pro Europe: “Is Anybody Listening? Do Small States in Europe Matter?”
pro Europe - Austrian Embassy Series
Dr Emil Brix, Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to the United Kingdom, London
Prof Richard Rose, Director, Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Dr Gregor Woschnagg, former Permanent Representative of Austria to the European Union, Brussels
Monday, 14 October 2013, 12:30-14:00 pm
Residence of the Austrian Ambassador
18 Belgrave Square, LONDON SW1X 8PX
Throughout history, small states had to act very thoughtfully and carefully, always anxious for not upsetting one of the big players. The EU (and its former incarnation the European Communities) changed the equation and provides since its foundation small states with a strong framework to make their voices heard and gives them the tools to defend their national interests – or is this just an illusion? The global financial and economic crisis strengthened intergovernmental procedures in the EU and consequently the position of the big member states. Observers often have the impression that everybody is just waiting for Germany (and France) to make up their mind, other actors are expected to fall in line and raise no objections.
The discussion was chaired by Austrian Ambassador Emil Brix. In his opening remarks Ambassador Brix stressed that it might not be a question of big vs small states but a question of fast vs slow: states which can adapt more quickly and react fast on new developments will be more successful than other states. Ambassador Brix asked the question if small states are still drivers of integration like in the past or if a new era of power politics has arrived. Recent developments have made it clear that decisions in big EU member states like Germany do have more and more influence in other (smaller) member states. Professor Richard Rose underlined the fact that small states have to be much more audience-orientated than big states. Most states in the EU are small and medium size and current structures of the EU (votes in the Council, number of MEPs) give those states proportionally more influence. Broad coalitions are the norm in the EU and medium and smaller states tend to get a similar degree of satisfaction on the everyday issues that are the stuff of EU Politics. Regarding foreign policy Prof Rose mentioned that all EU member states are influenced by global developments but bigger states have a stake in maintaining their independence whilst smaller states have a stronger regional focus. Ambassador Gregor Woschnagg explained that in the past smaller states benefited more from EU integration than bigger states as they got access to a big common market. Today, the accelerated globalization offers more advantages to bigger states and this puts smaller states under more pressure and competition. Within the EU success in the day-to-day business is to a strong degree determined not by size but by efficient structures and the quality of ideas. Small countries like Luxembourg often succeed because they can act very fast and efficiently and have a pro-European approach. It is definitely true that the fast eat the slow. The change from unanimity to qualified majority voting (QMV) in many areas changed the dynamics and countries can only succeed if they are engaged and provide useful input.