Future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?


Most atten­tion with regard to the Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ing of Decem­ber 2008 was giv­en to the ‘his­tor­i­cal agree­ment’ reached on the cli­mate and ener­gy pack­age, and to the efforts agreed upon to revive the Euro­pean econ­o­my. With regard to the fate of the Lis­bon Treaty, the con­ces­sion grant­ed to Ire­land to keep the right for each mem­ber state to nom­i­nate one Com­mis­sion­er, received most attention.[1] Accord­ing to the Dutch gov­ern­ment, a con­sid­er­able con­ces­sion is made to the Irish. In its offi­cial report of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, it men­tions the ini­tial pref­er­ence of the Nether­lands for a small­er num­ber of Commissioners.[2] The chances for sur­vival of the Lis­bon Treaty are gen­er­al­ly esti­mat­ed to have increased, but it is not tak­en for grant­ed by the press that the Irish pop­u­la­tion will approve the treaty in the sec­ond referendum.[3] In news­pa­pers, con­sid­er­able atten­tion is giv­en to the oppo­nents of the Lis­bon Treaty, most notably Declan Gan­ley. His efforts to build from an office in a prime loca­tion in Brus­sels a cross-Euro­pean polit­i­cal par­ty, Lib­er­tas, are fol­lowed closely.[4] News­pa­per arti­cles spec­u­late on how the activ­i­ties of Gan­ley are financed and who could become his allies in var­i­ous EU mem­ber states. Although no Dutch polit­i­cal par­ties are known to have an inter­est in align­ing them­selves with Lib­er­tas, a trend towards more Euroscep­ti­cism can be wit­nessed among the Dutch polit­i­cal par­ties, most notably in the pop­ulist-con­ser­v­a­tive par­ties (“Free­dom Par­ty” of Geert Wilders and “Proud of the Nether­lands” of Rita Ver­donk). The Free­dom Par­ty has announced it will par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tions. Cur­rent­ly it is doing very well in the polls. The same is the case for an out­spo­ken pro-Euro­pean par­ty, the social-lib­er­al “D66”, which is doing remark­ably after a peri­od of decline.

With regard to the elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, there has been some atten­tion to the elec­tions of the lead­ing can­di­dates of the polit­i­cal par­ties. At the time of writ­ing the nom­i­nees of the lib­er­als (VVD), the social-lib­er­als (D66), the social-democ­rats (PvdA), and the green par­ty (Groen­Links) have been decid­ed upon by a vote among the par­ty mem­bers. The lead­ing can­di­date of the Chris­t­ian-Democ­rats (CDA), the Social­ist Par­ty (SP) and the protes­tant reli­gious par­ties (CU/ SGP), have been decid­ed upon as well, either by the par­ty or by silent approval of the mem­bers. It is not yet known who will lead the Free­dom Par­ty in the elec­tions.

Some news­pa­per arti­cles refer to the peo­ple that are named to be can­di­dates for the most impor­tant polit­i­cal posi­tions in the EU after the elec­tions, such as the posi­tion of the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent (in the cir­cum­stance that the Lis­bon Treaty enters into force). Names men­tioned include Tony Blair, Anders Ras­mussen and Carl Bild. Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, the Dutch Prime Min­is­ter Balke­nende, has been men­tioned as a poten­tial can­di­date for the posi­tion of Com­mis­sion President.[5] Although news­pa­pers indi­cate that the chances for a sec­ond term for cur­rent Pres­i­dent Bar­roso are still rel­a­tive­ly high, they refer to the rel­a­tive senior­i­ty and sol­id rep­u­ta­tion of Balke­nende with­in the Euro­pean Coun­cil. Balke­nende him­self has declared sup­port for a sec­ond term by Bar­roso and denies to be inter­est­ed in the position.[6] Oth­er Com­mis­sion nom­i­nees that have been men­tioned include the for­mer Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture Veer­man, the Min­is­ter of Social Affairs (and for­mer­ly Jus­tice) Don­ner, and Min­is­ter for Europe, Timmermans.[7] Soon to retire NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Jaap de Hoop Schef­fer has been men­tioned as pos­si­ble nom­i­nee for the posi­tion of High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the CFSP. It is con­sid­ered unlike­ly that the cur­rent Dutch Com­mis­sion­er Neel­ie Kroes will con­tin­ue, since the polit­i­cal par­ty she is a mem­ber of, is cur­rent­ly not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities


