"Small countries must defend their rights"

The existence of a serious gap between large and small EU countries, revealed at the recent summit held at Biarritz, continues to create shockwaves in Finnish media. In an editorial, Helsingin Sanomat (17 October 2000) writes that the problem has often been dismissed, and the size of the country has most often not been the determining factor in taking a stand. But now the negotiations about the reform of EU structures have changed the situation.

Helsingin Sanomat points out that ten small countries oppose projects promoted by France. These are projects which aim to strengthen the power of large countries. The paper accuses French President Jacques Chirac of resorting to outright threats against small countries. Chirac accused them of slowing down EU enlargement by their intransigence. Helsingin Sanomat admits that there is consensus in the EU about the necessity of enlargement and reform but adds that "putting pressure on the small countries and victimising them reveals incomprehensible arrogance".

"The worst disputes have to do with the size of the EU Commission and the voting power of the member countries in the Council of Ministers.

"In the background, however, one can detect central issues of principle for the EU. The large countries want to strengthen their power and increase intergovernmental co-operation in the Council of Ministers and elsewhere, whereas the small ones want to retain the status of the Commission and also the communitarian principle, as the issue is expressed in eurospeak.

"The small ones hold on to the Commission and clear rules because they guarantee the status of the small countries -- large ones can defend their interests anyway.

"What makes things easier in reality is the fact that the large five countries, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain are not unanimous. They have very different motives and emphases in all of their EU policies.

"It is also very important for the small countries to hold on to their own Commissioner and not to give up the seat. This issue is important in many ways; it strengthens the authority of the Commission and its credibility from citizens' point of view.

"Member countries find it more and more difficult to accept decisions if their own representative has not participated in making them. In addition, a country's own Commissioner acts as an antenna in the EU 'government' and in his or her own way represents the Commission and EU in the home country."

Helsingin Sanomat says that at least the atmosphere has been cleared and issues can be discussed openly. The quarrelling might help other large countries to remember that the EU is not only an organisational aid to promote French politics, culture and language. The paper emphasises that the small countries must defend their essential rights even if enlargement is delayed.

"There is plenty of time because membership negotiations between applicant countries and the EU are far from finished. A shipwreck will be avoided only by conciliatory politics, for the lack of which France has been criticised all through its Presidency."

See also:

From our archive:

"EU needs new philosophy to help enlargement"

11 August 2000

Schröder: No exclusive clubs within EU

17 July 2000

"EU hard core membership important for security"

31 May 2000

Citizens' rights emphasised as part of EU reform

26 October 1999

Changing EU voting rules would be undemocratic by Hannu Reime

October 1999

Power of big EU countries raises questions

October 1999








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