Central and Eastern Europe, Public opinion, the Netherlands, Ukraine

Ukrainians trying (again) to argue against the Dutch ‘No’ while ratification remains uncertain

A guest post by Elitsa Kortenska:

Since 6 April 2016 when a consultative referendum in the Netherlands on the EU’s Association Agreement  with Ukraine resulted in 61 percent votes against it and 38 percent in favour, ratification is on hold. The Netherlands was the last member state whose ratification was needed for its entry into force. Since April, the government and the Prime Minister have postponed decision to withdraw Dutch support for the Agreement several times. In the last couple of months, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has intensified his efforts in Brussels and in the Netherlands to resolve the problem. He stated repeatedly that the failure to ratify the Agreement would be a ‘massive mistake’ for the Netherlands, as POLITICO reported.

In October Rutte attempted to persuade political parties (see his official letter sent to Parliament) to rally around  and ratify it despite the referendum results. The forthcoming elections are making this a politically risky proposition especially with the initiators of the referendum Baudet and Jan Roos both going into politics with political formations on the right, aiming seats in parliament. Meanwhile, in an interview for a Dutch radio, former Dutch foreign minister and current Vice president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans urged political parties to give a green light to the Agreement and referred to the consultative nature of the referendum. Emphasizing the risk of instability in the region at the event of non-ratification, Timmermans said ‘we should not offer presents to Putin’. Yet the fate of Agreement remains uncertain due to the unwillingness of the Dutch second and first chamber to appear to dismiss the popular vote with national elections around the corner.

Earlier in October, Ukrainian officials, parliament members and civil society tried to argue the case for ratification and discussed the dynamics linked to it at a symposium, organized by the newly launched Netherlands-Ukraine Society. Speakers highlighted the paramount importance of the Treaty for the Ukraine domestic political and economic transformation. From the perspective of the seven Ukrainian students, who had led a six-day ‘For’ campaign just before the referendum date, the negative result meant a need  for more initiatives presenting a positive image of the ongoing transformation in ‘new’ Ukraine and AA-related reforms.

Ukrainian politicians and civil society members present at the event warned about the negative implications of failure of the Agreement. While Dutch citizens’ concerns and the ‘No’ vote must be taken seriously and addressed, according to Taras Kachka this could be achieved without renegotiating or changing the provisions of the Agreement. Since a number of the Treaty provisions have already been enforced, he hoped that that the Dutch ‘No’ would not ‘kill’ the Treaty. ‘The Agreement is not merely a technical tool for integration for Ukraine, but it symbolizes enormous changes in Ukrainian political culture and society’ he argued.

Enforcement of the treaty provisions has achieved progress in important areas of  reform: rule of law and market liberalization, but those have not reached a ‘point of no return’, civil society representatives argued. The Reanimation Reform Package (RRP) for Ukraine is a clear example of Ukrainian civil society engagement in the reform process. Olena Halushka, RRP representative, said: ‘the Maidan is the real evidence that signing the AA was not a political decision taken top-down’, but a result of citizens’ desire for transformation in Ukraine and the ‘Revolution of Dignity’.  Reforms and their enforcement are not irreversible, Halushka warned and emphasized that the political will for adopting and implementing reforms depends on full enforcement of AA provisions and the synergy between civil society and external EU pressure.

Parliamentarians Serhiy Kiral (Samopomich Union) and Vladyslav Golub (Petro Poroschenko Bloc) stressed political and financial support through the AA is key for maintaining political consensus on reforms domestically. Uncertainty over the Dutch decision has weakened the EU’s commitment to the Agreement, while the on-going Russian information war,  propaganda and aggression in Ukraine renders non-ratification extremely risky for domestic reform process, they argued.

While the Dutch ‘No’ cannot be simply disregarded, the implications of the failure of the Treaty could have more negative consequences for EU, the Netherlands and Ukraine than public is aware. According to the symposium speakers, one way to resolve the problem within the Netherlands is through broader public debate, information and communication on the economic benefits of the Treaty for the Netherlands It remains to be seen whether it is already too late for this, in terms of ratification. A decision from Dutch parliament is yet to come, but the delay already costs the EU some credibility, affects political commitment for reforms in Ukraine and potentially contributes to further political deadlock.

