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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 15:41 GMT
How would you reform the EU?
The European Union is worried that it is not relevant to the everyday life of its citizens.

So delegates are gathering in Brussels to find a way of making the organisation more democratic and efficient.

Last week the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, called on the convention to push for "a European Union which is better understood, better liked and with which our citizens are familiar and comfortable."

Many member states think that the EU needs to change before it expands into eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Over the next few years the number of members will increase from 16 to 25, but EU rules and workings were designed for six.

Is the EU relevant to your everyday life? If not, how should it change?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I still do not understand why we need to integrate even further into Europe. After we have the single currency in the UK, there will be no need for further integration because we will have almost everything the EU needs to compete with the US and rest of the world as a global market (we will have more people, resources, jobs, freedom of movement etc). The EU was set up for economic gains and not to ultimately end up as an United States of Europe. We should leave the expansion of the EU's members and laws where it is, and stop the petty rules that restrict our way of living (the 'metric martyr' for example). I am for the EU as an economic benefit but in the end I want was born British and want to die British, not European.
Matthew, England

A clear lesson of history is that all of the world's empires come to an end eventually

Jonathan Rogers, UK
A clear lesson of history is that all of the world's empires come to an end eventually. A few unravel peacefully, but most end through war and bloodshed. It is vain arrogance for the EU to pretend that it is the guarantor of peace in Europe. It is precisely because it will always be unable to legislate adequately for the diversity of its peoples and cultures that it will increasingly become the cause of conflict. I would take the initiative now to begin to wind down the institutions of the EU and thereby create a positive impetus for the restoration of freedom and democracy for the peoples of Europe.
Jonathan Rogers, UK

I think that the EU has gone as far as it can and, once the UK joins up to the single currency, the integration should stop there. The EU was designed to make jobs, and not for a social union. To say that the EU should become a superstate like the US is absurd. The US works because it is one country, one language, with one history, with one culture. To make the EU a superstate would mean the loss of the richness and diversity of culture that Europe possesses. We should not try to merge 16 (nearly 25) cultures into one big, manageable culture.
Matthew, England

It is not important if Europe will be federal or not. The real issue is that it will be a part of a larger democratic world or we will not be.
Alberto Lupi, Italy

Smaller states, larger trading blocks is the way forward

Amoroso, Kenya
The EU's sole motive is to be an alternative to America. That is an irrational basis for organising a society. What the world needs is economic integration and political disintegration. Smaller states, larger trading blocks is the way forward.
Amoroso, Kenya

More equality among member states. Currently Germany, France and UK want to dictate the future guidelines for the EU. At least now many of the smaller countries are feeling the danger of the organisation becoming a club of the biggest. As long as ALL nations keep their ability to influence decision making in an equal manner, the EU will get stronger.
Timo Ahlstedt, Finland

Get rid of it ... It's a job creation scheme for bureaucracy and the elite of governmental institutions. I wonder how we all survived so many years before .. quite well actually

If the EU is Europe's way of dealing with its envy of the United States, it should first decide on what its ultimate goal is. It should be completely open to public view. If it is the total merger of all of Europe into one superstate, its citizens should know this in advance and agree to it. Then it should proceed with extreme caution. With all of the current differences between members, trying to put it together now would be like trying to force the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle made of parts that don't fit and don't form a coherent picture. It will take generations of evolution for all the rough spots to be rounded and smoothed if there is to be any hope of success.
Mark, USA

Why are you afraid of a unified Europe? It doesn't kill history, it creates it.

Stephen, USA
I think that the EU is starting to evolve into a US-like system, which is much more open and public than the current EU is. An elected body of representatives with real power and an elected EU "president" would give the Union more leverage and make many people who are suspect of joining the EU (read: much of Poland and Turkey) maybe change their minds.

The EU should, primarily, be open and accountable for its actions.
Ideas for elected representatives: each region (a city-state, if you will) would have an appropriate number of representatives and all of Europe would vote for a High Commissioner, or President. My question to those opposed to a stronger, more open EU is this: why are you afraid of a unified Europe? It doesn't kill history, it creates it.
Stephen, USA

While I am not opposed to the UK becoming part of Europe, I realise that, at present, a united Europe is not an easily achievable goal. OK, we might all have the same money and commercial and political controls, but we are presently as far removed from the federal ideal as it is possible to be. Americans all speak the same language, have the same culture, but at the same time have their own state identity. They can move around freely taking their families and skills with them. The same is happening in India (although the 128 different languages used there present a problem)which uses either Hindi or English in their bureaucracy. In Europe, it is not easy for a person living in Italy say to uproot and go live in the UK. We are essentially trapped by our different languages and cultures. Until a genuine European culture develops we will never be part of a true federation.
Alex, UK

Most international bodies work perfectly well under the control of representatives of national governments. No-one would suggest that the delegates to the UN, WHO, WTO, NAFTA or NATO need to be directly elected by the voters. The illusion that the EU is a country rather than an international organization is at the root of the contradictions that keep people so confused about it. The EU is a trade organization, not a country, and if it remembers that, then the vast majority of people, even in the UK, will support it. But the idea that some unelected bureaucracy can set up its own country and act as if it has the right to occupy the nation-states of Europe by legal force is an idea that the majority of Europeans will always reject.
Jon Livesey, USA

