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Friday, June 21, 2013

Dutch government: "Time of ‘ever closer union’ in every possible area is behind us”

Dutch PM Mark Rutte (VVD) and Foreign Minister Frans
Timmermans (PVdA) discussing what the EU should
and should not be doing?
For anyone involved in the EU reform debate, this is a must-read. The Dutch government has today published its “subsidiarity review” – an assessment of what the EU should and shouldn't be involved in. Again, we're first to the punch in publishing an English version of the document on our blog.

This is likely to be welcomed with open arms in Whitehall – and should be studied carefully by MPs in Westminster. Though not all good news for David Cameron’s renegotiation strategy – the Dutch have explicitly said they don’t want EU treaty change for example – this is clearly a major step towards a reformed Europe.

First, it shows that discontent with the EU status quo is not simply a UK phenomenon – or a Tory problem as some commentators would have us believe. Secondly, the ideas the Dutch are putting forward are in themselves pertinent, and would go quite some way in achieving a better functioning, more democratic and better focused EU. Finally – and this is where it gets really good news for Cameron - countries like Sweden. Denmark and Germany are far more likely to be persuaded down the reform path if the Dutch are prepared to take a lead with the UK.

So what does the document say? Well, it sets out nine broad principles and 54 specific recommendations, relating to what the EU should and shouldn't do. Many of the proposals have also been championed by Open Europe in various forms (it’s worth re-visiting our “European localism” paper). Most significantly, in the press release, the Dutch government proclaims that the “time of an ‘ever closer union’ in every possible policy area is behind us”. This is not going to go down well in certain corners in Brussels.

The guiding principle is described as “European where necessary, national where possible”, and the tone of the entire document chimes well with Cameron’s EU speech, calling for a “European Union that is a more modest, more sober and at the same time more effective.” Interestingly, it notes that the Dutch EU Presidency in the first half of 2016 “could play a role in promoting such an agenda” – this could coincide with the beginning of the EU referendum campaign in the UK should Cameron be in power.

The 9 general principles include:
  • Where the European Court of Justice interprets EU law in a way that EU legislators had not provided for and/or did not intend, then this should be possible to address by amending the EU rules on which the Court based its ruling (this could well be a key plank in Cameron’s renegotiation strategy. An example of where the ECJ ruled in precisely such a way is the Working Time Directive, where the ECJ's interpretation of rules governing on-call time and rest periods for doctors has caused havoc in the NHS);
  • Every EU intervention needs to be motivated by a clear legal basis in the EU Treaties, and the Commission shouldn't be making proposals on a legal basis that is tenuous or insecure. The Dutch Government explicitly mentions the English term “creeping competences” (this is very similar to what the UK government wants); 
  • EU legislation should focus on main points to achieve shared goals rather than to prescribe in detail how those goals should be achieved (again echoes Cameron’s speech);
  • When there are widely shared objections to EU legislation, there should be a mechanism to stop the Commission taking any further initiative in that area – this is a bid to stop new EU laws in areas where national governments don’t want them.
As regards the 54 specific recommendations, they mention individual measures where EU power should be scaled back. There are many overlaps with UK ideas. These include:
  • Halting the further harmonisation of social security systems. The document says: “It is necessary to combat the negative impact of labour migration, including the abuse of social security systems” – an issue UK Home Secretary Theresa May has been keen to highlight; 
  • Limiting the EU budget - the Dutch hint at scrapping the EU's Globalisation Adjustment Fund and structural funds outside of the poorest regions in the poorest countries on the basis that these do not demonstrate added value (the latter is a proposal Open Europe has championed and which the previous Labour government had pushed for. It’s also gaining traction amongst Tory backbenchers) 
  • No expansion of agencies’ remits and no increases in their budgets – Cameron was very critical of EU quangos in his EU speech;
  • Working conditions, which should only be regulated in broad outline (health and safety and working time, for example);
  • No EU regulation of media pluralism; 
  • A two-year freeze in salaries of EU officials;
  • Sunset clauses should be incorporated in EU proposals (an old UK demand);
  • The Financial Transaction Tax is heavily criticised, because "it has been designed in such a way that even parties outside the FTT area, like Dutch pension funds, will be taxed when they trade financial instruments issued in FTT countries";
  • CO2 emissions should be dealt with at the global level rather than via EU legislation.  
There are also some further detailed examples of where the EU has gone too far and where powers should be rolled back. For example, the suggestion is made that flood risk management should only be harmonised at European level for truly trans-boundary water courses. The report also recommends the phasing out of the EU programmes for school milk and school fruit, and heavily criticises the recent proposal to ban refillable olive oil jugs from restaurant (which was eventually dropped by the European Commission).

