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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nordic Nations Urge EU To Increase Its Openness

BRUSSELS -- Sparked mainly by the Swedes but aided by the Finns, a powerful new campaign is under way at the European Union to pry open its institutions and expose its work to public scrutiny for the first time.


Encouraged by the arrival of its like-minded Nordic cousins, Denmark has also taken up the cause, as have the Dutch.


While advocates say an increased openness at the EU would lead to greater democracy and probably deeper acceptance of the increasingly influential unified Europe, others worry that it may worsen national tensions and diminish the power of smaller countries.


In part, the debate on greater openness reflects a clash of national cultures: In France, Italy and some other founding member countries, citizens tend to accept the state's right to decide in private; that tradition has collided with centuries-old Nordic laws that make virtually every official document open to the public.


For anyone who believes in democracy and free speech, the new efforts to bring greater transparency to Europe's struggle for peaceful integration would seem long overdue.


"Unless this issue is resolved, there can be no [public] acceptance of a unified Europe," argues Aidan White, Brussels-based general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.


Others, however, claim it's not that simple.


They say, for example, that to consider the council as just another legislature is to ignore both the continent's violent history as well as the fragility of its integration. Much of the union's success so far, they argue, has been precisely because differences could be resolved in private, without arousing national passions.


"The council is a power game between 15 member states," said Norbert Schwaiger, chief spokesman for the EU's Council of Ministers. "Compromise would be politically much tougher if all positions were open. With the hate that has consumed our continent, I sometimes feel it's too early for that [a fully open debate]."


The new push toward openness runs against the grain. Indeed, in the early years, when the devastation of World War II still blighted the landscape, those who dreamed of European unity launched their work as a kind of benevolent conspiracy.


With the support of member governments, the alliance of political visionaries and Brussels "Eurocrats" pushed their crusade forward with few questions from the grass roots -- and little accountability. Not even the national parliaments that voted away large chunks of sovereignty to European institutions seemed to grasp the real significance of their actions.


But there was genuine anger in Britain when people learned the EU had the power to prevent British candy bar manufacturers from labeling their products as chocolate because in some cases the ingredients failed to meet an official definition. Germans were equally upset a few years ago when they found the union had the power to alter a 450-year-old law guaranteeing the purity of their beer.