I hope we become far more integrated into Europe.

john, UK
I hope we become far more integrated into Europe. The government of the UK couldn't care less about my views and opinions and couldn't organise their way out of a paper bag. I don't recall seeing any millennium domes in France or Germany. If this country doesn't get itself into gear soon and start sorting out it's myriad of problems, I think I'll go and live in the Netherlands. At least I would be treated like an adult there.
John, Reading, UK

The EU is relevant to my everyday life in an adverse way. It is responsible for high taxes throughout Europe and for idiotic legislation which is totally undemocratic, racists and bias. My way of changing the EU would be to disband it totally so that the money spent paying for Euro-MP's to jolly it in expensive hotels with enormous expense allowances, could be spent more beneficially trying to revive the NHS system, the police force, the public transport system, schools, need I go on?
PhilT, Oman

People have to be made accountable for their budgets and all payments should be declared publicly. I believe it outrageous that MEP can employ their families and friends for dubious reasons and then make the EU pay salaries in excess of 40 grand to them.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

Anyone with the ability to write to this column also has the ability to find out who his MEPs are. Does everyone have to be spoon-fed? As to confining EU activities to "trade" only, how could this work without rules to govern the market, and hence some means of enforcing the rules?
John Murray, UK

The union is quite possibly the biggest confused mess in the history of politics and government. At least that¿s how it seems to the majority of its citizens and to echo an earlier contributor, I feel English before I am European (in the EU sense) because I like many others, are not really sure what the union is, and how it helps the normal populous day-to-day.
Ashley Sanch, England

A more streamlined Commission and Parliament is paramount.

Mark, UK
The EU is definitely relevant to my everyday life in that I work in various EU countries so I have direct contact with the changes that are happening all over Europe. I would however, change the way the EU operates; in that a more streamlined Commission and Parliament is paramount. Then directly elect our representatives in Europe and make them more accountable. Cut out the massive perks that they receive and bring their salaries inline with MP's of various Governments throughout Europe. Then we could eventually consider expansion to the East and Med. However, this should only take place after the reforms are carried out with no expansion into Turkey and other parts of Asia.
Mark, UK

The EU is well in need of reform. For almost thirty years it has been an irrelevance to most people within Europe. At best it has been an exclusive club for businessmen and bureaucrats. At worst a money laundering operation for inefficient farmers. The one thing the EU did that was relevant to ordinary people was the Social Chapter.

If the EU is to have a meaningful future it is to continue to promote the human factors. It must improve the working conditions of its people and enhance health, safety and the environment. Its most important role must be to act as a countervailing force to American economic hegemony and the arbitrary power of corporations. It must promote the return of utilities to local public control and champion the rights of individuals and communities against the worst excesses of globalisation.

Sustainable development of the third world and the promotion of the free movement of people and ideas between all countries of the world are also European ideals that are sadly missing from its current agenda.

The future requires new ideas that involve sustainable development, more local decision making and more say by citizens in their own lives. There¿s a lot for Europe to do.
John Allen, Scotland

The bottom line in this country is that we are told NOTHING about Europe. I don't have a clue who my MEP is, what rules we have given away to Europe, what the pros and cons are for entering the EU, or indeed which parts we belong to at the moment. Things have to change.
Andy, UK

The amount of compromise necessary with 25 members has to be astronomical

David, UK
I still don't see why the EU is so necessary. With Europe comprising of so many different people, cultures and ways of thinking, the amount of compromise necessary with 25 members has to be astronomical - democratic or not. Forcing countries and their citizens to accept rules on how to run their lives, businesses, and governments seems un-ethical, or impractical at best. How will we ever discover new innovative methods when there is only the 'EU way'? I would like to see open borders, free trade, and security alliances only. When a shopkeeper is jailed for selling in pounds instead of kilos, something is very, very wrong.
David, UK

I find it interesting that in making the EU more "transparent" or democratic the leaders of the member states have chosen a forum made up of appointed former politicians, making it look more like a retirement home for politicians than a constitutional convention. I doubt that these has-beens will take the necessary steps to make the EU more than it is now - a system of consolidating agricultural subsidies which also does a little competition law
Philip, USA

The EU should restrict itself to matters concerned with trade. All other issues should remain with the member state elected governments. Failure to restrict itself in this way will eventually lead to its total collapse.
John Cooper, UK

I would like to see more of our European parliamentarians communicating with their constituencies.