Academic research on the EU, Enlargement, Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

The contradictions of the Dutch referendum on the Association agreement with Ukraine

As the day of the advisory referendum in the Netherlands on the Association agreement with Ukraine nears, the bulk of the commentary seems to focus on the campaign, its trends and its context rather than the referendum question and the agreement it addresses. There have been lots of commentaries focusing on the geopolitics of the referendum, evaluating Russia’s possible attitude or role, as for example this recent piece  assessing a potential ‘no’ vote as a symbolic victory for Russia. Many analysts note the passive stance taken by the Dutch government and political parties of the government coalition who, after all, participated in the negotiations of the agreement that started all the way back in 2008. In a highly critical post, Judy Dempsey denounces the lackluster campaign by Dutch and European politicians and the lack of visible commitment to the  treaty and the values it embodies (rather than just trade) by the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte himself. In terms of the implications of the referendum results, there is little agreement on the significance of a potential ‘no’ vote. Some, consider the whole exercise to be meaningless, as given the advisory nature of the referendum, the government could ignore the results if they are negative.This post by Korteweg provides an overview of recent history of both the agreement and the Dutch referendum and of potential scenarios after the referendum.

Yet, as Kristof Jacobs pointed out in the SRV blog and also in a debate we held yesterday, the political consequences of ignoring a possible ‘no’ vote would be much wider  and harder to ignore than the legal ones. Both domestic and international consequences could be quite broad and far reaching. At least one of the government coalition parties, the Social Democrats, has committed to respecting the outcome of the referendum. Changing the wording of the Association agreement to satisfy the Dutch voters would also be quite problematic: in a total of 486 articles and 179 pages without the annexes, identifying which bits would have been found objectionable by Dutch votes in case of a ‘no’ majority would be difficult. The EU’s credibility in other international settings and policies, such as the revised European Neighborhood Policy or even ongoing enlargement process with the Western Balkans, would be compromised.

If we accept that future accessions or associations will become more and more politicized, as found in our enlargement assessment project maxcap (see here), we should try to take the question of the referendum seriously and evaluate, to the best of our current knowledge, what effects the Association agreement might have. Given its scope and the fact that establishing a Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area is quite a novel enterprise, as shown in this legal analysis, effects are difficult to estimate ex ante. The political reform provisions in the treaty, however, are both far-reaching and promising, in the clear commitment to domestic reforms in Ukraine (art 6), extensive requirements for transparency and the planned involvement of civil society (articles 299, 443). All other things being equal (which is not a given in Ukraine’s neighbourhood), the Agreement will provide both a roadmap and a set of incentives for reforms in democratic governance, as the EU has done in the past for countries like Bulgaria, Romania or Slovakia. It will be up to Ukrainian policy makers and politicians to take this opportunity. Yet rejecting the treaty by means of a negative vote in the Netherlands, or letting it exist in some kind of legal and political limbo while the Dutch government decides how to react to a potential negative result, would sap what energy and determination exist for reforms in Ukraine. So paradoxically, if we assume that at least some of the initiators of the Dutch referendum care about democracy and citizens, their democratic impulse might kill the attempts to make democracy mean something in Ukraine. This would be a strange outcome indeed.

 

Enlargement, EU law, Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

Between Scylla and Charybdis: how will the Dutch Presidency connect our Union to citizens?

The flow of refugees from the war zones around Syria has become more and more a test to the European Union. This is also the case for the Dutch government, which will have the EU Presidency in the coming months. Before the EU-Turkey summit on November 29 last year, the Second Chamber in the Dutch parliament had a firm message to Prime Minister Rutte before he left for Brussels: Turkey needs to increase its border controls and shelter refugees in Turkey, and there will be no concessions on the accession of Turkey to the EU. The Christian-Democratic MP Pieter Omtzigt remarked on the latest Commission progress report: “It is better to call this a deterioration report.”[1]

The EU-Turkey summit made it clear how many European political leaders struggle with the refugee problem. Next to a package of measures to substantially reduce the flow of refugees—including 3 billion in support for the establishment of camps, health and education—there was a promise for visa liberalization. The talks on Turkish accession will be resumed.[2] European leaders, including the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, had to pull all the stops to make a “deal” with Turkey.

Whether the accession negotiations with Turkey will really take off is not clear. The Dutch Presidency does not want to relax any of the existing criteria for enlargement, as has declared again and again. It is also striking that the chapter that will be re-opened, does not follow the Commission’s current policy. This new policy puts the most difficult chapters at the start of negotiations, so that a candidate builds a track-record of its performance during the accession period. In the Turkish case this would include issues like respecting the rights of minorities and improving the functioning of the judiciary. Evidently, both Brussels and Ankara were not yet ready to engage in this litmus test.

