Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte today set out the Netherlands’s vision of the future of the European Union. The Prime Minister highlighted that EU cooperation was beneficial to the Netherlands in some contexts, like the fight against climate change and illegal migration, but that the EU shouldn’t develop into a federal system, and that member state sovereignty in certain sectors should be respected.
This speech comes ahead of the Dutch local elections being held on the 21st March, which marks a first test of the new government after the general election last March.
“More perfect union, not an ever closer one.”
Opening up the speech, Rutte’s vision of the EU was that of a “community of values and a partnership of 27 sovereign states that make each other stronger”, and underscored that the EU “begins and ends with the member states.”
He said that the Netherlands wasn’t worried about Germany potentially pushing towards a federal EU with a new government, and reiterated that federalisation isn’t the way to develop the EU. In his view, the EU is not an unstoppable train speeding towards federalisation, and it should “be working towards a more perfect union, not an ever-closer one.”
Rutte pointed out that the EU was a mechanism to solve joint problems that member states cannot solve alone, for example tackling climate change, where he called for a binding commitment to reduce CO2 by 55% (up from 40%, the current commitment) in 2030 compared to 1990 levels. However, he stressed that the EU shouldn’t interfere in measures where member states can better tackle their own problems, like economic rules and justice systems.
It was said that the Netherlands wants to provide a strong contribution to PESCO, the new mechanism for integration in European defence, for example by calling for the development of military mobility across the EU, which some have dubbed ‘military Schengen.’
“Solidarity is a two way street.”
Rutte reiterated his plea for a European asylum system and again demanded a mechanism to relocate refugees between member states, admitting that he understood the concerns of those opposed, but emphasised that strengthening the external borders of the EU would dilute some of the concerns of the eastern member states.
The Prime Minister underlined that Europe wasn’t just a menu, where member states could pick what they liked and reject what they didn’t, repeatedly saying that a “deal is a deal” and that “solidarity is a two way street.”
Negotiations on reforming the Dublin regulation with a potential relocation mechanism are currently deadlocked in the Council. Leaders agreed last year to come to an agreement on the new European asylum rules by June.
Criticism of the Commission’s “politicisation” and failure to uphold budgetary rules
Rutte criticised the Commission’s role in upholding the Stability and Growth Pact, the Eurozone budgetary rules, effectively saying that the Commission had become too political and no longer has the credibility to independently enforce budgetary rules. He warned that Brussels “serves the member states, not the other way around.”
The Prime Minister called for a return to the euro’s basic promise of improving prosperity of all EU member states and not to a development of a transfer union where existing prosperity is shared around.
The Netherlands is therefore in favour of shifting budgetary responsibility over to a newly established intergovernmental European Monetary Fund, which would independently monitor member states economies and enforce the budgetary rules.
Rutte called for a debt restructuring mechanism, something that France and Italy have explicitly rejected as a red line in the talks of Eurozone reform.
No increase in Dutch contribution to the EU budget
Rutte said that Brexit meant the next multi-year EU budget should be smaller, and that the Dutch people shouldn’t have to increase their contribution to the EU. He also defended the rebate the country receives, saying that countries with similar levels of prosperity shouldn’t pay disproportionate amounts into the budget.
He highlighted that over 70% of EU funding was currently spent on agriculture and cohesion spending, and that with small cuts, other priorities could easily be financed. “European funds should be last resort, not a first aid.”
While the last budget negotiations were carried out in the context of the eurozone crisis, the European economy is now recovering, and this has prompted many member states to pledge to pay more into the EU budget, such as Ireland. Rutte therefore acknowledged last week that his position seemed to be in a minority, with only members such as Austria and Denmark holding similar views.
Rutte also called for a form of budgetary conditionality to encourage economic reforms, and encourage compliance with fundamental EU values such as the rule of law.