Professori Christoph Demmke kampusrannassa.

The EU decides on issues that affect the daily lives of Finns – Professor Christoph Demmke opens the door to EU decision-making

Sofia Niemelä
Initiatives from member states play a significant role in EU decision-making. The process is multi-stage, and the decisions affect the daily lives of member countries. The forthcoming European Parliament elections is an opportunity to influence how Finland and Finnish issues are considered in EU decision-making.

EU decisions are part of our daily lives in many ways. EU decision-making is a multi-stage process and has a huge and – still widely underestimated - impact on the member states.

Christoph Demmke, Professor of Public Management at the University of Vaasa, is a respected academic and researcher, but also an experienced EU expert. He has been a versatile advisor to the European Commission, Parliament, Council and EU Presidencies since 1994.

Demmke takes us behind the scenes of European Union decision-making and explains why the contribution of Finnish experts and politicians in Brussels is important. 

Decision-making in Brussels is a multi-stage process

Most people believe that the EU officials far away in Brussels invent ever new bureaucratic rules and policies. In reality, the member countries play a major role in the decision-making process, as they come up with most of the initiatives. Of course, Finland is only one small country out of 27 member states, and it is difficult to make a difference on our own.  

However, Finland can be influential if joining the right allies, e.g. the Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark or Estonia and influence EU-decision-making together. It is vital for Finland to align positions with bigger countries, like, for example, Germany. However, it is the same for Germany, too. They need support from other countries as well. 

– When lobbying the EU-decision-making process, it is important to know what is going on in Brussels well in advance so that the opportunity to influence is maximised. Germany and Finland have particularly good relations. It is also vital to know the Finnish EU-officials and “call them”.

Thus, in practice, not a single member state is able to negotiate initiatives on its own, all countries always need support from other member states. Moreover, it is important to know how the EU-machinery works in practice. For example, it is important to be clear and precise linguistically.

Overall, crucial are the hundreds of expert’s groups and council working groups. In all of these, national experts play a decisive role and lobby the EU Commission. Different to popular perceptions, EU officials are highly professional civil servants and very eager to listen to national interests.

– Often, after a year or two, perhaps an agreement is reached, after which the parliament and the ministers decide; however, ministers themselves rarely negotiate. 

Once the final decision has been made, the decisions taken in the EU must be implemented and enforced on the national, regional, and local level. At the end, it is often difficult to know whether a national law has its origins in Brussels, or not.

Christoph Demmke, Professor of Public Management at the University of Vaasa, is an experienced EU expert. He is currently working as an advisor for Poland, whose EU Presidency will start in January 2025.

EU decisions affect Finns' daily lives and mobility in Europe

Many laws in Finland are based on EU legislation. For example, laws relating to water and water resources are based on EU decisions, and our three-level degree system for university education is based on the Bologna Process. Many safety-related laws and trade and competition laws are also based on EU decisions.

– The EU has had an added value in many areas. For example, a positive impact on job mobility, anti-discrimination and traveling within the EU. If you want to move to another EU country, you have a free right to do so. You are also free to establish a company in another EU country.

In addition to the Bologna Process, the European Union has made mobility easier for students by allowing them to apply for Erasmus exchange programmes in different member states. It is also possible to apply for research fundings from EU research programmes.

The EU is visible in the development of Finnish cities and regions, with many projects supported by EU funds, such as the Turku port area. In addition, the EU's internal market offers clear economic and business advantages for Finland.

The EU is investing in security. Membership provides Finland with increased military security, as more and more military projects and procurement will be decided at EU level.

–  Many think that EU membership is costly for Finland. In reality, the net contributions are low, and Finland receives more money and benefits from membership than pays.

The EU also negotiates many international trade agreements with countries such as China and the United States. Together with other member states, the EU has a much stronger negotiating position at global level. The same applies to international climate agreements and climate negotiations.

Finnish experts urgently needed to work in Brussels

The EU parliamentary elections are coming up, and the opportunity to influence how Finns and Finnish issues are considered in EU decision-making is at hand. According to Demmke, it is important to get active Finnish politicians and officials to Brussels.

– At the moment, the number of Finnish experts in the EU is declining, which is worrying. Finnish experts are urgently needed.

According to Demmke, this is partly due to the retirement of existing experts, but also to a critical atmosphere in which working in the EU is not seen as attractive.

– Those who criticise the EU must also be present in the decision-making process because criticism without concrete action is pointless. If you want to influence what is done and decided in the EU, you must work for it.

In addition, application processes are often long and multi-phased, which does not attract young Finns to apply for jobs in Brussels.

– The working atmosphere in Brussels has always been very friendly and diplomatic, but the work is demanding. Language skills are essential, as the languages used are mainly English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and sometimes Dutch. For Finns, a good knowledge of English is particularly important, but other languages are also useful.

The European Parliament elections will take place in June 2024, when 15 new members will be elected from Finland. Effective MEP work also requires continuous networking, engagement and influencing.

Demmke has long experience as an EU advisor

Christoph Demmke, Professor of Public Management at the University of Vaasa, has been working in various EU advisory roles for thirty years. He has participated in or chaired nearly 100 top-level meetings in the EU. He consulted almost all EU institutions (European Parliament, Commission, Committee of the Regions, European Court of Auditors), the Council of Europe/GRECO and as an expert in parliamentarian committees of the European Parliament.

He has also worked as an advisor for the German Ministry of the Interior and with various European governments (Luxembourg, Ireland, the Netherlands). He has also worked as an official at the OECD in Paris.

Mr Demmke is also an experienced academic who has worked as a professor or researcher at Harvard University, Oxford University, and the College of Europe. 

He is currently working as an advisor for Poland, whose EU Presidency will start in January 2025.

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