The main question that arises is whether the opening of some chapters is nothing more than an attempt to polish the Turkish international reputation after the shooting down of a Russian yet. There is no real intention to let Turkey eventually join. At the same time, and this is the problematic issue, European citizens are given the impression that Turkish EU membership is still feasible. An important group of these citizens has, as confirmed by recent research, no interest whatsoever to allow Turkey join the EU.

Comparative research shows that among citizens, in addition to a Euro-positive discourse, several discourses exist that are very critical of more European integration and further enlargement.[3] In the Netherlands, but also in Germany, there are at least two critical discourses. The first one would like to empower citizens in the EU and make the Union more democratic. This discourse emphasizes a deepening of existing cooperation in which citizens should be more involved in European decision-making. Enlargement is not categorically rejected but is only relevant in the long run.

The second critical discourse is much more radical and points to all kinds of problems with the Union. Expansion has become, according to this discourse, too costly, the participants refer to the Eastern enlargement. Moreover, the discourse also points at the increased competition on the labor market, which reduced wages and contributed to higher unemployment rates. Accession of Turkey is rejected because, in the words of some these participants, “Islam and democracy do not mix.”

These discourses show that many are not ready to have Turkey play a role in the Union. Many citizens do not understand the recent move of European politicians to offer EU membership to Turkey as a possible solution for the migration crisis. The main challenge of the Dutch Presidency is to get around these two issues in a way that is understood and appreciated by European citizens. This requires broad political and popular discussion about the direction Europe is heading in a way in which citizens can be better involved. It requires a clear political debate on whether Turkey could become a EU member. It also requires a discussion with these very same citizens on migration and the current influx of refugees. This debate is not only a European one, but also a national debate, since these issues also affects national politics. This puts the Dutch Presidency for the exceptional and difficult task, both in Europe and the Netherlands, to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. Without committing to such a debate, especially in these two difficult issues, Dutch citizens will lose confidence in European solutions, and eventually in Dutch politics.[4]

[1] http://nos.nl/artikel/2071400-strenge-opdracht-aan-rutte-voor-top-eu-turkije.html

[2] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2015/11/29-eu-turkey-meeting-statement/

[3] B. Steunenberg, S. Petek en C. Rüth (2011) ‘Between Reason and Emotion: Popular discourses on Turkey’s membership of the EU’ South European Society 16 (3): 449-68 (zie http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13608746.2011.598361); A. Dimitrova, E. Kortenska en B. Steunenberg (2015) Comparing Discourses about Past and Future EU Enlargements: Core Arguments and Cleavages, MAXCAP Working Paper Series, No. 13, August 2015 (zie http://www.maxcap-project.eu/system/files/maxcap_wp_13_2.pdf).

[4] A Dutch version of this post can be found at De Hofvijfer, http://www.montesquieu-instituut.nl/id/vjzxjbs5gihk/tussen_scylla_en_charybdis_hoe_verbindt

European Parliament, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

Debating the European Parliament is possible

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On 6 June, in the municipal house of the city of The Hague, a roundtable debate took place, entitled ‘Towards a new parliament? The European Parliament after the 2014 elections‘. The invited speakers featured both prominent academics like Christophe Crombez (Stanford University/University of Leuven) and Claes de Vrees (Univeristy of Amsterdam), politicians like Wim van de Camp (a Member of the European Parliament from the Christian Democrats), and the expert Tom de Bruijn (former Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the EU and current member of the Dutch Council of State, also an external teaching Fellow at the Institute of Public Administration). The debate was organized by the Institute of Public Administration of Leiden University and the Standing Group of the European Union of the European Consortium for Political Science Research (ECPR) with the support of the European Commission Representation to the Netherlands, the Dutch Minisitry of Foreign Affairs and the Hague municipality which co-sponsored the debate. The roundtable took place in the large atrium of the municipality, while somewhere upstairs negotiations on the new city government were still under way.

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Most of the public were academics – the debate was part of the 7th Pan-European Conference on the EU – but, quite amazingly, people from all walks of life showed up as well – from secondary school students to journalists to retired civil servants. If anything, the full hall and lively discussion showed that debating the future of Europe with a broader public is not only necessary, but also possible.

