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How the Dutch struggle with the next round of EU integration
by Newropeans-Magazine
2011-09-17 10:31:29
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Evidence is growing that Europe is rapidly heading toward further integration. Finance ministries in the eurozone do not trust the tricky Greek situation. While they hope for the best (that Greece will succeed to get its second tranche of its bailout) they prepare for the worst. There will be contingency plans, more competences for Brussels, a Commissioner for Budgetary Discipline armed with binding sanctions… Also the criticism of Kohl, Delors and other illuster former European leaders targeted at Chancellor Merkel and president Sarkozy add political clout to the pro-EU reformists.

As parliament returns from summer break in the Netherlands it faces an ever more pressing need to take effective action to tackle the crisis in the eurozone. The country readies itself for the traditional Prinsjesdag on September 20, the annual outlook for the year to come. A good moment for a sketch of the Dutch scene.

The time has come for the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD, liberals) to make its position in the eurozone debate clear to parliament. Earlier this summer PM Rutte made himself a laughing stock when he miscalculated the Dutch state contribution to a new Greek bailout with 50 billion euro. On September 7, after long radio silence the Dutch cabinet finally came out with a firm statement in favor of a radical move towards fiscal union.

The Dutch government is a minority government of liberals and Christian-democrats, supported with additional parliamentary support by the party of Geert Wilders (PVV, anti-Islam, anti-EU, anti-budget cuts). If there's one single topic that can cut off the lifeline of the PVV to the minority government, it is the eurozone. Hence the government stands to lose a lot: votes, and even its own survival.

It seems to me that for the first time the cabinet steps out of the shadows. From the Euro Plus Pact right up to now, The Hague acted as the shadow of the 'big brother' Germany, and it did not provide any brokering role. Editors of quality newspapers have criticized the helplessness of the government in the press. It has been hawkish towards the 'garlic countries' (PIGS) and goes anywhere where Germany goes. 

Right now there seems to be no way out from telling the truth about transferring yet more competencies to Brussels. In a Q&A session with parliament half a year ago, Rutte declared that he is willing to give away ‘truckloads of sovereignty’ if that is necessary to guarantee the survival of the single currency. He got the opposition silent with that. His liberals, for the first time in over a century the nation’s biggest party, have always embraced European integration as a vehicle for trade liberalization. Europe is good for business, and that’s where it ends.

The Dutch proposal has stirred the discussion throughout Europe because it overtakes the ‘Merkozy’ proposal of August 21, that was immediately refused because it was ‘too French, too intergovernmental’. What is now on the table in any case recognizes the need for supervision by European technocrats, and it brings up biting sanctions for failing member states. Belgian politicians, amongst them Commissioner De Gucht, have publicly supported such measures. Spanish Commissioner Almunia has come down hard on the Netherlands (and Germany) because the proposal pledges for a forced exit from the eurozone as an ultimate sanction for failing to live up to the rules of the club. I wonder if Rutte emphasized this particular element of the plan into his press appearance just to appease the opposition. Let’s be frank. Threatening with booting someone out of the club is only on the minds of politicians with their short-term interests. Economists have warned that a Greek fallout would be disastrous. And Rutte knows this.

Timing is crucial in the current crisis. The financial markets constantly set new deadlines for our leaders. It remains yet to be seen if the Dutch government’s proposal will still be far-going enough next week to keep up with the worsening mood on the markets. 


Thijs de Wolff
Den Haag, The Netherlands

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