Rutte III, will you finally share the true story about the EU
Sadly, the Dutch coalition agreement is silent on the matter, but in Europe the subject of deepening (economic and monetary) union in the EU is high on the agenda. Being honest about the compromises that will have to be made could increase the level of public support, writes Adriaan Schout.
Last week, the Rutte III cabinet presented the coalition agreement that inconcludes, at the end, a section on the EU. Either it was the case that during the whole 208 days of negotiation there was no time to dream up a suitable story about the European Union or else the four parties simply fundamentally disagreed on which story to tell or the information contained in the coalition agreement is intended to mislead. Undoubtedly it is not an attempt to mislead us but it is not the true story either. At the current time, fundamental discussions are being held about deepening the EU’s role, about strengthening the euro, about types of European taxation, and so on.
French President Emmanuel Macron is presenting proposals by the dozen and it is an inescapable fact that the German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel will agree to compromises. Even the liberal German FDP Party, which is critical of the EU, wants an integrated EU army and a strengthening of the future role played by the EU’s border agency. In other words, the political debates in the coming months and years will again be colloured by European issues.
The time is now ripe to tell a reliable story about the direction the European Union is taking. The lesson to be learned from previous periods of European activism is: above all, get the population on board. After all, Europe cannot function without support, as was painfully underlined by the rejection of the European ‘constitution’ in 2005. In 2012, the leader of the Dutch Labour party, Diederik Samsom, showed that being honest about the EU binds people to its cause instead of repelling them. While Rutte was emphasising ‘no bailout for Greece’, Samsom was winning votes despite stating that additional funds would probably be needed.
The coming months and years will again be largely shaped by European issues
The EU section of the coalition agreement is unsound. It talks forcefully about improved enforcement of even stricter regulations and that the European Union will not become a Debt Union, even though the discussions in Brussels and other capital cities are about making the European Union more of a political union (for which read: actually less based on rules). Debts are already being transferred between countries, and there will probably be further debt write-offs and even some sort of Euro-minister. This coalition agreement is banking on an independent European Commission, even though Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is already a Spitzenkandiat.
It has become clear that the Netherlands will go along with far-reaching compromises. This is also evidenced by the announcement in the coalition agreement that the Netherlands will after all support the idea of a European Public Prosecution Office, even though the Rutte II cabinet had just bravely rejected this idea. Brussels had been counting on the Netherlands’ support anyway, because in the end we always join in. Discussions are already underway about expanding the responsibilities of this new European Office, in part with a view to tackling tax avoidance committed by multinational companies and terrorism. The EU bandwagon is on the move and the Netherlands is on board.
The Rutte III cabinet does actually take a 'vision' on European integration, which is: we find it difficult to agree to it but we will go along with it because it is important
This is why it would have been logical to explain once and for all that European integration is much too important for talking big about what we don’t want, that the EU has in fact set a course for political union, and that the Netherlands is afraid of what will happen if we say ‘No’. Even though the Dutch Prime Minister believes that anyone with a vision needs to go and see a doctor, the Rutte III cabinet - just like Rutte II - does actually take a firm position on the EU, which is: we find it difficult to agree to it but we will go along with it because it is important.
However, the narrative that underpins this position continues to be problematical if you keep harping on about more regulations and supervision and about no debt transfers, even though at the same time the European Union is working on deepening the union. Why not just admit that a number of developments are at odds with what we want but that the totality is so important that we will continue to take part in the discussions and accept the painful compromises?
The original Dutch version of this op-ed was published in Dutch daily De Volkskrant on October 17, 2017.