When Jacob Soderman, a Finn fond of retreating to his woodland
cottage, thinks of the European Union, he thinks big.
He appreciates the freedom its citizens enjoy to move around
their increasingly borderless continent; he treasures "the good
human values" that the organization promotes; he is grateful that
the EU has helped its members "avoid disputes that might have
started wars" in earlier times.
So Mr. Soderman is a bit disconcerted to find that the European
Commission - the Union's executive body - is trying to tell Finns
how many bears should live in their forests.
Half a century after the EU's founding fathers launched their
dream of a united, peaceful and prosperous Europe, and on the brink
of inviting 10 eastern European and Mediterranean nations to share
that dream, the European Union is struggling to preserve its noble
ambitions against a tide of nitpicking regulations - and a chorus of
As the expansion summit in Copenhagen began Thursday, EU
officials were still haggling with the newcomers over farm subsidies
and other aid to ease their entry. Meanwhile, Turkey conti-nued its
loud demands for expedited acceptance - which the EU has resisted,
saying that Turkey must first carry out more democratic and economic
Despite the last-minute horsetrading, the two-day summit is
likely to conclude with an invitation to all 10 approved candidates.
Even as it expands, however, the EU is engaged in a wide-ranging
debate over its mission and how it should be run.
Expanding the EU to make it home to more than 430 million people
will complicate all these questions, but none more so than the issue
of how to make the Union meaningful to its citizens, and thus give
it cohesion as a political entity.
"European integration cannot function unless citizens own the
political process" says John Palmer, political director of the
European Policy Centre, a think tank in Brussels, the EU capital.
"It won't work as an elitist project," which is what it has been up
until now, driven by the vision of politicians and bureaucrats more
than by popular will.
This is at the heart of an argument being thrashed out in a year-
long convention on Europe's future. On one side are those with a
federal vision vesting great powers in the European Commission and
other continent-level institutions. On the other are those who want
to keep fundamental authority in the hands of national governments,
which would cooperate as and when they felt it useful.
"A US-style federal solution would not work here," says Jens-
Peter Bonde, a Danish member of the European Parliament. "There is
no single people in Europe, and I don't see a European people with a
common European identity developing."
But the Convention's drive to draw up a European constitution,
creating a "framework for a continental political culture," might
help change that, says Mr. Palmer. At the same time, the first buds
of a continent-wide civil society are sprouting. Twelve European
countries are bound by a common currency, the euro, and the
boardrooms of Europe's biggest companies are increasingly
But even these new Europeans have little idea how they are
governed. In a Eurobarometer poll published earlier this year, only
30 percent said they understood how the EU works. That is largely
because almost all EU regulations are discussed and drawn up behind
closed doors, by working groups of civil servants at the European
Commission, which has the exclusive right to propose legislation.
"They take decisions on binding laws without letting people follow
the deliberations,", objects Soderman, who is the EU Ombudsman, the
official who hears complaints from citizens against the EU
The European Parliament plays a sorry second fiddle to the
Commission and the European Council, where national leaders meet to
hammer out deals. …