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The moderator, Joop Hazenberg, asked a number of questions about the speakers’ assessment of the results of the European Parliament elections, their vision of the future priorities and the future President of the Commission. Then there were questions from the floor.

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Two of the speakers – Crombez and de Vreese were more positive than many may have expected on the entry of populist parties in the European parliament, rightly observing that these parties represent views that also have their place and are healthy for the debate. Van de Camp suggested that low turnout in EP elections is the result of lack of education on the EU in secondary schools, a view which was challenged by a member of the audience who was a secondary school pupil.

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De Vreese shared results from his public opinion work which suggest that even more liberal parts of the Dutch electorate are negative towards some member states citizens. This left the audience wondering what the current views and expectations of the Dutch public are with regard to the Internal market.

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Van de Camp was quite optimistic about Dutch companies taking advantage of the final opening of the market for services, yet did not respond to questions on how this would affect the free movement of labour in the Netherlands. De Bruijn highlighted a common energy policy as an urgent priority for Europe. The questions touched on EMU, human rights and the EU, internal market and the selection of the new Commission president. On the latter, the members of the panel were divided: while Crombez felt that making Mr. Juncker the next Commission President would strengthen democracy in the EU, de Brujin pointed out that Mr Juncker was not even on the list of the European People’s Party candidates. With this, a lively debate was finished as one of the highlights of an even livelier conference. This format mixing politicians and academics and using a public venue seems to hold some promise for all involved: academics, politicians, experts and the public.The very exchange of views is creating a better awareness where democracy in the EU is weak and what we can do to change this.

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Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, Public opinion, the Netherlands

The EU’s Budget Negotiations and the Dutch Government: A Commentary

The Dutch government’s mission for last week’s budget negotiations, which had to be secured by Prime Minister Rutte, was three-fold: First, to maintain the 1 billion euro rebate on The Netherlands’ contribution to the EU. Second, to lower total EU spending. This goal might have seemed ambitious, given that new EU budgets had always been higher than the previous one, and given that the European Commission had asked for and increase of 5,5 per cent compared to the old 2007-2013 budget.

Third, Rutte’s goal was to modernize the budget in order to create more financial room for investing in the EU’s earning capacity, in areas such as research, innovation, transport, energy and digital networks.

While the latter goal is the most substantive in nature, the first two are highly political: Rutte seemed to be particularly keen on being able to demonstrate that he could succeed in making Brussels “give in and give up”, and to show that he could come home with spoils of some sort for the national electorate.

The first of these goals has been achieved: Rutte managed to maintain the Dutch rebate. The second goal was also successfully negotiated: for the first time in the history of the EU the budget has been pushed down. This makes The Netherlands part of the winning team in last Friday’s decision making process, together with Britain, Germany, Sweden and the other net-contributors.

By contrast, Rutte was not successful in securing a more modern EU budget: spending on Competitiveness for Growth may increase by 40 per cent to more than 125 billion euro, it still remains a very modest part of the total budget (12,6 per cent compared to 32,6 per cent for regional development and 37,4 per cent for agriculture).

So it can be concluded that Rutte has succeeded politically but lost in more substantive terms. In his first response to the press, Rutte stated: “Of course it is not possible to get everything you want when you negotiate with 27 member states. But we keep our rebate, for which we fought hard, and the total budget will be smaller. That’s appropriate, because all member states have to cut their spending”.

What Rutte does not mention is that since the last budget was made, the member states have asked the EU to do more, for instance in the field of regulating the financial services and national budgets, foreign policy and fighting cross border crime. The EU institutions will have to perform these additional tasks with fewer funds. For The Netherlands, there is a clear analogy with what the present central government demands from local authorities: policy decentralization has been paired with budget cuts for municipalities.

Another part of the budget that pleased the Dutch government is the demand for all EU institutions to cut down 5 per cent of their staff in the next years. Those EU-civil servants that remain will have to work longer hours without additional compensation and will face a salary cut of 6 per cent, seen as a “token of solidarity” with indebted EU member states. This measure tallies nicely with the recurrent debate on public sector rewards in The Netherlands. Just last week, there was outrage in Dutch newspapers and TV shows in response to the news that more than 3000 EU civil servants enjoy a higher salary than the Dutch prime minister himself.

The failure to truly modernize the EU’s budget is seen by many as a missed opportunity to use the budget negotiations as stating an ambition for Europe, rather than underlining the popular perception that EU budgets are more about finding a “gloomy compromise between political opportunism and subsidy addiction” as the Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes for Europe’s Digital Agenda called the budget agreement in the papers.

