Dutch ministers, diplomats and civil servants are seen as pragmatic, well-prepared and credible. Dutch civil servants are seen to be highly skilled and well-coordinated, wielding considerable institutional experience. At the same time, our research finds that the Dutch are not seen to take flexible positions in the European policy-making process. And empathy or solidarity are not words that others strongly associate with Dutch actions in the EU. Neither the respondents to the questionnaire nor those who were interviewed saw the Netherlands as a strong “bridge-builder”. This might be related to the hard-line position the Netherlands has staked out in EMU-related issues, and the high political salience of EMU in contemporary EU affairs. Indeed, the research made clear that specific events or developments, including ones that happened somewhat longer ago, can frame a country in a particular way, such as the Dutch ‘no’ in 2005 to the EU Constitution or the rise of Eurosceptic movements.
Nevertheless, the Netherlands generally has a reputation for punching above its weight. This reputation stem in many respects from the positive connotations derived from Prime Minister Mark Rutte; the expertise and experience that comes with being one of the 'Founding Six' (especially compared with newer Member states); and the high level of consistency and predictability in Dutch policy-making inside the EU. The role of the Netherlands in the EU is perceived as clear, and the role of the Netherlands after Brexit is looked at with interest. It is noted, however, that the Netherlands can at times be rigid and show little empathy towards its EU peers. The Dutch approach is seen as measured, under-appreciative of the informal meetings that facilitate creative diplomacy, and the Netherlands is generally not known for advancing innovative policy ideas. During negotiations, the Dutch exhibit an assertiveness to promote their national interests, according to foreign experts, without sufficiently couching them in a European agenda or narrative.
The Netherlands is therefor advised to better frame its own interests in a European narrative.
- The post-Brexit era offers opportunities for the Netherlands to act as a link between northern and southern member states.
- In order to preserve the predominantly positive profile of the Netherlands in the EU in the long run, the Dutch government could benefit from developing a strategy to secure top jobs for officials in the European institutions.
- The Netherlands should invest (more) in setting up and participating in informal meetings and bilateral consultations with counterparts.
- The Netherlands should display more empathy and solidarity with member states with which it does not share a similar socio-economic position.
Further research will however, be needed to substantiate some of the findings of this exploratory study.