US – EU relations and global challenges

The Nether­lands has high and numer­ous expec­ta­tions of new Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, but the most impor­tant one is that he will restore the transat­lantic relationship.[8] For­eign Min­is­ter Ver­ha­gen has point­ed out on sev­er­al occa­sions that close coop­er­a­tion between Europe and the US is need­ed in order to com­bat glob­al challenges.[9] The gov­ern­ment has indi­cat­ed that it looks for­ward to coop­er­a­tion on a broad range of issues. There are how­ev­er four par­tic­u­lar pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties that are men­tioned most often: the finan­cial cri­sis, cli­mate change, the con­flict in the Mid­dle East, and inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism. These issues are also fre­quent­ly referred to in the Dutch media.

Ear­ly ini­tia­tives by Oba­ma with regard to these pri­or­i­ties have already been received pos­i­tive­ly by the Nether­lands. It wel­comed for instance, his deci­sion to close Guan­tá­namo Bay, as well as the appoint­ment of top diplo­mats George Mitchell and Richard Hol­brooke as Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the Mid­dle East, and Afghanistan and Pak­istan respec­tive­ly.

For­eign Min­is­ter Ver­ha­gen has made the obser­va­tion that the tra­di­tion­al posi­tion of the US as a dom­i­nant pow­er has changed, and that Europe and the US are increas­ing­ly posi­tioned in the same play­ing field. This has con­se­quences for the way in which the US and Europe should inter­act. For the US, this means that it will have to take into account Euro­pean ideas and inter­ests. At the same time, it implies that one can expect more of a more equal Europe, both in the polit­i­cal and the mil­i­tary area.[10]

The gov­ern­ment deems it of vital impor­tance that the EU behaves itself as an active and con­struc­tive play­er in the inter­na­tion­al are­na. This is essen­tial in order to ensure involve­ment of the US admin­is­tra­tion with glob­al chal­lenges, con­sid­er­ing that Amer­i­can atten­tion for the world nec­es­sar­i­ly will have to be shared with its domes­tic prob­lems, the rea­son­ing goes.[11] Fur­ther­more, Europe needs to take its own respon­si­bil­i­ty in the world to ensure that the transat­lantic rela­tion­ship is advan­ta­geous for both part­ners. What is need­ed to this end, is a Europe speak­ing with one voice, and an invest­ment in both soft and hard power.[12]

In line with this posi­tion, the gov­ern­ment has indi­cat­ed that when the Dutch mis­sion in the Afghan province of Uruz­gan ends in 2010, it wants to leave the door open for a con­tri­bu­tion else­where in the coun­try. It here­by responds to the expec­ta­tion that the US gov­ern­ment will ask the Nether­lands to stay. Both the Par­lia­ment and the pub­lic, how­ev­er, are very scep­ti­cal about this.[13]

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response


The Netherlands and the financial crisis

Dutch pub­lic opin­ion con­cern­ing the EU response regard­ing the finan­cial cri­sis shows a water­shed between the peri­od before and after the agree­ment on the EU eco­nom­ic recov­ery plan. Before the Decem­ber Euro­pean Coun­cil in Brus­sels, the Nether­lands wit­nessed a strong nation­al coher­ent sen­ti­ment to fight this cri­sis, which was per­ceived as being a lega­cy from for­eign ori­gin. Prime Min­is­ter Balke­nende describes this atti­tude as typ­i­cal Dutch: “when cycling against the wind, Dutch­men will only ped­al faster”.[14] In this peri­od, con­cerns on the absence of the EU in the finan­cial cri­sis start­ed to mush­room.

