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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dutch Foreign Minister provides food for thought ahead of Cameron-Rutte talks on EU reform

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will travel to London to meet David Cameron tomorrow and discuss various EU-related issues. Ahead of the visit, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans gave an interesting keynote speech on Europe in Rotterdam yesterday - laying out a few issues Cameron and Rutte may discuss at their meeting.

Here are some key quotes from Timmermans's speech (the highlights of which we featured in our daily press summary today):
It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Europe without the EU would slide into war, but it would also be naive to think it would be better if everyone went their own way.

The idea that it would be in our interest to leave the Union strikes me as nonsense…But this does not mean that there are no drawbacks. European solidarity has a downside, and we should not try to conceal it. The government recognises this fact and is working with other member states to tackle the adverse effects of the free movement of persons, for example.

Sovereignty is a paper tiger. In today’s world, if you want to serve Dutch interests you need influence…But that does not mean giving the EU carte blanche to arrogate more powers to itself. The European Union needs to be modest and understand that there is no Union without the member states…The EU exists by the grace of the member states and their democratic institutions. The EU would do well to secure greater involvement in Brussels decision-making by those democratic institutions, governments and parliaments.

We are making proposals to bolster the role of national parliaments, and [we] favour a smaller European Commission focusing on core tasks. The system of yellow and red cards, which allows MPs in national parliaments to intervene, must be further strengthened. And the Commission mustn’t brush yellow cards aside. National MPs represent national voters and their involvement in the European debate is essential.

I am optimistic. Optimistic about Europe’s capacity to find a new direction. Optimistic about our ability to reform the EU so that it works for us all in an efficient and cost-effective manner...There is no need to rewrite the [EU] treaties. What we need is for the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission, shortly after the elections in May, to reach a political deal setting out what the EU’s priorities will be over the next five years, and in what areas the EU will refrain from activity, so that those areas can be left to the member states. 
We've stressed that the Netherlands is emerging as a 'thought leader' on EU reform. The line of the Dutch government is clear: European where necessary, national where possible.

Timmermans's latest speech illustrates that there is plenty of common ground for the UK and the Netherlands to work on. The one snag for Cameron, though, is the repeated Dutch opposition to EU treaty change - something which Cameron has said will be part of his renegotiation. Perhaps we will know more on the treaty change front after the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel next week...


Jesper said...

About whether or not there is a need for a treaty change:

In an ideal world there would be no need for a treaty change but we know that this world isn't ideal. In this world we should have effective limitations on what leaders can do.

Göran Persson, former prime-minister of Sweden and current lobbyist, has publicly stated that he believes that the current treaties do not put any obstacles in the way of turning the EU into a federal state. Might need legal acrobatics to make it happen but...

Legal acrobatics is at the best of times a necessary evil. At worst it is a perversion of justice.

There is a need for a new treaty.

Average Englishman said...

Dream on Timmerman dream on. Another EU politician in need of a dose of realism, although I suspect he knows full well the truth and like Cameron chooses to ignore it. By truth I mean that:-

* The Commissars in Brussels will keep taking power and pressing ahead with 'ever closer union' until they are deposed, not reined in a little, deposed and pensioned off.
* Said Commissars will be allowed to do what they want so long as their actions are overall to the benefit of Germany, the one EU power that really calls the shots.


christhai said...

The EU is out of control.

The EU Commission is a very dangerous and UN-Controllable organisation.

When one has such infectious sickness, stemming from the core of the "patient" - one must completely destroy the disease - merely pruning it will just make it stronger.

The Nations of the EU do not want nor need another "Government of Governments" which is how the EU Commission sees itself.

The Nations can CREATE a SERVICE Organisation to carry out AGREED multi-state tasks.

The AGREED Task/s is then IMPOSED on the Service Organisation to execute under EU National supervision.

There is not ONE area of the "EU Commission's" assumed responsibilities which cannot be done by an Intergovernmental Agency.

So - in the name of Democracy

Disband the EU Commission now.

Disband the EU Parliament now - it has no function.

Take a small part of the EU Budget and set up this Service Agency - which - remember - has NO executive status, cannot introduce ideas, cannot play at politics - to carry out the orders of the Nations.

In this way we don't see the EU paying protesters in N.Ossetia, Georgia nor the Ukraine to rebel and kill one another.

We see co-operation.

christina speight said...

Timmermans, Cameron, hosts of others plus Open Europe all live in the fools' paradise where reasonable people try to come to a consensus. The EU's core ideologues are not interested in the least, They want - Reding not least has made this clear - a full-blown US of Europe and they'll engineer the Euro's problems to produce more suffering and disaster because they believe that this suffering and misery will aid their goal. They hate the people who makec up Europe because they keep getting in their way.

BUT - sad to say - they are winning and the EVIL EUROPE gets nearer

Rik said...

Re treaty change.
Clear traditional parties donot want it as it would mean people voting on it in some countries and a new discussion on the pro and cons in others at a very dangerous and weak point in EU history.

However that will change when circumstances force tham and there simply look to be alot of things that might trigger that. Hard to see that none of these would happen.

Re Holland. Timmermans perfectly fits in the mold. Change is unescapable so he not opposes it. 'Only talk is enough' phase is behind them in Holland. So he goes for real things.
Referenda still suck so he tries to avoid them.

