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Siim Kallas: The European Union – a truly fair system

"We don't really see the law of the jungle in the European Union," Siim Kallas, European Commisioner and former Prime Minister of Estonia.

Interview: Janek Mäggi
Text: Anna-Carin Windahl

The fairness of law is always a debatable topic and that is the greatest shortcoming of democracy. Siim Kallas, a European Commissioner and former Prime Minister of Estonia, considers the justice of European law and the power of political decisions.

As the European Commissioner for Administrative Affairs, Audit and Anti-Fraud, Siim Kallas has every reason to reflect on various aspects of the philosophy of law.

“In general, all the sections of the national elite are responsible for the end result, in respect of where and how a country develops,” notes Kallas. “It’s interesting to observe how courts are shaping politics and interfering in the process, as in Turkey, for example. All those involved must be able to see the big picture and not approach things mechanically. Also, it would not be right for the Parliament to always make the final decision. Some of the authority should be delegated to other institutions, including the courts.”

A just majority
Arguably, one of the features of democracy is that fairness or otherwise of the law can be called into question. How can the majority be trusted not to impose unreasonable decisions on the minority? Many such examples can be drawn from European history, which often appear quite horrific in hindsight. The question arises as to whether it is really possible to have a fair judicial system based on the rule of the majority when that majority itself might sometimes not be so fair.

“Well, the answer to that is already implied in the question,” says Kallas. “There is not one single country in the world where the majority would initially have supported the abolition of death penalty. And nevertheless this has always been considered as an indicator of how far a civilisation has developed. When a terrifying killer is caught, 80 percent of the people will want to see him executed. Therefore, many decisions must be made which are not based on the feelings of the majority. The Constitution of Estonia, for example, contains several items which we would never decide by referendum.”

Big knows best?
For thousands of years, the law of the jungle was the law of the land; being big was more or less equivalent to being right. Now, EU law is supposed to safeguard everyone’s rightful interests, but there are always concerns among the smaller member states that they will be bullied by the more powerful ones. Kallas, however, sees no reason for this.

“We don’t really see the law of the jungle in the European Union”, he says. “You know, the small countries have also made history with their viewpoints which they have firmly stood by, and I have not seen any desire on the part of the larger countries to walk all over the smaller ones. If they have a rational alternative viewpoint, this will be taken into account. The European Union is entirely rule-based.” Kallas notes.

European law held in high regard
For many countries around the world the European legal culture is perceived as the ideal standard. But given that the EU has 27 member states,  representing diverse legal structures and cultures, can this system ever be just?

“As a whole, the European Union relies very much on the rule of law and is a truly fair system. It has a well-developed legal structure. At the same time, it is natural that there are different opinions and backgrounds within the European Union. There are great systems outside Europe as well, mostly in countries which are very closely connected with Europe and have a similar legal culture,” Mr. Kallas concludes.