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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

From Amsterdam to Brussels with love?

Events may have conspired to prevent David Cameron from delivering his Europe speech in Amsterdam as originally planned but it has still managed to create political waves in the Netherlands.

It is rare for statements from foreign politicians to be the focus of parliamentary debates but last night the Dutch Parliament held a debate specifically on Cameron's speech. Halbe Zijlstra, the parliamentary faction leader of PM Mark Rutte’s VVD party argued that “Cameron’s speech is a more extensive version of the European chapter of the Dutch coalition agreement.”

The relevant section of the Dutch coalition agreement reads:
"The Netherlands asks the European Commission to inventarise, on the basis of subsidiarity, which policy areas can be transferred to national authorities and will put forward such proposals itself."
Indeed Rutte has himself quipped that what will take Cameron two years (i.e. the FCO's Balance of Competencies Review), will take the Dutch Cabinet 6-7 months. Last week, in a joint letter together with Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Rutte also reiterated the VVD/PvdA coalition’s desire for member states to have the right to opt out of individual EU policies, such as the Schengen zone and the eurozone, or from the EU altogether.

Yesterday, in an effort to apply pressure on the coalition in this area, Sybrand van Haersma Buma, the leader of the centrist Christian Democratic Party (currently in opposition but historically a party of government), claimed that “Europe is indulging too much in all kinds of over-detailed rules”, and put forward his party’s own detailed list of areas in which Brussels should not be involved:

- Nitrates Directive
- Air Quality Directive
- European Soil Framework Directive
- Home Energy Labels
- Freedom of the press
- Occupational Pensions Funds Directive
- Income limit for social housing rent
- Family reunification for immigrants (point system)
- Internet cookies regulations
- Public procurement of small building projects
- Maternity leave
- Ministry of Transport tests
- Female quotas on EU company boards

This is going much further than Cameron, who did not present a ‘shopping list', only mentioning general policy areas such as social and employment law and environmental legislation. Interestingly though, many of the above fall into those two categories. Specifically addressing Cameron's position, Buma said:
"He's right…let's go back to what Europe was originally all about...What I want is for several countries to decide together that [certain] matters can better be regulated domestically. A Europe à la carte isn't a good idea…We must get rid of the idea that if you want less Europe, it means you're against Europe from the start."
This is set to increase the pressure on the VVD-PvdA coalition which will try to agree in the coming months on their own list of policy areas which should be dealt with nationally, and which the government can use as the basis for any negotiations in Brussels. PvdA MP Michiel Servaes reacted by saying that Buma was only “following the line set out earlier by the cabinet", but that Buma's list was "a big leap" which ought to be carefully considered and discussed with other countries.

Meanwhile, on his Elsevier blog, Dutch Professor Afshin Ellian, a well-known political commentator, described Cameron's stance as "a third, more pragmatic way between europhobia and europhilia", while in a letter to NRC Handelsblad, nine prominent Dutch professors and academics argued that in order to bridge the gap between EU centralisation and EU citizens, the Netherlands should also have a referendum on its future in the EU, an option supported by 52% of Dutch citizens according to a recent opinion poll.

As we suggested in our analysis ahead of last September’s Dutch elections, in the medium to long term the Netherlands “could well be on the path to becoming a more assertive – and far more complicated – EU partner.”


Denis Cooper said...

Now you've done it - you've mentioned:

"Female quotas on EU company boards"

in the context of the "subsidiarity" you keep pushing, when we've just seen how well "subsidiarity" worked for precisely that matter.

From January 16th:


"Most national parliaments in EU countries say the European Commission should go ahead with a law on female quotas on corporate boards. But six disagree.

Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told press in Brussels on Wednesday (16 January) the consultation with MPs was not about the content of the proposal, but about "subsidiarity" - the question whether a given problem is best tackled at EU or local level.

Parliaments are entitled under the Lisbon Treaty to provide opinions on whether proposals adopted by the commission subscribe to the subsidiarity principle. If one third contest, then the commission must review its draft."

"The green light by 21 out of 27 national assemblies is enough for the commission to go ahead, with MEPs and member states to thrash out details of the new law in talks in Brussels in the coming months.

The six malcontents are the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK."

What we would need to even begin to think about possibly staying in the EU would not be this pathetic and insulting sop of "subsidiarity", a red herring that Major and his fellow traitors brought into the debate twenty years ago in their efforts to avoid a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty - by now a decomposing and pungent red herring - but a national veto on all new EU laws.

Which is what we promised in the "Will Parliament lose its power?" section of the government pamphlet delivered to every household urging a "yes" vote in the 1975 referendum:


"The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers it to be against British interests."

So we would want back all the vetoes subsequently surrendered by successive governments without any further referendum, starting with Thatcher's Single European Act.

jon livesey said...

There is an interesting aspect to the list the Dutch have produced. It's a list of issue that have nothing to do with free trade or the single market.

Rik said...

If you look at the polls it is clear that Europe is everywhere an issue.
But more complicated than most people think.

It appears that 15-20% of the electorate has severe problems with the democratic legitimacy of the EU. I donot see any other way how the gap between pro-referendum and EU-out otherwise can be explained. And of the 3 countries I have seen polls from (UK, Germ., Holland) in this respect it looks about that percentage everywhere.

Probably wise for Cameron to stress more on this issue. As the otherside (labor, LDem) take another view (and are simply having a weak spot there). Probably a lot of the people treathen to vote UKIP because they simply donot like the Conservatives policies at the moment or do not like main stream politics in general. They feel not be taken serious. Again the polls before the whole referendum issue and directly thereafter imho cannot be interpreted much otherwise.

It is not only EU it is also democracy/not feeling represented/not feeling being taken serious.
While Cameron looks to have a good case on democracy (compared to the mainstream opposition at least, with his referenda on Scotland, Falklands and now EU) he looks weak on the other point. In that respect his strategy is difficult to follow. If you are 10% behind in the polls and see a main competitor coming up (also on social issues), first priority should be taking care of that iso things like gay marriage (a pretty good idea imho, but simply very bad timing). He might have to throw in development aid or more Wilders style immigration policies to compensate that.
You cannot get away from your brandvalues (culturally social conservative) when you are behind in the polls and have a new kid on the block to deal with.
You cannot do new stuff when you 10% behind in the polls and hope being reelected.

Rik said...

Freetrade means eg no red tape at both levels also not on national.

It is as far as I can see it the sort of things that have come up in public discussions in an earlier stage. Some of the issues I can recognise, but I follow around 15 countries so only focus on the main and more internationally related stuff and sometimes miss weeks when nothing seem to be happening that is of interest of me. And the sort of stuff as well that makes half the UK go ballistic.

Problem imho that the EU wants to profile itself with all sorts of policies. They want to show that they are useful and important. However it usually ends up with large parts of society seeing them more as an arrogant pest iso (selfproclaimed) saviours.