That is why it would be handy to get the SP aboard. Well semi-aboard. More like make similar noises to crate polical pressure.
They have strategic know how enough to see that a not treaty change is much easier to reverse again later on. So will demand one
The also will understand that getting powers back is as good as it ever will get for them. Social paradise Europe is not going to be on the agenda in our lifetimes.
Getting powers back and be able to arrange your own social policies is as said as good as it gets. And they are at the end of the day a pragmatic bunch.
Plus the SP put pressure where it hurts (with the PvdA now at 12 seats (from high 30s in the election).
And create a sustainable majority for Change also over 4 year electoral cycles.
Their party line is not that far away. Mainly looking for powers back (they are pretty populistic in that sense), and of course for Social paradise Europe. No way can get a platform for that at the moment. It is simply go for a realistic one or get more or less guaranteed nothing.
They are pragmatic at the end of the day and are likley to oversee the field on top of that.

Wilders will keep shouting about exits, but will at the end of the day compromise on a proper reform if necessary (like if the votes are needed) . Plus possibly some Euro stuff but that is not very relevant for the UK. His people simply fully understand that he will have to compromise and are very unlikely to punish him for that. He only will not go for a bogus deal like the prior coalition one just to add up the seats to a majority. He needs something to show to his voters. But in that respect he is like Cameron (a report like reform imho will see us getting his PM-backside kicked in both referendum as well as earlier general eelction). People want real reform simple as that and likely a fight to achieve that as that would restore his credibility beyond sceptical believes like we see now.

Might be weird bedfellows and getting them as media allies unlikley a very good idea, but an occasional talk to coordinate agandasetting is likely very helpful.

Tobias L. Thaler said...

the dutch and the british proposals are not the only possible ways to do it:
after years where the national governments and the commission (with it's agenda decided by governments) have been gaining more and more power, there are two more ways to change.

by giving more power to the national parliaments
by giving it to the european parliament.

cutting everything only to leave national governments (with their parliaments that can't have the insight and ressources their governments have, on european issues) to decide in the end, would mean rewarding the ones who have been concentrating power in their hands until now, ie. the ones you think have failed in the years gone by.
if you think the union in the past hasn't worked (because you didn't like the direction the european council (=national governments) indicated to the eu comission or decided by themselves), well, then don't give it even more power!

you can have a more democratic union by strentghening parliaments (european and/or national), but that doesn't seem the dutch priority. they say they want to strentghen national souvereignity, by giving more power to the governments.
but that means that they will not have more democracy, but only stronger national governments.

so, by using the fear of the union, the dutch proposal will do democracy no favour. it'll just leave europe with a less democratic system, where national governments decide on everything in a opaque european environment.
sounds good if you use words like "more souvereignity", but isn't so, really, if what you could and should achieve, is "more democracy"...

Rik said...

Giving more powers to the EP is not a solution it is a problem.
Similar but not equal to the present one.

It simply doesnot have sufficient platform withing essential countries. Branches of the same tree, as now with Council and Commission. Brits and Dutch simply with a considerable (even huge) majority prefer to decide on this issue at a national level.
Eg roughly 60-65% of Brits find the current system unacceptable. And very likely it is considerably higher when the question if the EP should get more powers would be asked. For the simple reasons that the pro-EU group partly will consist out of people that see the trade off overall as positive. Not that they see the way decisions are made as such as positive. It is the trade off.
From there hard to see that a further power increase would not be seen with even more scepsis than the current system.
Add to that that a blind horse can see that that giving more powers to the EP would be completely unsustainable (a lot of people might not like that as well) on top of that and it is simply a no go.

Not going to happen anyway. For Cameron it would be equal to political suicide.
You need referenda for that which the EU is trying to avoidlike the plague because of the lack of electoral platform.

It will do democracy a lot of favour. First of all you have to realise that it is the voters who decide what does democracy a favour and what is democracy.
If they can live with it it is if they cannot (like here) it simply isnot.
Second that way no new measures can be started that are undigestable at a national level. And in that process erode the little platform for the EU that there is in essential countries even more.

What might work is cut the EU into freetrade and 'the rest' parts.
Freetrade furthermore would have to be clearly limited so the 'further integration' cannot keep stretching it and have the present rules decided at a European level.
Hard to see however why you would need a parliament for that. Rules re decisionmaking should be simply there to keep things going when there are problems or new developments.

Rest could be done via a double approval. European and national via red cards.
Probably better as well to get provisions that an op out is possible also lateron.
Simply avoid the mess that there is now. The way it is now simply might kill the whole project simply because in a country things get so unacceptable that they will accept rather an out than going along with it.
Like now in the UK and in Holland, countries are close to a full exit (UK via referendum and Holland via general elections) for what at the end of the day is a combination of messing the legislation up combined with stubbornness to reverse that.
Not a present danger yet but the trend is worrying.
Simply to many silly rules (legal mess) because legislation is fully a political compromise and no attention is paid to basic legal principles.
And running way too far before the troops. For a lot of things there is simply no platform.

Rollo said...

Is there any purpose in 'food for thought' for Cameron? Isn't that just pearls before swine? Thought for Cameron means adopting a 'concerned' or a 'sympathetic' expression, and saying what he thinks people want to hear. Another string of meaningless platitudes to follow....

Anonymous said...

Timmermans clearly is just spreading propaganda that the eussr can change, all the will in the world can't hand powers back to the nations and keep only pan european aspects being "debated", and enforced in brussels, the undemocratic constitution is there and as long as it remains there can be no improvement just more powers flowing into the hands of the unelected commission.