Lipponen: "Small countries want equality in EU"

After his talks with Tony Blair in London on Tuesday, Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen emphasised the need to guarantee equality for small member countries in the European Union. Speaking to journalists outside 10 Downing Street, Lipponen said that whatever reforms are carried out in the EU, it is crucial to ensure that small countries' citizens and enterprises are treated in an equal manner.

Lipponen deplored the recent tendency to increase inter-governmental co-operation thereby weakening the Commission. He praised, however, Blair's recent speech in Warsaw, in which the British Prime Minister suggested that the Council of Ministers should outline political direction and then the Commission should make initiatives and monitor the compliance of mutually agreed rules. According to Lipponen, this is an important way to guarantee equality of treatment for small countries.

The Finnish Prime Minister ackowledged that his idea of an EU Constitution may not be enthusiastically received in Britain. He emphasised, however, that it is important to strengthen the rights and identities of member countries with some kind of binding agreements. It is also in the interests of small member countries to have a wide-ranging debate about the future of the Union. Lipponen said that this debate should involve national parliaments and ordinary citizens. The debate should be initiated during the forthcoming Swedish and Belgian Presidencies, he added.

Lipponen also reitirated his view that every country should retain a member in the Commission. He also said that new member countries should be given a seat in the Commission because this would give them important experience. Lipponen acknowledged, however, that after the EU's enlargement there will be a need to discuss possible changes in the Commission.

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