Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Attempts at EU reforms

EUROPA / EU co-operation has developed in step with society's crises and challenges. But is it now high time for further reforms for the future of the EU? And is the right of veto really an obstacle?


An eternal dilemma for Europe is the extent to which the member states must surrender their national sovereignty in order to achieve a common policy.

The vetoone is a problem. In 1986, the member states of the EU (then the EC) agreed to adopt actis with qualified majority, ie two thirds of the countries. Under the Maastricht Treaty and subsequent treaty changes received The European Parliament co-determination in the fields where the member states had waived their right of veto – as a form of democratic corrective action.

But in several important political areas, each country still has a veto and thus the opportunity to block a common European position, policy and regulations. Many want to introduce majority provisions in the areas of health policy, tax and foreign and defense policy, while others believe it is going too far.

Director at Fridtjof Nansen's department, Iver Neumann, gives us a refreshing realpolitik perspective when he claims that Brexit has changed the rules of the game, and opens up the idea of ​​throwing out countries that do not respect them: "Brexit sets an important precedent, namely that member states can leave the EU. This is an important lesson when the EU has to deal with countries that over a long period of time – such as Hungary, or for periods Poland and Slovenia – oppose the EU's democratic constitutional principles and way of working. Then the EU should air the possibility that these countries can be better off outside the EU.

Greases Left-manager Ane Breivik# takes a European perspective when she emphasizes the need to abolish individual countries' veto rights and transfer several policy areas to the directly elected European Parliament: "Going forward, Europe will benefit from increased integration in areas where the Union is better able to solve the challenges than the member states alone. There is no contradiction between such a course and the principle of subsidiarity."

Otherwise, for example, President Emmanuel Macron has expressed that the decision-making processes in the EU machinery are too extensive and too slow. Mathilde Fasting in the think tank Civita thinks Macron has a point: "But the balance between having veto power and, on the other hand, letting all countries be heard is fine," she says. "If, in the long term, the EU is able to move towards closer integration, institutional reforms which mean that the right of veto may fall will have to be carried out. One possibility is to strengthen the European Parliament. If not, it will be very difficult to imagine that important decisions on issues of borders, migration and defence. Fasting is a strong supporter of the EU and says she wants closer integration and interaction, "especially because we live in a world that makes every single country completely dependent on other countries. No one can do it alone."

Professor at NTNU Lisa Rye highlights challenges in making the EU machinery more democratic: "The problem with streamlining decision-making processes, whether it happens in the EU or in other contexts, is that it easily takes on a democratic side." She emphasizes that "today's EU is nevertheless far more democratic than what it once was, and also far more democratic than our own connection to the EU". Rye also points out that the degree of democracy in the EU is linked to the Union's legitimacy with people: "The legitimacy of EU cooperation is a continuous and demanding task. Democracy in the EU can never be like democracy as we know it in Norway. The EU is too big and too diverse for that."

"Today's EU is far more democratic than it once was."
Lisa Rye

The EU countries, and in particular the Commission in Brussels, are concerned with facilitating a greater degree of citizen involvement – to reduce the distance between the cold glass facades in Brussels and the people: "People's support for the EU will primarily depend on whether they experience that the Union delivers the goods or not. We know that the citizens are, and have always been, more connected to the nation-state than to the EU."

The Labor Party's parliamentary representative and former LO leader Trine Lise Sundnes highlights areas where EU cooperation has shown responsiveness: "There is little doubt that the EU is capable of acting quickly. In a very short time, they have both approved and produced over 700 million vaccines for their own use and the equivalent globally. They produced a digital vaccine passport that is used on 4 continents, in 42 countries. It has given over 400 million people a digital vaccine passport.”

Sundnes' point is interesting because it also shows the drag effect the EU has on other regions of the world, a side effect we rarely hear about. She believes the pandemic has actualized the need for stronger health policy coordination: "That we want to see a more closely integrated Europe, I think is this year's 'understatement'."

