about almost everything that the EU does. They cannot decide whether they want to be part of the EU core."

Kivinen says that if the Nordic countries could achieve real co-operation they could set an example of the strength of small member countries. They could, for instance, oppose hasty decisions, the columnist concludes.


See also:

Eagle Street articles:

Index of back issues

Theuuslogo.jpg (2196 bytes) in London