The Baltic States as members of the European Union - An analysis of the public opinion to EU membership in the Baltic Region

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2005 27 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Eastern Europe



1. Introduction

2. An Introduction to the European Union
2.1. The History of the European Union
2.2. The institutions of the European Union
2.2.1 The Commission of the European Union
2.2.2. The Council of the European Union
2.2.3. The European Parliament

3. The EU accession procedure
3.1. Requirements and Stages for EU Accession
3.2 Accession process of the three Baltic States

4. Attitudes of the Baltic people to the European Union
4.1. The Eurobarometer
4.2 Country reports about the public opinion to EU in Baltic States
4.2.1. The public opinion about EU in Estonia
4.2.2. The public opinion about EU in Latvia
4.2.3. The public opinion about EU in Lithuania
4.3. The public opinion in comparison with other New Member States
4.4. The public opinion in comparison with “Old Member States”

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

At May 1, 2004 the European Union (EU) underwent a very historical moment, due to the fact that it was enlarged from 15 Member States to 25. But not only the impressive number of new members created this nonrecurring instant, the more important fact is, that eight out of the ten “New Member States” are situated in the East-Central European region and are former communist states. That is why this act is often called the “reunification of Europe”. These new members out of this region are Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary as well as the three Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The two other new members of EU are Malta and the Republic of Cyprus. In the following the term “New Member States” or modifications like “new members” are exclusively used for the eight states from the East-Central European Region, because Malta and Cyprus will not play an important role in the argumentation of this paper. In all of the “New Member States” referendums were held in 2003 asking the population the question if they approve the entry of their country to EU or not. The results have shown an approval in every state from at least 67 percent of the voters in Latvia and Estonia to 92.5 percent in Slovakia. The turnout achieved values between 45.6 percent in Hungary as the lowest one and 72.5 percent in Latvia as the highest one. (http://www.europa-digital.de/laender.htm.)

Looking at these results it could be concluded that the attitudes of the people towards EU in these states were more or less positive in their majority at that time. But how are these attitudes nowadays? Are there some visible changes over the time, especially since the joining of EU more than half a year ago? It is not possible and not sensible to have a look to all of these countries in detail due to the fact of the restricted size of this paper. The analysis will be focused on the three Baltic States. Why is it useful to look into Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania cohesive to the attitudes of the people to EU? The main point is that these three countries have a common background regarding to the recent history, geography and also in the fact of a large Russian minority. This last fact concerns mainly Estonia and Latvia, where the Russian population receive a percentage of approximately 30, while in Lithuania the percentage is only around eight. Due to this these three countries have good comparable basic conditions on the one hand. However, there are some differences on the other hand, for example in language and cultural aspects, which are important to recognize. All these requirements predestine the Baltic States for a comparative study.

The paper will be divided in two main parts: The first part is about the structures and the functions of the EU institutions. This presentation will be focused on three institutions of the EU: The European Commission, The Council of the European Union and The European Parliament, due to the fact that this “institutional triangle” produces the policies and laws that apply throughout the EU. Any of these institutions will be introduced in an own subchapter by explaining their composition, procedures and functions. Other institutions like The European Court of Justice or The Court of Auditors have a vital part to play, but they are not important for the understanding of the argumentation of this paper, so that it is not necessary to introduce their structures and functions.[1] Important to mention is that the “Council of the European Union” should not to be confused with the “Council of Europe”, an organisation separate from the EU with a wider membership, or with the “European Council”, the meeting of the heads of state and government of the EU together with members of the Commission (Archer 2000:44). In the following the terms “Council” and “Council of Ministers” are only used as synonyms for “The Council of the European Union”. The presentation of the institutions of the EU will be followed by an overview about the EU accession procedures of the three Baltic States. This chapter will be introduced by a short description of the official regulations to become a member of the EU, more precisely a description of “the eight stages to EU”.

These mentioned backgrounds are essential for the following second part of the paper, the empirical analyse of the attitudes of the Baltic population to the European Union. It is mainly based on aggregate data of several editions of the Eurobarometer, which will be introduced in an own section. Other, also on aggregate data based surveys, are used, if they show significant different results or if they contain some interesting aspects they are not mentioned in the Eurobarometer. It is important to mention that the using of such aggregate data does not allow autonomous calculations of correlations between age groups, levels of education and the opinion to European Union for example. To use correlations like these for the argumentation we are relied on mentioned ones in the available reports. Subsequently the attitudes to different questions asked in these surveys will be analysed by looking at first separately to the results of every country. Afterwards the results of the Baltic States will be compared with those ones from other New Member States on the one hand and with results from the “Old Member States” on the other hand. Finally there will be a conclusion.

2. An Introduction to the European Union

Before introducing the structures and functions of the EU-Institutions it is useful to give a short overview over the history of the European Union to obtain a better background knowledge, so that it is easier to evaluate results of the surveys in a correct way.