"Hug with another attempt to draft a constitution."
Frank Rossavik

Aftenposten commentator Frank Rossavik believes that the time has now come for conferences on Europe's future: "Hug with a new attempt to prepare one Constitution, with subsequent referendums! The EU needs a new attempt at renewal, i.e. a broad process to clarify what the union is at its core, what tasks it should solve – and which nations should keep and possibly also get back. The exercise can be a prerequisite for creating real cooperation on e.g. asylum policy," says Rossavik to MODERN TIMES. “The constitutional process was the last attempt. The experiences from that time are frightening enough, but soon 20 years have passed. The authoritarian tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe are unlikely to disappear. Better to also make these states responsible – and not least their citizens."

Democratic surplus in the EU?

Writer Linn Stalsberg highlights an important perspective when she writes that "answering questions about the EU is like appearing for an oral exam and not understanding any of the questions, even though you are sure you read the entire syllabus. Even for those of us politically interested, the EU's structure, bureaucracy, mandate and methods are a sauce of ambiguities. That Norway is both involved throughout EEA, but not included as a member of the EU, does not reduce the confusion. This is my main objection to the EU: It works as a political passivator and creates a feeling of powerlessness for us ordinary citizens". Stalsberg also has an apt point when she points out: "MODERN TIMES states, for example, that 'EU cooperation has developed in step with society's crises and challenges'. Does it have it? I do not know. How am I supposed to know that?" Stalsberg shows the extent to which the EU project appears confusing and complicated, which is detrimental to a project so important to society.

"The Lord's Prayer is 67 words, the Ten Commandments are 297 words, while an EU directive on caramel imports is 26 words."
Hans Geelmuyden

Also communication guru Hans Geelmuyden believes to MODERN TIMES that EU cooperation must change its way of working and form of communication: "Europe is expensive to operate", he says and highlights the bureaucracy:

"The Lord's Prayer is 67 words, the Ten Commandments are 297 words, while an EU directive on caramel imports is 26 words. Control and bureaucracy inhibit productivity, innovation and growth in business and the economy." The EU therefore has a lot left to do on the communication front: "Firstly, national politicians must be held accountable. For the past 911 years, they have blamed the EU for everything they themselves cannot achieve. This is how Brexit became possible. Secondly, further integration is necessary to realize the four freedoms to a greater extent. The EU has great potential in areas such as working life, taxation, foreign affairs, defence, trade, digitization and environmental policy. And last but not least, the EU must communicate better with those it exists for – the citizens of the member states. The EU must show how the Union contributes to them having a better life both now and in the future."

Hans Geelmuyden

Nevertheless, Geelmuyden believes that the criticism of the EU's democratic deficit is not correct: "Many claim that there is a democratic deficit in the EU. On the contrary – the processes and decision-making procedures are very advanced to ensure legitimacy in both the nation-states and the supranational bodies. Therefore, there is in reality a democratic surplus in the EU. The downside is that the processes are difficult to understand for anyone who does not have a master's degree in political science. But the EU is unlikely to get better, or its cohesion stronger, by making decision-making procedures and processes simpler. It will in all probability go beyond the co-determination of smaller EU countries, and that is unwise.

In my next life, I want to become a communications manager in the EU", concludes Geelmuyden.

Digitization and economics

Scientist Cecilie Hellestveit points out to MODERN TIMES another area under development, the power shift digitization of society causes: "Digitalisation shifts the power relationship between the state powers at all levels of European cooperation – central, national and local. The concentration of power increases. So does the public's (rightful) mistrust. In parallel with the EU's goal of strengthening the executive authority of central institutions, the Union must think completely new about the distribution of power and robust democratic control mechanisms in the digital age."

At the same time, Hellestveit points to another area in the future where common European regulation will have to come: "Biotechnology is one of the areas where technological development is going fastest and will probably be the most ground-breaking in the coming decades. This is a complicated regulatory area, with heavy political, commercial and military players. Existing arrangements are not up to scratch. Biotechnological development and utilization is a field where the EU should increase governance and control internally and take a leading role in setting standards internationally."

Ola Inset

Historian and writer Ola Inset highlights the euro cooperation as an example of the distance between people and governance: "You cannot have a common currency if you do not have a common economic policy. Then you lose the currency as a tool in economic policy." He believes that we are facing an important crossroads: "Either the euro must be dissolved and the member states get back monetary policy as a legitimate part of the democratic form of government, or we must take steps closer to a federation and combine common monetary policy with common economic policy. At the moment, neither part seems particularly likely, but I think the EU's desire to appear as the last beacon of democracy in the world is entirely dependent on democratizing the economy as well."