After the Euro­pean Coun­cil, the pub­lic atten­tion focussed more on the Dutch ben­e­fits of the sin­gle Euro­pean mar­ket and the strong mon­e­tary sys­tem for the Nether­lands. On the whole, the Euro­pean approach to the finan­cial cri­sis received rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle atten­tion in Dutch media. Most atten­tion was award­ed to Min­is­ter of Finance Wouter Bos, who received broad praise for his deci­sive approach in times of cri­sis. The Dutch government’s poli­cies of nation­al­is­ing and sup­port­ing vital banks (For­tis, ABN Amro, ING), guar­an­tee­ing inter banker loans, and fis­cal­ly sup­port­ing small and medi­um enter­pris­es, are aimed at secur­ing cap­i­tal flows with­in the nation­al econ­o­my, and received nation­al and inter­na­tion­al praise. Min­is­ter Bos was even vot­ed politi­cian, and more recent­ly, Dutch­man of the year by respectable media.

Since most of the nation­al mea­sures to address the eco­nom­ic cri­sis had already been tak­en before the Euro­pean plan was agreed upon, the gen­er­al Dutch expec­ta­tions of the EU vis-à-vis the cri­sis were mod­er­ate. In the Nether­lands, they are per­ceived as a ‘tool­box’ for nation­al poli­cies in the field, a guide­book list­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties and actions for the mem­ber states’ gov­ern­ments. The added val­ue of the Euro­pean recov­ery plan has to be found, accord­ing to Min­is­ter Bos, in the coor­di­na­tion of the 27 nation­al policies.[15]

By the end of the year, how­ev­er, Prime Min­is­ter Balke­nende praised the Euro­pean Union’s response, and stat­ed that the rel­a­tive­ly small effects of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis with­in the Euro­zone have demon­strat­ed the ben­e­fits of Euro­pean cooperation.[16] The Euro, accord­ing to Balke­nende, has demon­strat­ed to be a pro­tec­tive wall against the mon­e­tary vio­lence of the inter­na­tion­al finan­cial cri­sis, which has to be seen as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to strength­en Euro­pean coop­er­a­tion. Most like­ly, the Prime Min­is­ter deemed this plea nec­es­sary, since the praise for the EU approach to the finan­cial cri­sis had not been giv­en as much cov­er­age as the neg­a­tives. These neg­a­tives con­sist­ed in par­tic­u­lar of the lack of finan­cial con­trol also on the Euro­pean lev­el, and the con­stant quar­rels between the cap­i­tals and Brus­sels, in the peri­od lead­ing up to the agree­ment on the Euro­pean recov­ery plan at the Euro­pean Coun­cil of Decem­ber. Sev­er­al nation­al mem­bers of par­lia­ment, who deemed the EU recov­ery plan to be unnec­es­sary, and a ’rub­ber stamp­ing machine’ for nation­al plans, voiced these neg­a­tive concerns.[17] Also, the alleged lenien­cy towards state aid and the sta­bil­i­sa­tion pact has received mixed reac­tions among Dutch parliamentarians.[18]

How­ev­er, these diverse opin­ions can be explained when one con­sid­ers the posi­tion the Nether­lands took before and dur­ing the nego­ti­a­tions of the recov­ery plan. Balke­nende open­ly stat­ed just two weeks before the Euro­pean Coun­cil, that the 1.5 per­cent con­tri­bu­tion of the mem­ber states to the recov­ery plan was too high, and that the Nether­lands had already tak­en enough mea­sures to com­bat the crisis.[19]

Debate in the Nether­lands on the inter­na­tion­al pow­er con­stel­la­tion con­cen­trat­ed on the (eco­nom­ic) down­fall of the US as a world pow­er. In reac­tion, pleas to form a strong voice of the EU vis-á-vis inter­na­tion­al finan­cial affairs have start­ed to mush­room, with some min­is­ters open­ly sup­port­ing the French offer to con­tin­ue to lead Eurogroup, after the end of the French Presidency.[20] How­ev­er, this does not mean that the Nether­lands is keen on hav­ing a sin­gle EU seat with­in the gov­ern­ing bod­ies of the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) and the World­bank, which would imply it to give up its own per­ma­nent seat. Instead, Min­is­ter Bos and Prime Min­is­ter Balke­nende called for an increased man­date for improved capac­i­ties of the IMF in the inter­na­tion­al cri­sis, strength­en­ing its lead­ing role in the world economy.[21]




