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Successes and Failures in Representing Small State Interests in European Union Decision-Making: the Case of Estonia

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This article challenges the rather common notion, which is wide-spread both in the media an in academic writings, that the enlargement of the European Union (EU) will result in the fragmentation and sophistication of the EU’s decision-making process. On the contrary, the author argues, the 2004 and 2007 EU enlargements have shown that EU decision-making has absorbed the increased number of 27 EU member states with surprising success.One important reason for this phenomenon seems to be the fact that most of the states that have recently joined the EU are either small or very small, with a population of less than 10 million inhabitants. Not only are the policy ambitions of such states much more modest compared to greater nations, but also the scale of access of small EU member states to all levels of the EU decision-making process is somehow more limited. Small member states primarily tend to focus on the later stages of the process, preferably inter-governmental decision-making. Early stage decision-making in the European Commission and even in the pre-Commission phases is often out of a small state’s reach.This article is based on a case study regarding Estonia’s participation in the working groups of the EU Council of Ministers (CoM), carried out in 2008. Among other aspects, the ability of Estonian ministries to monitor CoM working group decision-making, draft Estonian positions, carry out legislation-impact analyses, access the European Commission and lobby the EU institutions is analysed. The article also includes a survey conducted with Estonian officials who participated in the CoM working group meetings, and interviews with key officials responsible for designing Estonia’s participation and positions within the EU decision-making process.


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