However, the document also sets out clear limits to what the Dutch government says it is prepared to consider and it does not does call for entire policy areas to be returned to national governments. The Dutch government also says it is “not interested in treaty change or opt-outs” for itself.

Nonetheless, the fact that one of the EU’s founding members has stated that "the time of ever closer union is behind us" is clearly a major development.


Anonymous said...

Could you post a link to the original Dutch text, if possible? Thank you.

Open Europe blog team said...

Hi Anonymous, here is a link to the original Dutch text http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten-en-publicaties/vergaderstukken/2013/06/21/inventarisatie-eu-regelgeving-op-subsidiariteit-en-proportionaliteit-nederlandse-lijst-van-actiepunten.html

Anonymous said...

A lot of this is playing to the eurosceptic gallery:

• The guiding principle of “Europe where necessary, national where possible”, is already in the EU treaties (the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality). Furthermore, EU legislation requires the approval of a very large majority of national governments in the EU Council (a 'qualified majority' is about 74% of the votes in the Council), so nothing can be adopted anyway unless most governments want it.

• "Where the European Court of Justice interprets EU law in a way that EU legislators had not provided for and/or did not intend, then this should be possible to address by amending the EU rules".This is perfectly possible already. Indeed, most EU legislation these days is about amending existing legislation, and there is nothing to stop this being done to adjust for the consequences of Court rulings (themselves only triggered when there is a dispute referred to the Court about what a text means)

• "Every EU intervention needs to be motivated by a clear legal basis in the EU Treaties". That is the case already.

• "EU legislation should focus on main points to achieve shared goals rather than to prescribe in detail how those goals should be achieved". That is exactly what EU 'directives' do: they lay down the goal to be achieved and leave it to Member States to adapt (if necessary) their national legislation or practices.

• "When there are widely shared objections to EU legislation, there should be a mechanism to stop the Commission taking any further initiative in that area ...to stop new EU laws in areas where national governments don’t want them". Given that the Commission only proposes, while governments in the Council (with elected MEPs in the Parliament) decide, there is no way EU legislation can be adopted unless most governments want it! The only exception is where governments have delegated technical implementing powers to the Commission, and even then, they have procedures to block the Commission.

• "Halting the further harmonisation of social security systems." There hasn't actually been much 'harmonisation'- rather the granting of reciprocal rights, but again, this can only happen if and when a very large majority of governments and of MEPs want it.

• "Limiting the EU budget" The budget IS limited by a double lock: the EU's resources cannot exceed 1.24% of GDP/GNI and, within that, spending ceilings are laid down for each category of expenditure, by the Member States, acting unanimously in the Council. They cannot be raised unless everyone agrees.

•"A two-year freeze in salaries of EU officials" That is already ageeed in principle.

Peter van Leeuwen said...

Olli Rehn's current power as commissioner derives from a Dutch government proposal, demonstrating that the Netherlands is not against further integration, but then focused on areas that really matter.
Concentrating on the tasks that really matter (shown in the current crisis)may produce a more effective EU

Jesper said...

Interesting to see how the anonymous poster read it.

I'd say the conclusions listed by the anonymous poster is supporting the Eurocrats position: Nothing need to change.

But I might be counterproductive here, maybe the anonymous poster and myself want the same thing. So, if Eurocrats believe that the change/reform wouldn't change anything, lets agree to reform. I'd rather see work on reform than on olive-oil legislation. Working on reform has at least a chance to lead towards something better.

The theory is pretty, the practice not so.

