1. Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Dutch perspective on future relations with Russia: MH17-dominant.

There is no clear Dutch per­spec­tive on rela­tions with the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion giv­en their com­pli­cat­ed nature. The offi­cial posi­tion of the Dutch gov­ern­ment, sup­port­ed by a large major­i­ty in the nation­al par­lia­ment, is to main­tain a tough line as regards the annex­a­tion of the Crimea and the Russ­ian inter­ven­tion in East Ukraine — and thus sup­port the sanc­tions — but to remain open to dia­logue. For the moment a lot depends on the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of the Min­sk II agree­ment. For that rea­son the offi­cial view is that pres­sure has to be main­tained. Good trade rela­tions – espe­cial­ly in the ener­gy sec­tor – have for a long time deter­mined Dutch pol­i­cy. They remain impor­tant but are no longer the sole deter­min­ing fac­tor. The recent deci­sion of Shell to par­tic­i­pate in the con­struc­tion of Nord­stream II, a new pipeline bypass­ing Ukraine, raised ques­tions in Par­lia­ment. There have been com­plaints from the busi­ness sec­tor about the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of the sanc­tions and lost invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, while oth­ers have doubt­ed their effec­tive­ness – Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has not giv­en in so far, they claim. The gov­ern­ment has not respond­ed to these crit­i­cisms but has nev­er­the­less indi­cat­ed that it will inves­ti­gate the pos­si­bil­i­ty of deal­ing with trade issues relat­ed to the EU asso­ci­a­tion process with Ukraine and oth­ers through the new­ly estab­lished Russ­ian-led Eurasian Eco­nom­ic Union, as a kind of con­ces­sion to Moscow. The down­ing of MH17, which killed 196 Dutch cit­i­zens, was a dra­mat­ic turn­ing point. It had a huge impact on pub­lic opin­ion and on Dutch for­eign pol­i­cy, which from then on opt­ed for a much tougher line on Moscow due to its sup­port for the sep­a­ratists in Ukraine who are seen to be the per­pe­tra­tors of the heinous act. There is a broad con­sen­sus that the air­plane crash com­plete­ly altered the Dutch per­spec­tive on Rus­sia, with much more empha­sis on the huge gap that divides the two coun­tries in terms of val­ues. The Nether­lands is in charge of the offi­cial inter­na­tion­al enquiry into the shoot­ing of Air Malaysia 777 and its out­come might fur­ther com­pli­cate rela­tions with Rus­sia. In Octo­ber the first part of the report about what caused the down­ing of the plane will be pub­lished. In the begin­ning of 2016 the sec­ond part deal­ing with who did it, will be ready. Already, the Rus­sians are try­ing to under­mine the cred­i­bil­i­ty of the inves­ti­ga­tion and have opposed set­ting up a UN tri­bunal to try those sus­pect­ed of involve­ment in the act.

The crisis in Ukraine and the Dutch view on EaP countries: Lack of real commitment.

The crises con­cern­ing Ukraine and the threats to its exis­tence have cer­tain­ly had an impact on the Dutch posi­tion with regard to the East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP) coun­tries. Due to the huge increase in media atten­tion there is more aware­ness of the region, its inter­nal dif­fer­ences, and its con­flict poten­tial. Sur­veys show that the gen­er­al pub­lic has major wor­ries about the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Europe. There was sup­port for the Maid­an protests and also for asso­ci­a­tion with those coun­tries that have cho­sen to link up with the EU. The gen­er­al view is that their inde­pen­dence and integri­ty deserve sup­port, and that Russ­ian ter­ri­to­r­i­al ambi­tions should be con­tained. But this com­mit­ment has its lim­its. Even in the case of Ukraine, which deserves spe­cial atten­tion for obvi­ous polit­i­cal rea­sons, there is scep­ti­cism about its abil­i­ty to car­ry out the reforms that would bring it close to EU stan­dards. That, cou­pled with a gen­er­al aver­sion to fur­ther EU expan­sion, explains why the Dutch do not sup­port EU mem­ber­ship of the three EaP coun­tries that have expressed that ambi­tion. As regards secu­ri­ty guar­an­tees, NATO enlarge­ment is also not very pop­u­lar, as is the case for direct mil­i­tary engage­ment in Ukraine. Some — a minor­i­ty though — use the addi­tion­al argu­ment that the West should not try to push Rus­sia fur­ther back as it has done in the past by expand­ing NATO and the EU east­wards. Oth­ers have, on the con­trary, pro­posed to deliv­er weapons to the Ukrain­ian government.

