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Friday, January 11, 2013

Could the Netherlands provide the beginnings of a coalition for EU reform?

Interestingly, if today's report in the Sun is correct, David Cameron seems to have enlisted Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's support for, at least some, of his EU agenda, due to be spelled out in his widely-anticipated speech in Rutte's homeland in just over a week's time.

The paper reports that Rutte will back Mr Cameron’s "campaign for a repatriation of money and power to EU member states." Now, there isn't much detail to go on here - and the risk is that unrealistic expectations are being raised - but it's not the first time that the Dutch Prime Minister has voiced a desire to start a discussion about slimming down the EU's powers. In an interview with the FT late last year, Rutte said, "What we want to do is have a debate at the level of the 27 [member states] whether Europe is not involved in too many areas which could be done at the national level."

Rutte hasn't yet set out exactly what areas he wants to look at and he is keen to make the case for reform of at the level of 27, rather than a UK-only deal. Also, the nature of the 'grand coalition' between his liberal VVD party and the Dutch PvdA labour party may not allow him to go as far as he might wish. But Rutte is smart enough to know that since the UK cannot be expected to give up its existing opt-outs, the only solution is for the EU to do less.

The VVD's manifesto suggested that:
“The VVD wants a liberal Europe. That means that the European government should be small, economical and efficient. Not more Europe but a Europe which works…The VVD has a lot of criticism towards Brussels bureaucracy: the regulation-obsession, wasting funds and inefficiency.”
On the budget the VVD say:
“Spending needs to be brought back to less than 1% of GNP in order to make the EU more efficient, modern, and effective. In the new EU budget for 2014-2020, the biggest part is still reserved for agriculture and cohesion funds, almost 800 billion euro. The VVD wants to shift this in favour of investment and innovation.”
Indeed the PvdA could also be persuaded by Rutte and Cameron to look at the balance of powers between the EU and national governments, if the following from their website is anything to go by:
"In the new Europe there shouldn’t be all kinds of rules under the pretext of the internal market, but we’re going to regulate things at the proper level. Some things the Netherlands can better deal with itself ."
Some European political figures, such as Gunther Krichbaum, Chairman of the German Bundestag’s European Affairs Committee, have been quick to dismiss any attempt by the UK to "blackmail" the EU and seek, new UK-specific opt-outs. This is, of course, the public German diplomatic position, so no surprise. However, if presented as an effort to reform Europe and make it work better, putting new emphasis on the EU's "subsidiarity" principle (discredited in the UK but which still holds sway in Germany), Mr. Krichbaum and many of his colleagues instantly become far more receptive. This shows that if Cameron is able to pitch his argument in terms of "this works for Europe, but by the way it works for the UK too", he could enlist the support of leaders in other European capitals, but without antagonising the home crowd. Getting the language in the PM's speech on this issue right will be vital. 


Anonymous said...

The Dutch people were clear no European Superstate no Lisbon in 2005!(66% voted No)

We can only hope politicians wake up and follow the UK.

Rik said...

Very likely.

On Rutte's position. He completely messed up the recent formation of the new cabinet in a way that he lost half his seats (virtually) in the polls. He would likely have been replaced were he not PM and if there were candidates for that.
He stopped the leak, but not more than that. He simply have to get the votes back. And with the economy going as in the UK or worse it has to be on other issues.
He lost as said half his votes and half thereof roughly to Wilders who is not really an EU-fan. So have a good look at the points Wilders focusses on (only not the bail out of course).

The EU being likely one of the main ones if not the biggest Rutte could score with.
Likley points on which he can score.
-Balkan labour immigration (like the UK) could be solved by eg making free movement etc dependent of say the per capita GDP. Say allowed when a country has one of say 2/3 of the average EU or half of that of the richeest 10 countries.
-Welfare tourism/immigration. Similar as the UK.
-immigration in general. Of less interest for the UK.
-OE points/ Balls points that kind of stuff. Rutte likes (he mentioned that several times) (do things as the lowest possible level where it can work and not everything in Brussels).
-More focus on free trade, incl. services).
-Budget increase. Probably as popular in Holland as in the UK. Leaner and meaner EU.
-Proper audits etc. Several frontpage items on that recently in Dutch papers. Accountability.
-More R&D less CAP.
The list looks rather similar.

PvdA is likely somewhat more sceptic to change. But if the SP Socialist would start to campaign more on that they come in a similar position as Rutte. Get more Euro-sceptic (probably disguished as Euro-critical or EU-reformist, sounds better) or lose a lot of seats.

The cabinet is far from stable. There are still several points that could cause a lot of problems. They didnot play yet (like the healthcare issue) but could likely do later when the consequences for the population start to hit in.

Rutte will go fine with Cameron (bit similar persons only Rutte looks to have less brain and less backbone). Ideas will likely have to come mainly from the UK.
Hardly a strategist Mr Rutte and Dijsselbleom also doesnot look the sharpest tool in the box. He is the financial guy that did the coalition talks and missed several big issues and big financial issues.

Rik said...

Great weekend for 'Dave'.
Mr Ed made a huge strategic mistake re the referendum, giving Cameron the big-party-monopoly to campaign on a change in EU/UK-relation. Plus makes him effectively the only one to vote for when you want a referendum (as 2 out 3 voters).

People make always mistakes when they are put under pressure like here (he had to comment one way or another and was clearly not prepared). Wanted to score on the critisism on Cameron's strategy and shoots himself in the foot instead. And gives Cameron a boost vs the IPs at the same time.

UKIP 2 percent back in the polls. See if it is a one time thing or the start of a new trend. Seen the fact that it is at the same time with a lot of media coverage and it reverses the previous trend, my guess is a new trend.