The difference between setting out goals and micromanaging is subjective. The anonymous poster appear to have the opinion that what comes out of EU institutions, (60% or 80% (or more?) of the legislation implemented by nations) is setting out goals. I'd say it is micro-management by people who can't manage their own affairs well enough to pass audits...

johnlandseer said...

Anonymous says this is playing to the Eurosceptic gallery - to a point yes.

It also, rather cleverly, shows (indicates) just how much European legislation/proposals are coming down the pipeline in terms or trying to tread on national governments areas of competence.

Having studied the thin end of the wedge of all things EU ("The guiding principle of “Europe where necessary, national where possible”, ) - it has become a compete joke.

My summary is that the Dutch have done all good citizens a favour by setting some red lines, equally, I would expect the UK govt to do absolutely nothing about this or even recognise the great service afforded us by our Dutch friends.

Denis Cooper said...

"Though not all good news for David Cameron’s renegotiation strategy – the Dutch have explicitly said they don’t want EU treaty change for example – this is clearly a major step towards a reformed Europe."

I'd say that ruling out treaty change renders the whole exercise entirely pointless, except for pulling the wool over the eyes of Dutch voters.

How can a government declare that the time for "ever closer union" is past, but also say that there is no need for treaty change, when under the present EU treaties it is solemnly committed to a continuation of that process?

So what is the Dutch government going to do?

Break its word and do everything it can to obstruct a process which it has agreed to support?

The Netherlands is a party to the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties:


but has its government now forgotten what it agreed in the preamble to that Convention?

"Noting that the principles of free consent and of good faith and the pacta sunt servanda rule are universally recognized".

At least Cameron has adopted the consistent position that the UK does not want to pursue "ever closer union", and it would prefer to have the EU treaties changed to reflect that; he didn't say the first while ruling out the second.

But apparently in any case the great majority of the Dutch have no national pride, and would not be in the least concerned if their country was reduced from being an independent sovereign state to becoming a part (or parts) of a pan-European federation, so why is their government even proposing to impede that process?

At least, that's what I've understood from a certain Dutch eurofanatic who has commented above.

jon livesey said...

You could sum up what "anonymous" posted as "Don't watch what they do, only what they say".

Rik said...

Nearly all legal systems work on paper it is however mainly how they end up working in real life. And there is clearly room for improvement with the EU to say it mildly.
I jusat see Jon says it much better than me.

1. It shows again that EZ countries still probably think that they can hold the thing together and no treaty change (partly as a consequence of the former) will be necessay.
I sincerely doubt both.

What I am missing at the moment is say backbenchers stating that an Euro exit will mean an EU exit. With all consequences. Same btw from the Scottish PM (witht he fishy name). These are nearly the same rules as for scotland and Catalunya. And legally it looks simple exit only via 50 possible and subsequently a new application would be necessary. Unless all 27 agree which is totally unlikely.

Hard to see that will entitlements have to be cut (halved or so) Greeks, Spanish will go this way for another decade or so. And hard to see that with no real will to reform the North will keep trying plugging the blackholes.

Anyway it looks like when something happens the EZ will be caught with its pants down as far as treaty change is concerned. Which isnot bad for the UK.

2. Cameron should try to use this and incorporate it in his own strategy. he probably can easy agree with the Dutch to disagree on treaty change. Basically the Dutch want half of what the UK probably requires and hardly anything that the UK doesnot want and/or can stay out of (Euro stuff).
Dutch will want some support as well. With Germany more playing the mediator role as well and at home much less pressure from eurosceptic parties. In the Dutch polls these are not far from a majority (and rising, what looks to be at least a medium term trend).

3. This Dutch cabinet is butchered in the polls and it looks rather permanent.
However this is a thing that is very likley also supported by nearly all other mainstream polical parties (except the D66 possibly). And the populists are in a high speed elevator at the moment as well.
In a nutshell this is not going to get away (unless the Dutch combined back off) and possibly will get considerably worse if the polls are an indication.

Anonymous said...

The idea that 80% of the legislation implemented by our nations comes out of EU institutions, is an old chestnut. House of Commons library says it's more like 10%.

Anonymous said...

So, the Dutch want better meals, a softer mattress and kinder prison guards.

This is nonsense.

the EUSSR is unreformable and tyrannical and rhe UK needs to be free of it.