Riga was not Vilnius

Although Riga was the first East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit after the out­break of the Ukraine cri­sis, it received less atten­tion than its pre­de­ces­sor. There was, of course, a marked dif­fer­ence. While Vil­nius was not (yet) per­ceived as being inim­i­cal to Rus­sia – which was then also the atti­tude of most Dutch politi­cians — Riga was. But even if it had become impos­si­ble to ignore the ‘Brus­sels-ver­sus-Moscow’ char­ac­ter of the Riga sum­mit, this did not lead to an upgrade of the sta­tus of the new­ly asso­ci­at­ed part­ner­ship coun­tries – with the sup­port of the Nether­lands and oth­er EU gov­ern­ments that did not want to fur­ther aggra­vate rela­tions with Rus­sia. Recon­firm­ing the Part­ner­ship process was con­sid­ered to be the main thing to do. The Dutch Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Bert Koen­ders, made it clear once again that his gov­ern­ment does not con­sid­er the East­ern Part­ner­ship as the antecham­ber of EU mem­ber­ship. In a let­ter to the Dutch par­lia­ment he lat­er added that dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of the part­ner­ships is unavoid­able since each of the coun­tries involved should decide itself on the nature of its rela­tions with the EU. This should be a core ele­ment of the upcom­ing ENP review. One com­men­ta­tor expressed his bewil­der­ment at the pres­ence of Belaruss­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the sum­mit, since the leader of that coun­try has often been labelled as the last dic­ta­tor of Europe — an indi­ca­tion that even most jour­nal­ists do not have much knowl­edge of the East­ern Partnerships.

More hard, less soft power but no European army

As in many oth­er EU coun­tries, defence poli­cies are being recon­sid­ered in light of the changed secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Europe and else­where. It is not only the aggres­sive atti­tude of Moscow and con­cerns for NATO part­ners in the East that have pushed the Nether­lands toward a lim­it­ed increase of its mil­i­tary expen­di­ture. Some from the think tanks con­sid­er this to be not enough while oth­ers — pop­ulist par­ties of the left and the right — reject it as a wrong reac­tion. A fur­ther increase in the bud­get for 2016 is expect­ed. Dutch par­tic­i­pa­tion in the inter­na­tion­al alliance against Islam­ic State, but also com­mit­ments in Mali and Afghanistan, for exam­ple, have con­tributed to this change after many years of bud­get cuts. Dutch armed forces par­tic­i­pate in mil­i­tary activ­i­ties in sup­port of NATO mem­bers that are ‘on the front­line’. The Nether­lands has always been in favour of more EU coop­er­a­tion on defence and it has itself devel­oped spe­cif­ic forms of coop­er­a­tion with, for exam­ple, Bel­gium and Ger­many. More could be done in terms of a bet­ter divi­sion of mil­i­tary tasks and a more effi­cient pro­duc­tion of mil­i­tary hard and soft­ware is the offi­cial line. There is, how­ev­er, hard­ly any debate about the even­tu­al estab­lish­ment of a Euro­pean army. The idea lacks cred­i­bil­i­ty in the eyes of many. Where will the bud­get come from giv­en lim­it­ed resources? Would it mean the cen­tral­i­sa­tion of deci­sions on the use of mil­i­tary pow­er — some­thing that is seen as a nation­al pre­rog­a­tive, espe­cial­ly in the Nether­lands, where the par­lia­ment is close­ly involved in such deci­sions? And how would such an army affect NATO and the US secu­ri­ty guarantees?

2. EU Enlargement

No positive fallout from the Ukraine crisis

Though Dutch reac­tions to the change of regime in Ukraine have been pos­i­tive in gen­er­al, and although Dutch sup­port for the new gov­ern­ment in Kiev is not con­test­ed inter­nal­ly, offer­ing EU, or for that mat­ter NATO, mem­ber­ship to that or oth­er East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries is not on the agen­da and will not be for the fore­see­able future. Any sug­ges­tion of a link­age between fur­ther enlarge­ment of the EU and the sign­ing of the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments with Ukraine, Moldo­va, and Geor­gia has been care­ful­ly avoid­ed. Ref­er­ences to the EU per­spec­tive of these coun­tries have been mut­ed due to the pres­sure of coun­tries like the Nether­lands where a very crit­i­cal par­lia­ment – and not only the pop­ulist par­ties – wants to draw a line as far as fur­ther com­mit­ments are concerned.

The rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment with Ukraine by the Dutch Par­lia­ment has insti­gat­ed the so-called EU cit­i­zens com­mit­tee to start the pro­ce­dure for a cor­rec­tive ref­er­en­dum, oppos­ing the agree­ment by claim­ing it would lead to fur­ther enlarge­ments of the EU. The new law makes it pos­si­ble to hold a plebiscite after leg­is­la­tion has been adopt­ed by the two cham­bers of par­lia­ment in order to try to cor­rect it. It also applies to the ver­i­fi­ca­tion of treaties. The gov­ern­ment can how­ev­er decide to ignore the out­come. Since July of this year it has been pos­si­ble to ini­ti­ate such a ref­er­en­dum if 10.000 peo­ple in a pre­lim­i­nary phase sign up to it, which would then unlock the sec­ond phase in which 300.000 sig­na­tures would have to be col­lect­ed with­in 6 weeks. That is not an easy task, though some par­ties and a very influ­en­tial blog sup­port it. End of Sep­tem­ber the organ­is­ers announced that they had gar­nered enough sup­port before the dead­line took effect. This now will be ver­i­fied by the nation­al elec­toral coun­cil and if this body will con­firm the result there will be a ref­er­en­dum in spring. Its result would only be valid if at least 30 % of the vot­ers show up. It is con­sid­ered to be some­what unfor­tu­nate that the cam­paign and the vote will take place dur­ing the Dutch EU pres­i­den­cy. Many expect heat­ed debates about enlarge­ment and the EU as such which is the gen­er­al idea behind the ini­tia­tive that was start­ed by known euroscep­tics. It is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict whether in the end The Nether­lands will with­draw its sig­na­ture form the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ment with Ukraine and how the EU would react to that.

Enlargement: Strict conditionality and limits to the free movement of labour

Though Euro­barom­e­ter polled in 2014 a large major­i­ty against enlarge­ment, this has not altered the offi­cial posi­tion of the Nether­lands and the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the most recent acces­sion — that of Croa­t­ia — was not an issue. Com­mit­ments made by the EU con­cern­ing the West­ern Balka­ns and Turkey have to be hon­oured, but whether these coun­tries will ever achieve mem­ber­ship depends on their abil­i­ty to ful­fil the strict cri­te­ria. There is scep­ti­cism about their capac­i­ty to do so in the years ahead. Many in The Nether­lands agree with the state­ment of Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Junck­er that new admis­sions will not take place before 2019. There is broad sup­port for the much tougher approach to the nego­ti­a­tions with can­di­date coun­tries, with a heavy empha­sis on the nego­ti­at­ing chap­ters deal­ing with rule of law issues, espe­cial­ly cor­rup­tion. Since the ‘No’ of the ref­er­en­dum on the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Treaty in 2005, which was part­ly explained as a ‘no’ to enlarge­ment, Dutch pol­i­cy mak­ers have con­se­quent­ly opt­ed for a hard line. As else­where, Turkey is a sep­a­rate top­ic. There have been calls to stop the nego­ti­a­tions with the coun­try and to cut the finan­cial assis­tance. The gov­ern­ment has opposed this as being too ‘hands off’ and as impos­si­ble to realise since it would demand una­nim­i­ty in Brussels.

The neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of new mem­ber states of course affects the dis­cus­sion about fur­ther enlarge­ments. There is a gen­er­al lack of trust and lit­tle sol­i­dar­i­ty. A major issue in this respect is the fall out of the free move­ment of labour and of the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the ser­vices sec­tor. The EU enlarge­ments of 2004 and 2007 have – after a tran­si­tion­al peri­od – led to a con­sid­er­able flow of work­ers from East to West, from low to high income coun­tries. These work­ers are pre­pared to work for low­er salaries and accept bad work­ing con­di­tions. In this way col­lec­tive wage agree­ments are under­cut and the prin­ci­ple of the same salaries for the same work vio­lat­ed. In some inner cities hous­ing and oth­er prob­lems have been caused by this influx of migrant labour. The Dutch gov­ern­ment has decid­ed to make this issue a pri­or­i­ty of the upcom­ing Dutch EU pres­i­den­cy. It has already pro­posed to the change the EU leg­is­la­tion regard­ing post­ed work­ers — which in the present sit­u­a­tion allows them to be out­sourced to do work in the Nether­lands, while they pay for their social secu­ri­ty in their home­land, which of course makes them cheaper.

This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.