‘Strict but fair’ enlargement process

The Netherlands very much welcomed the agreement reached at the European Council of December 2006 regarding the enlargement strategy based on consolidation, conditionality and communication.
Also during the negotiations on the Reform Treaty the Dutch government has insisted that the criteria for future enlargement should be incorporated in a new treaty. Although the implications of the reference to the criteria as included in the final text of the Treaty of Lisbon are debated,[1] the Dutch Parliament has strongly supported this stance on underlining the importance of the Copenhagen criteria.[2]

‘Parliamentary ratification should continue’

In line with the conclusions of the European Council meeting in June, just after the Irish ‘No’, the official reaction of the Dutch government to the referendum outcome has been that ratification should continue, whilst the Irish government should be invited to present an analysis of the reasons behind the vote. There is parallel to the studies that the government commissioned just after the Dutch ‘No’ vote to the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, the outcomes of which were subsequently used by the government to broker a package of demands for the re-negotiations of the text leading up to Lisbon.
In a first reaction, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende expressed his disappointment,[1] whilst State Secretary of European Affairs Frans Timmermans spoke of a ‘déja-vu feeling’, referring to the negative outcome of the Dutch constitutional referendum in June 2005.
An editorial in De Volkskrant argued that the result of the Irish referendum should be regarded, in the first place, as an expression of the democratic deficit haunting Europe, calling into doubts the possible effects on public legitimacy of the EU, with the cabinet’s decision in fall 2007 not to organise a second referendum on the EU treaty.

Parliamentary ratification only

The EU strategy of the new Cabinet Balkenende-IV had to reconcile two seemingly contradictory objectives. First: to avoid the prospect of a second referendum on a new treaty and, thereby, potential isolation in the EU. Second: the need to address the gap between politics and electorate as regards the EU, which had emerged after the 2005 referendum. The above led the government to take a somewhat hybrid position in the treaty negotiations, focusing on the delivery of ‘safeguards’ against unwelcome EU influence.

Political climate and national elections

Arnout Mijs
An important development in Dutch politics is the fall of the government on 20 February 2010 as a result of divergent opinions in the government on the extension of the Dutch Afghanistan mission. Elections took place on 9 June 2010. During the debate the focus shifted from immigration towards the economy, because of the recent developments. Only the anti-immigration party of Geerts Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV), held on to the former topic. Budgetary savings on all possible policy fields were fiercely debated and supported by strong evidence on the need for budget cuts provided by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Planning (CPB). In the respective programmes of the political parties, foreign policy played only a marginal role. In political debates foreign politics were hardly discussed, although this is not uncommon in Dutch parliamentary elections.[1] There was one recurrent issue in the political programmes of the majority of the parties on foreign politics. They stated that if they are elected part of the next government, they will strive to reduce the Dutch contribution to the EU.[2] This accounts amongst others for the Liberal Conservative party (VVD), the Labour Party (PvdA), the Socialist Party (SP), and the PVV.

Ambitions not achieved in Copenhagen

Louise van Schaik
The Copenhagen conference was widely covered in the Dutch press. The outcome was portrayed as a failure, with the EU being sidelined and upcoming powers demonstrating their increased powers in the negotiations.[1] Considerable attention was given to the chaotic process of negotiations – the EU being unable to speak with one voice – and the take-over of the Danish chairmanship of the conference by the Prime Minister away from the Environment Minister halfway through the negotiations. According to Green Member of the European Parliament Bas Eickhout, the weak statements made by the Swedish EU Presidency, that illustrated persisting disunity among the EU member states, particularly illustrated the EU’s inability to operate on the basis of a strong single voice.[2]

Dutch strict towards Greek aid package

Simone Wolters and Arnout Mijs
Ever since the full extent of the Greek deficit crisis has become clear, the Dutch government has been a proponent of the involvement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in case of emergency aid.[1] After the informal Council summit in February 2010, the Dutch parliament stated that Greece is the only one to blame for its high budget deficit and financial support would be inappropriate. Former Finance Minister Bos agreed on this point and shared the opinion that Greece carries the responsibility for solving this crisis.[2]
In March 2010, the Netherlands, together with Germany, stated its opposition to direct emergency aid for Greece by the Eurogroup member states. According to the Dutch government, Greece should first introduce severe budget cuts and request IMF support.[3] Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende stated that in case of financial support “the IMF always has to take part.”He underlined that Greece created its own financial problems and should solve them by taking drastic measures.[4] Both houses of parliament also favoured IMF interference. On 18 March 2010, the parliament did not give permission to negotiate on a European solution for the Greek problem. Both chambers stated that IMF intervention should take place first, and only if it does should help be offered by the Eurozone countries.[5]

The Netherlands: “firm but fair” towards new EU member states

Simone Wolters
The Netherlands’ position is lukewarm towards further EU enlargement. Many political parties hold sceptical views towards a possible accession of new member states. All political parties have clear standpoints regarding the possible accession of certain countries or regions to the EU. During last year’s elections for the European Parliament and in the upcoming national elections the possible accession of Turkey to the EU is a point of discussion, with the Party for Freedom (PVV) being particularly vocal about its opposition to Turkish EU membership. Almost all political parties state specific standpoints on EU enlargement on their websites and a majority of these websites report on possible enlargement with certain countries. Regarding a possible EU enlargement, some political parties raise the issue of the EU’s absorption capacity and the necessity to increase this absorption capacity before new countries can enter the Union.[1]

The Netherlands and the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty: a wait and see attitude

Simone Wolters
Herman Van Rompuy
With regard to the appointment of the President of the European Council, the Dutch media speculated about the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, as a rival to Van Rompuy.[1] Balkenende himself denied that there was an active lobby from his side to obtain the position.[2] The national parliament debated about the position of Balkenende in this procedure. The opposition stated that the credibility of the Dutch Prime Minister was downgraded by his apparent ambition to become the first President of the European Council. Politicians in The Hague had mixed feelings about the appointment of Van Rompuy. However, they share a positive view on the appointment of a representative of a small member state.[3]
Little reference has been made in the last months to the role and person of Van Rompuy. The attitude of the Dutch press could be interpreted as an attitude of “wait and see”. The few articles that refer to Van Rompuy himself describe him as a calm consensus seeking person and a pragmatic.[4] In the Netherlands, the idea of more European Council summits, as proposed at the informal summit in February 2010, was not received well. The Dutch Prime Minister has stated that in his opinion four summits should be sufficient.[5]