As for Open Europe: more Eurofascism from them.

clinihyp said...

Under EU law,the Dutch government, like our own is unable to renegotiate their terms of membership, or repatriate any of the laws they have surrendered, without invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty or the highly unlikely Unanimous agreement of all the other member countries.

clinihyp said...

Anonymous,the following are the competencies we have surrendered to the EU and which under EU law cannot be repatriated without invoking article 50 of the Lisbon treaty or renegotiated without the unanimous agreement of all the other member countries.

All, repeat all, of our commerce and industry, social and employment policy, transport, environment,
agriculture, fish,and foreign aid, where we have ceded control to the EU and about which we can do absolutely nothing.

In all, Brussels is now responsible for about 75 per cent of our laws, leaving us with 170,000 pages of EU diktats to obey, the equivalent of 250 King James Bibles!

In some cases, our politicians are happy enough to see Brussels
ram through laws which they haven't got the guts to introduce themselves in our own increasingly impotent Parliament.

With the enforcement of the self-amending Lisbon Treaty, economist
Ruth Lea has warned, "There will quite simply be no more significant
powers left solely with the governments of the member states, and outside the orbit of the EU's formal institutions."

You can of course refuse to believe any of the above and continue to listen to the spin you quote. You could also, if you wanted to test the truth, do your own research via Google starting with Open Europe and Global Vision!

Good Luck!

christina speight said...

This saves Cameron a great deal of time - all he has to do is parrot the Dutch bit of "tidying-up" and say "Look what we AND THE DUTCH have negotiated" and bob's yer uncle Referendum says stay in and we are are stuck for evermore as a powerless vassal of Brussels unable to control or immigration, set our own laws and trade freely and openly with the wider world and not just with the EU's euro-basket-case.

This is a blueprint for eternal serfdom.

Denis Cooper said...

Anonymous -

"House of Commons library says it's more like 10%."

You're citing an outdated report which has long been discredited on the grounds that it completely ignored all the numerous EU Regulations that don't even go anywhere near Parliament.

Anonymous said...

The House of commons library says nothing it is not capable of speaking it a a building. 1 piece of paper in it might contain that falacy, but it is well known that the vast majority of the time taken by Westminster politicians is rubber stamping edicts from the eussr, most of which come directly from the commission. 75 to 80% has been shown to be correct, only europhiles try to say otherwise.

Ariel said...

In present-day EU I see two dominating trends among EU leaders: First is to cut losses of players in virtual economy at the expense of taxpayers and the second is to guide EU towards strict federation at the expense of democracy. The 'austerity' measures are destroying national economies making it impossible for them to ever to pay back those debts created by banksters (bank mafia, spekulants) of virtual economy and their political cabals. At grassroots people have become the victim of parasitic credit capitalism and its unelected institutions. During last five years emergency economics has made it possible to replace democracy with debtocracy. In my opinion It is slow motion death spiral of economic collapse and democracy. The best scenario from my point of view could be some kind of EU Lite version. A bit of similar ”privileged partnership” agreement than planed with Turkey (to keep it out from EU). EU Lite should be build simply to EU’s early basics as economical cooperation area including a customs union, the EU tariff band, competition etc linked to idea of the Common Market. EU Lite could also apply a structure of Confederation. Federalist intentions, the EU puppet parliament and the most of EU bureaucracy should from my point of view put in litter basket together with high-flown statements and other nonsense. (P.S: some background in my article EU in Turmoil and not only in Financial One - http://arirusila.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/eu-in-turmoil-and-not-only-in-financial-one/ )

I see some benefits with confederalist view in new desirable politics. Policymaking starts from community assemblies based on the practices of participatory democracy and continues further by interlinking villages, towns, neighborhoods, and cities into confederal networks. Power thus flows from the bottom up instead of from the top down like today. With critical issues – such as human rights, civil liberties, international policy etc political units can adopt a common constitution while the task of central governments would be providing support for all members. Democratic confederalism is based on grass-roots participation. Its decisionmaking processes lie with the communities; in conclusion my vision is decentralized society a network of directly democratic citizens' assemblies in individual communities/cities organized in a confederal fashion.