The LO peaks Life Tørres and Robert René Hansen is concerned with the EU project's trust among the people: "What Europe needs is a trust reform at both national and European level". They particularly highlight the EU's green contribution and that the involvement of the trade union movement is important for this radical restructuring of society to be successful, especially in countries in Central and Eastern Europe with the largest proportion of fossil energy mix.

Economic sanctions and identity

Og Pernille Rieker at the Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute (NUPI), is a supporter of the EU using financial sanctions against its own member states when they deviate from the basic principles of the treaty: "While the relationship between national sovereignty and the EU is complicated, it will compromise on fundamental values, which are also clear criteria for membership, in the long term could challenge the EU's functioning and legitimacy. It will, in the next phase, also undermine the Union's ability to take global leadership in key areas. The EU must therefore get better at enforcing its rules internally as well. This is demanding when sanctions require unanimity. The requirement to allow only countries that respect EU rules to have access to the economic rescue package, adopted in 2020, is nevertheless a step in the right direction."

Svein Tuastad: "When more understanding replaces myths, support for the EU increases."

Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Stavanger, Svein Tuastad, points to the dilemma facing EU cooperation: "Building up much-needed dynamism for European politics finds itself in constant tension with the demands of democracy." He believes that the pace of integration "cannot be faster than the solidarity basis allows for". At the same time, he points to the dynamism and mobility in people's perception of the EU's political legitimacy: "Sweden is an example that it works. During the 1994 referendum in Sweden, 52,3 percent voted for and 46,8 against EU membership. Today, EU support is massive, approximately 65–70 per cent in favor and 15–20 per cent against. When more understanding replaces myths, support for the EU increases. This is how it will be with support for the integration process in the EU as well."

Frédérick Fontaine (Canada)-Human Creation. See Libex.Eu

Regional director for NHO Nordland, Thor Lien, highlights today's energy crisis and concludes that the answer does not lie in Norway alone: ​​"If one succeeds in building an energy system in Europe that not only operates within the framework set by the Paris Agreement in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but also ensures that households do not experience energy poverty and that new jobs can be created in Europe, more, not less, cooperation is required. If each individual country, including Norway, were to attempt to build this new energy system alone, the costs would be large and the consequences would be social unrest and a lack of support for Norwegian and European energy and climate policy."

Former SV leader Erik Solheim highlights Europe's cultural affinity: "At the same time, Europe is struggling with a fundamental problem. It is not about the exact design of the institutions in Brussels. It is more fundamental: Few of us have a European identity.

Americans are Americans whether they come from Alaska or Florida. Over 90 percent of the Chinese consider themselves part of the Han people. In Europe we are Germans, Spaniards and Norwegians. We identify with our own people, our nation, our customs, our food, our religion, our culture – not with Europe.

Europe's biggest challenge is to create a European identity in addition to our practical cooperation on the environment, democracy and economy. The bright spot is that identity is not a fixed quantity. Identity changes over time and is created by political processes. Europe must aim for an overlapping identity. We are both Europeans and Norwegians, both Greeks and Europeans."

According to Solheim, India is the area in the world that has succeeded best in this: "Indian identity is not God-given, but actively created in the decades after liberation from the British colonial power. Indians are Tamils ​​and Indians, or Bengalis and Indians. They speak more than 20 different languages ​​that are bigger than Norwegian, and they worship countless gods. The economic differences are greater, and there are almost three times as many people in India as in Europe. Nevertheless, there is a clear Indian identity, on top of all the different linguistic, religious and regional identities. In the same way that Hinduism is central to Indian identity, we would do well to see Christianity as a foundation for European identity. This applies regardless of whether we are personally believers or atheists, whether we are Christians or belong to other religions."

Solheim wonders if we want European ideas and values ​​to survive: "If we are to make an impact on the world, nothing is more important than creating a European identity. But maybe we do it by learning from India?”

Paal Frisvold
Paal Frisvold
Writer for MODERN TIMES on Europe issues.

Related articles