2.1. The History of the European Union

The foundation stones for the nowadays existing European Union were the Treaty of Paris on the one hand setting up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 and the Treaties of Rome on the other hand forming the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. They all were signed by six states: France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The main goals of these treaties were mainly economical ones by removing trade barriers and forming a common market. In 1967 the three European communities got a greater political relevance by merging the institutions of them. From this point on, there was a single Commission and a single Council of Ministers as well as the European Parliament and it became common to speak about the European Community (EC). The next important date is the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which introduced new forms of co-operation between the member state governments, for example on defence and in the area of “justice and home affairs”. These additions created the European Union (EU) (George 1996:1-2). In the same year the member states decided to go for economic and monetary Union by involving the introduction of a single European currency which came into reality in 2002, when the Euro notes and coins replaced the national currencies.[2]

During the time the EU (respectively the EC) has grown in size with successive waves of entries. In 1973 the six founder states were joined by Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark, followed by Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, Austria, Sweden and Finland in 1995 and the last wave in 2004 with the mentioned 10 states. To ensure the functioning of the institutions the aim of the Treaties of Amsterdam 1997 and Nice 2001 was to lay down new rules for the working of them. The recent important step in the history of the European Union was the signing of the Constitution of the EU in October 2004, which must be still ratified by all 25 members to become effective. The success of this process is very insecure, due to the fact that in several countries referendums will take place about the approval of the constitution. The Constitution contains several important changes, particularly the reorganisation of the institutional framework. It contains for example the advancement of the “European Council” to an adequate institution of the European Union, the installation of an EU-foreign minister, the enlargement of the competences of the European Parliament as well as new rules for the working of the Commission and the Council of Ministers (http://www.europa.eu.int/constitution/index_en.htm.).[3]

2.2. The institutions of the European Union

The following introduction to the institutions of the European Union will be orientated at the Treaty of Nice, because it contains the current valid rules for them. It will start with the description of the construction and functions of the Commission followed by the ones of the Council and the Parliament.

2.2.1 The Commission of the European Union

The Commission of the European Union seeks to maintain the interests of the Union as a whole. The Commission consists of 24 “commissioners” and the president, so it must include one national of each of the member states. (Treaty of Nice: 54)[4]. The commissioners are all equitable members of the entire “college” and are working after the principles of collective responsibility (ibid. Art. 217: 24). According to the Treaty of Nice the Commission is appointed for a period of five years, within six months of the elections to the European Parliament. The procedure is the following: The member state governments decide who to nominate as the Commission President. This candidate chooses the other Commission members in discussion with the member state governments. A new Commission is able to start working if the European Parliament has approved it. Their official domicile is in Brussels. Since November 22, 2004 the present Commission with its president Jose Manuel Barroso is in office. (http://www.europa.eu.int/institutions/ comm/index_en.htm.: 1)

The European Commission has four main functions: First to propose legislation to Parliament and Council. In other words under the treaty the Commission has the right to initiate proceedings. Thus it is submitting proposals for laws presenting it to Parliament and Council. These proposals must aim the interest of the Union and its citizens as a whole, not those of specific countries. The Commission is required to keep the “subsidiary principle” in mind, which means that it only propose action at EU level if it believes that a problem cannot be solved more efficiently by an inferior level action, for example at a national or local level. The second function of the commission is the responsibility for managing and implementing EU policies and the budget. It is also responsible for programmes adopted by Parliament and the Council of the European Union like the “Erasmus” programme of student exchanges or the “Interreg” programme of creating cross-border partnerships between European regions (ibid: 2-3). Thirdly the Commission as “guardian of the Treaties” has to enforce European law (together with the Court of Justice) in all Member States. It has the right to impose penalties to Member States, which is not applying an EU law. Finally the fourth function is the representing of the European Union on the international stage (Hogwood 2003:225).

2.2.2. The Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union represents the individual member states and is the main decision-making body of the EU. It was set up by the founding treaties in the 1950s. Its meetings are attended by one minister from each of the national government. The Council consists of different configurations, depending on what subjects are on the agenda. If for example the topic is about social policies, the ministers of social affairs come together and if an environmental issue is on the agenda, the ministers for environment will have a meeting. Each minister in the Council is authorized to commit his or her government. Nevertheless the Council of the European Union remains one single institution (http://www.europa.eu.int/institutions/council/index_en.htm: 1).

The Council Presidency rotates every six months between the Member States. Currently Luxembourg holds the Presidency, followed by the United Kingdom in the second half of 2005. Due to this each of the Member States in turn takes charge of the Council agenda and chairs all the meetings during its leadership, trying to promote legislative and political decisions and to find compromises between the EU countries.[5] The presidency is assisted by the General Secretariat, headed by the Secretary General, who is Javier Solana since 1999. Their task is to ensure the well functioning of the work of the Council. Decisions in the Council are taken by vote. The number of votes a country has depends on the size of the country’s population. Since November 1, 2004 the number of votes each country can cast is between 3 votes for Malta as the lowest ones to 29 votes for Germany as the highest ones. The Treaty of Nice enlarged the possible number of so called “qualified majority voting” decisions. It means that a proposal is approved if a majority of member states (in some cases a two-thirds majority) support it and if at least 72.3 percent of votes are in favour. Additionally a member state can apply for confirmation, that the votes in favour represent at least 62 percent of the total population of the Union. If this is found not to be the case, the decision will not be adopted. However, in some particularly sensitive areas like a Common Foreign and Security Policy, taxation, asylum or immigration policy, the decisions to the Council have to be unanimous (ibid:3-5).


[1]. For further information about these institutions see: Archer 2000:54.

[2] The Euro as “deposit money” was introduced in 1999 already, when the European Central Bank resumed their work in Frankfurt.

[3] On this website you can find all information about the New Constitution of the European Union.

[4] When the Union will consist of more than 25 members the number of Members of the Commission shall be less than the number of Member States by choosing the Members according to a rotation system

[5] This regulation is valid till the end of 2006. After this the presidency will be hold by one bigger state and two smaller states together, which should be more suitable in the enlarged European Union.


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University of Latvia – Department of Political Science
Baltic States European Union Region Politics Policy




Title: The Baltic States as members of the European Union - An analysis of the public opinion to EU membership in the Baltic Region