Steve Burston, UK
I'm a Euro- enthusiast but there is a definite need for reform within the EU, especially before we admit more countries into the fold. The executive should be drawn from the European Parliament rather than from unelected commissioners, and the executive should be made to be accountable to the Parliament on a regular basis. Only then will the people of Europe really feel that they have some control over what is happening within the EU. In turn I would like to see more of our European parliamentarians communicating with their constituencies (perhaps through the media as do national politicians). Most Brits have no idea who their MEP is let alone what they have achieved while in office.
Steve Burston, UK

The EU bureaucracy's biggest faults are that it's over-centralized, opaque and unaccountable. People might have less problem with the centralization if it were transparent and accountable. These are the two biggest challenges the EU faces. If they want Europeans to care about the Union, the average person has to feel part of the Union.
Bri Farenell, USA

Firstly there needs to be an honest an open debate regarding the future of Europe. If that future is to be federal in the form of a United States then democracy should be placed at the front of any reform. If the people of Europe wish simply a trading club then the individual governments of Europe should once more take precedence over any European parliament.
Alex Keenleyside, England

The EU needs to stop meddling in local affairs and to hand back many of the powers it has taken to itself to national governments. With more countries due to join, it needs a common language even more than a common currency. Just think of the time and money consumed in translating every little directive into 30 languages, ridiculous. Also, the common agricultural policy is a sick joke and needs total rethinking. Above all, it needs to reconnect with the people it claims to represent and listen to what they want, otherwise Colin Mackay's dire prediction will come true and it will go the way of other artificially imposed stated like the USSR and Yugoslavia.
A Campbell

The makeup of the upper house should be constructed to reflect the diverse backgrounds, beliefs and structure of Europe.

Kevin Albertson, England
Strict limits on federal powers agreed by all member states.
The opportunity for euro-citizens to have important issues debated and decided by EU wide referenda.
A mixed member proportional representation elected lower house.
The yearly opportunity to vote members out.
An upper house with no law making powers, but the power to veto legislation passed up from the lower house.
The makeup of the upper house should be constructed to reflect the diverse backgrounds, beliefs and structure of Europe. Members would be appointed by, for example, state governments and religious organisations. E.g. if 5% of euro-citizens claim to be Roman Catholic, (as evidenced by census returns) 5% of the religious makeup of the upper house would be appointed by the RC church. If 10% of euro-citizens are native French speakers, 10% of the upper house would be native French speakers. And so on.
Transparent EU government accounts.
No opportunity for politicians to set their own salaries. Their increases in pay should be kept strictly in line with the growth rate of GDP in the EU as a whole, with negative adjustments made for any increases in equality between regions.
Kevin Albertson, England

It really is very simple. Instead of sending one or two unelected commissioners to Brussels, the commission should be made up of members of the European Parliament. In other words, in almost exactly the same way as individual countries' governments are formed.
James Tandy, UK

I'm definitely a Europhile but I do think several things need to be changed in the way Europe works. I would like to see plans for citizens of each member state to directly elect their one (or two) commissioners. These should then elect a Commission president amongst themselves. Also, the European parliament should be where the real power lies. I would like to see the Commission reporting to Parliament rather like national governments do to their own parliaments.
Pierre Werner, UK

The EU might just work once it realises that central control by an unelected body will only end in disaster (of the worse kind, read your history books). Revert to independent democratic states trading together and stop worrying about the size of bananas etc.
Colin Mackay, UK

I wonder how many of the people who've posted a comment here bothered to turn up to vote at the last European Parliament elections. Those that really want to reform the EU should start by exercising their right to vote, rather than moaning about the EU being undemocratic, or complaining about the lack of information (and the information is out there for anyone that bothers to look). Turnout at the 1999 EU parliament elections was 24% in Britain, by far the lowest in the EU.
Hannah, France (ex-UK)

The EU used to be the EEC. That was what the British people voted to join - a trade bloc. A good idea, and one that has largely been achieved. What we need now is for some kind of a central 'Single Market Police' to ensure that there is a genuine single market and trading area and...for everything else to be scrapped. It is all an expensive waste of time.

No Parliament, no Council of ministers, certainly no European commission. Get rid of the lot. The whole idea was for a trading area, so OK let that continue, make sure it all works, but what the politicians of Europe don't seem to grasp is that we want to be friendly and trade with each other, but we don't want to be one country! All opinion polls of ordinary people reflect this all over Europe. We are on a one-way street to a single country, and it stinks.
Jon Cooper, UK

To Alex from the UK: The UK is part of Europe, geographically, economically, ethnically and in any other respect. What else could it be part of? Alex is also wrong when he assumes the USA have one language: Large parts in the south have become dominated by Spanish and there are a good deal of ethnical ghettos (Chinese, Korean etc.). BTW: The UK also has more than one language.

Alex also ignores that migration has happened all over Europe for centuries. Poles migrated to Germany, Portuguese to France, Italians to Belgium etc. I think that people in the UK are in general very badly informed about EU matters, despite the efforts undertaken by the BBC's on-line service. But this information should be complemented by an in-depth analysis on the question why UK citizens are so "blocked" in their view on Europe. Many statements on this page are just utter nonsense with no relation to EU realities.
Ronald Vopel, Belgium

See also:

28 Feb 02 | Europe
EU debates radical reform
13 Dec 01 | Europe
Europe's blueprints for reform
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