[1] Bert Lant­i­ng and Marc Pep­perko­rn: EU-lid­stat­en behouden eigen com­mis­saris, De Volk­skrant, 12 Decem­ber 2008.
[2] Kamer­brief inza­ke het ver­slag van de bijeenkomst van de Europese Raad, d.d. 11–12 decem­ber 2008 te Brus­sel, Min­is­terie van Buiten­landse Zak­en, 17 Decem­ber 2008.
[3] Frans Dijk­stra: Con­cessies aan Ieren mak­en weinig indruk op nee-cam­pagne, Trouw, 12 Decem­ber 2008; NRC Han­dels­blad: Ier stemt opnieuw over EU-ver­drag, 12 Decem­ber 2008.
[4] Bert Lant­i­ng: De Ierse vijand is in Brus­sel neergestreken, De Volk­skrant, 13 Decem­ber 2008; Mar­tin Viss­er: Ierse miljon­air schudt Europa op, Het Finan­cieele Dag­blad, 12 Decem­ber 2008.
[5] Telegraaf: Naam Balke­nende zingt nog rond in Brus­sel, Jan­u­ary 2009.
[6] Telegraaf: Ver­volg Bar­roso belan­grijk voor EU, Jan­u­ary 2009.
[7] Trouw: Balke­nende genoemd voor top­func­tie EU, 21 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[8] De Volk­skrant: Oba­ma moet kloof EU dicht­en (Oba­ma needs to bridge gap with Europe), 21 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[9] See e.g.: Press release of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 05 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.minbuza.nl/nl/actueel/nieuwsberichten,2008/11/Verhagen-verkiezing-Obama-nieuwe-kans.html (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[10] Raad Algemene Zak­en en Externe Betrekkin­gen, Tweede Kamer, ver­gader­jaar 2008–2009, 21 501–02, nr. 859.
[11] Press release of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 3 Novem­ber 2008,available at:

http://www.minbuza.nl/nl/actueel/nieuwsberichten,2008/11/europa-moet-de-vs-bij-internationale-zaken-betrekk.html (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[12] Open­ing Acad­emisch Jaar, Uni­ver­siteit Lei­den, 1 Sep­tem­ber 2008 door Min­is­ter Ver­ha­gen, min­is­ter van Buiten­landse Zak­en, 1 Sep­tem­ber 2008.
[13] Het Parool: Kamer: geen Afghaanse missie meer (Par­lia­ment: not anoth­er Afghan mis­sion), 12 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[14] Jan Peter Balke­nende: Op karak­ter (With char­ac­ter), Het Finan­cieele Dag­blad, 20 Decem­ber 2008.
[15] Kredi­et­cri­sis. Iedere Europese regeringslei­der heeft zijn eigen recept voor het bestri­j­den van de recessie (Cred­it crunch. Every Euro­pean head of state has his own recipe to solve the reces­sion), NRC Han­dels­blad, 11 Decem­ber 2008.
[16] Jan Peter Balke­nende: Op karak­ter (With char­ac­ter), Het Finan­cieele Dag­blad, 20 Decem­ber 2008.
[17] Brus­sel had beter geen her­stelplan kun­nen mak­en (Brus­sels bet­ter had not made a recov­ery plan), Alge­meen Ned­er­lands Pers­bu­reau, 1 Decem­ber 2008,available at: http://www.nu.nl/economie/1865767/brussel-had-beter-geen-herstelplan-kunnen-maken.html (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[18] Alge­meen Dag­blad: Kamer verdeeld over coulance met Europese regels (Par­lia­ment divid­ed over lenien­cy towards Euro­pean rules), 26 Novem­ber 2008.
[19] Ned­er­lands Dag­blad: Pre­mier bekri­tiseert EU-plan voor economie (Prime Min­is­ter crit­i­cis­es EU recov­ery plan), 26 Novem­ber 2008.
[20] Bos neemt voors­tel Sarkozy over Eurogroep serieus (Bos takes Sarkozy’s offer con­cern­ing the Eurogroup seri­ous­ly), Alge­meen Ned­er­lands Pers­bu­reau, 24 Octo­ber 2008.
[21] Le Monde: La sta­bil­ité finan­cière, bien pub­lic mon­di­al, 4 Novem­ber 2008.