“The European Union (EU) must aim to promote peace, its values and the well – being of its peoples.” Already in the introduction to the EU Treaty, it is clear that the goals of European cooperation are as much political as they are economic.
The core of EU cooperation is above all the common market. The EU’s latest treaty states as an overriding goal that the EU should offer a borderless area where citizens can travel, live, work and study freely, offer an open market for all goods and services, even out regional disparities and have a common currency.
While everyone agreed on this economic part, the political side of the EU provoked long and heated discussions among the hundreds of European parliamentarians who in the first years of the 21st century had been tasked with creating a new constitution that clearly stated what the EU would serve. It was absolutely crucial for these politicians to determine the values that would form the basis of the EU.
Article 2 therefore read: “The Union shall be founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” Diversity, tolerance and equality between the sexes were also sought in the introduction, as were human freedoms and rights.
This was not just rhetoric in general. During the 1990’s, xenophobic parties had great success at the national level in Europe, which in the long run could lead to them also gaining influence in EU cooperation. With the dark shadow of xenophobia as a backdrop and with uncertainty about how the newly democratized Eastern European countries would develop, the EU chose to make it a crime for a member state to violate fundamental civil and human rights.
A country that repeatedly grossly violates EU values may be deprived of its right to vote in the EU by the other member states. But such an intervention requires unanimity. The EU institutions therefore found it difficult to act forcefully against Hungary when the country began to nibble on civil rights under Viktor Orbán’s government from 2010. The EU has also failed to correct member states that have been reluctant to give the Roma equal space in society or to Poland when the country, among other things, restricted the independence of the Supreme Court.
One of the rights that the EU Treaty gives citizens is the right to privacy. It proved difficult to maintain when platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter proved to collect and sell information about their users commercially. In the new economy, data is enormously valuable.
The EU has therefore first negotiated with the US and to give EU citizens protection of their personal data, then tightened the rules in the EU so that a citizen can, for example, demand the “right to be forgotten”, in other words a requirement to remove certain data from search results (but not the documents themselves).
In the spring of 2018, the toughest personal protection to date came into force, the so-called GDPR Act (General Data Protection Regulation), which requires all Internet platforms to seek the user’s express permission before their data is resold and to be informed before this happens. A great responsibility was also placed on all collectors of personal data (companies, associations and authorities) who are prohibited from retaining unnecessary information (for their main task), are required to inform users and customers about what information they have about them and accurate records so that monitoring authorities can easily see if they are repeating the rules.
Limiting the EU
An important principle, which politicians wanted to establish from the outset, is that the EU must not encroach on the nation state in any way. EU politicians had been repeatedly surprised by the consequences of their own decisions, such as when the European Court of Justice ruled that free movement of services means that patients can receive care provided in another EU country at the expense of their national health insurance.
Such surprises led to the fact that the Treaty now states that “every power not conferred upon the EU by the Treaties belongs to the Member States.” Furthermore, the EU must respect the countries’ distinctiveness, local self-government and the principle of subsidiarity (EU decisions can only be taken in cases where decisions at local or national level do not fulfill the purpose as well).
The democratic deficit
According to countryaah.com, the EU’s growing influence over member states’ social policies has led to criticism and protests in many countries. As early as 1992, the Danish people put a stop to this trend by saying no to the latest EU treaty in a referendum. The French, Dutch and Irish people would do the same 10-15 years later.
Opposition to the EU has gradually pushed for more open cooperation where citizens and interest groups are given more opportunities to make themselves heard. The EU’s decision-making assembly, the Council of Ministers, for example, holds open meetings when it discusses legislation or holds public debates. The second decision-making assembly, the European Parliament, whose plenary and committee meetings are open to the public, does the same .
The EU now has a Swedish-inspired principle of openness which gives the public the right to request public documents. The national parliaments receive new bills at the same time as their governments and can contribute comments. If a third of them consider that the proposal infringes the principle of subsidiarity (see above), the Commission must reconsider before proceeding.
In addition to the consultative bodies of the Committee of the Regions and Ecosoc (see Structure), the Commission must also consult the rest of civil society. This is done partly through open consultations on the Internet, and partly through deliberations in Brussels to which the interest groups of the parties directly concerned have been invited.
Citizens can now contribute by calling on the European Commission to submit a bill through the ‘ Citizens’ Initiative ‘, a collection of at least one million signatures from at least seven Member States.