There have been several reports of brewing conflict between the Netherlands and Germany over the future of European integration and about Prime Minister Rutte’s opportunistic behaviour, criticizing agreements which his government had proposed just a year ago. NRC reported on 18 and 20 June on the growing differences between the German leadership and the Dutch, with respect to budgetary and banking supervision (for example, on the role of the European Commission) and steps towards Political Union. CDA leader Haersma Buma commented this week that Rutte’s position on the EU was two-faced, split between increasing skepticism for home consumption (PVV light) and cooperative stance in EU fora. All this of course can be explained with the forthcoming elections, but continues to look, at least to me, hypocritical and short-sighted. The problem is not simply that different discourses at home and abroad misinform the Dutch electorate and strengthen nationalism by giving the wrong cues to those who may be inclined to examine different options. The problem is that, in the meantime, far-reaching plans for new steps in European integration are being prepared, as the Financial Times Brussels Blog reports. They need to be the subject of a wide and open public debate in the Netherlands, if they were ever to be legitimately agreed to by any Dutch government. The planned historical steps may be on the table at the European Council meetings sooner than we think. Sticking their heads in the sand and campaigning as if nothing is happening does not show much capacity for real leadership among those looking to get reelected. Adopting the stance of the two-faced god Yanus may seem like a good electoral strategy, but Dutch political leaders must not forget Yanus was believed to be the God of transitions, with one face looking to the future or new beginnings. Hopefully this is what they are really doing….
Posting has been irregular here, as we are preparing to physically move our Institute to the Hague and finishing the academic year. Apologies to our readers, at least the group of our students who read us will prefer their exams corrected on time, I am sure. In the meantime, the crisis in the eurozone is in full swing, Europe and the US and possibly everyone else awaits the results of the Greek elections this weekend. It is almost too close to meltdown to deliver meaningful commentary. And yet it is possible, as shown by the interviewed guest invited at the Dutch evening news program nieuwsuur of last night, 14 June, economics professor Barbara Baarsma. Admittedly, I do not follow more than half of news and commentary on Dutch television these days but still I would dare say that for a long time we have not heard such a balanced and competent commentary on the causes and solutions of the eurozone crisis. In contrast to numerous other speakers including experts and politicians, instead of emotional arguments and doomsday scenarios, she offered a competent and insightful commentary on the dilemmas we are confronted with right now. First, she explained why the support for Spain was not pointless even though the financial markets have now reacted with renewed mistrust and rent on Spanish state obligations has reached the symbolic threshold of 7 per cent. Baarsma pointed to Merkel’s speech on political Union and explained that to be successful in making transfers from one eurozone country to the other, there should be banking/ capital Union which is possible only if we gradually move towards political union in the EU. The quote from Merkel’s speech on political union is then presented to Dutch politicians who, in their reaction (with the predictable exception of Wilders and Roemer of the Socialist party who both declare Merkel’s’ comments to be ridiculous and shameless), pretend collectively that they have not heard anything about European problems in this pre-election time. Baarsma’s comment on this was sharp and incredibly to the point: Politicians should not avoid these questions now, they can bring a nuanced message to the voters, maybe explaining the euro was not introduced in the best possible way, but still, that it is important to stay in the euro and to take further steps towards political union. Her best quote: politicians that are afraid of the euro (and European integration) and shun debate on the future of the eurocrisis, have made the Dutch electorate afraid and negative about European integration. The question is posed usually the other way around – what can Dutch politicians do to promote the EU when their electorate does not want more European integration. No, Baarsma said, politicians have made the public this way. I could not agree more with her.
In the next report presented in the same nieuwsuur programme, the reporters discover the trials and tribulations of the EU’s common agricultural policy (the CAP) with the help of some farmers who plead for abolishing the single farm income payment in favour of getting a fair price for agricultural production. All very interesting and appropriate, except for the fact that these problems around the CAP have been known for decades. The only amazing thing about it is that the mainstream media have not shown much interest in these problems before. The report identify a VVD politician receiving CAP subsidies – by all not the first politicians from the Netherlands to do so, as can be seen from publications on the website: http://www.farmsubsidy.org/ promoting a campaign for transparency in CAP payments for some years. The interview with minister Bleker which follows the interviews with the farmers provides somewhat of a summary of the pro-CAP arguments and an idea of some incremental reform the Dutch may propose to the European Commission. A useful introduction to the CAP for those who are not familiar with the policy at all.