In sum, Rutte succeeded in achieving the two political goals that prevent him from losing political prestige domestically, but he failed to triumph in terms of creating more common added value for Europe, by moving away from the old economy and embrace the new economy. This can be taken as an indication of Europe’s long road ahead, both in terms of economic recovery and in terms of increasing multi-level political legitimacy.

Academic research on the EU, Central and Eastern Europe, Europe in the news, the Netherlands, Uncategorized

Eastern Europeans in the Netherlands: A battle of the numbers or are journalists bad scientists?

RTL news  reported yesterday (link in Dutch) that the PVV, the Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, have received 40 000 complains on their controversial website asking people to report Central and Eastern European citizens causing ‘problems’ in the Netherlands. More than half of these were, according to the news item of 13 December about ‘drunkenness, noise and parking problems’. No detailed breakdown of issues or problems or even an overview of the 40 000 (complaints/messages? filled forms?wesbite hits?) has been made available yet and still a number of Dutch media dedicated quite some attention to the figure mentioned by the PVV. 40 000 sounds, after all, very impressive, even of a percentage of the messages left on the website may have been  from people who had a positive story or complained about the website itself.  More importantly,  the journalists asking questions about the ‘Central and Eastern European problem’ seemed unaware of a report presented this very same week, on 12 December, of a broad representative study by the Polish Institute of Public Affairs  showing that the majority of Dutch people have a positive or neutral impression of Polish people working here.

This provides some food for thought. First, it appears difficult for the media to distinguish representative, science based results from any other numbers that get used and abused in public debates. Secondly, there is clearly a selection bias on the PVV website, which could be understood better if we could see a breakdown of the type of issues and complaints. This was also stressed by the Polish embassy, whose spokesperson rightly remarked that the PVV reported numbers have no scientific value whatsoever.  This latter comment reached us through the SPITS newspaper (link in Dutch here) that managed, in its turn, to confuse the authors of the report on Polish perceptions in the Netherlands – the research was done by the Polish Institute for Public Affairs and GfK, but not Leiden university ( we co-hosted a presentation of the results in our Campus in the Hague). In the end, the only conclusion that can be drawn so far from the coverage of the  perceptions of Poles in the Netherlands report as opposed to the PVV complaint numbers announcement appears to be that some journalists do not pay much attention not only to science, but also to the basic facts.

For anyone who is interested in the actual data related to the perceptions of Poles in the Netherlands, a link to a summary of the findings and figures of the study can be found here. The full report is yet to be finalized and we look forward to examining the complete results.

Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Public opinion, the Netherlands

Burgers, nationale politiek en de politisering van de EU

Caspar van den Berg & Carola van Eijk

Gisteren debatteerde de Tweede Kamer over de meerjarenbegroting van de Europese Unie, het Meerjarig Financieel Kader. Misschien nog wel opvallender dan wat in het debat zelf naar voren kwam, was dat het debat niet alleen via live-stream te volgen was, maar ook dat er veel over getwitterd werd (o.a. met #MFK en #eurotop) en dat de Volkskrant op de eigen website vrijwel van minuut tot minuut volgde wat aan de orde kwam. De geïnteresseerde burger kon eenvoudig de grote lijnen en belangrijkste onderwerpen van het debat tot zich nemen vanuit de luie stoel thuis of onderweg. In tegenstelling tot de vroege jaren 2000 kan er de afgelopen periode niet geklaagd worden over de aandacht voor Europa in de media, het parlement en het publieke debat.

Deze verandering hebben wij centraal gesteld toen we gevraagd werden mee te werken aan de bundel van de Raad voor het Openbaar Bestuur (Rob) over de relatie tussen Europa en haar burgers, getiteld Europa, burgerschap en democratie. Over de gespannen relatie tussen burgers en Europa en mogelijkheden om die te ontspannen. Naast onze bijdrage bogen tien andere wetenschappers zich over de vraag hoe erg het gesteld is met de relatie tussen Europa en burgers, en hoe die te verbeteren zou zijn.

In onze bijdrage, getiteld “Van permissive consensus tot political by-pass” zijn wij ingegaan op de politisering van de EU in Nederland. Tot aan de campagne over het referendum over het Grondwettelijk Verdrag begin 2005 was het adagium bij veel politici en de mainstream media over Europa nog “Het lééft niet, en het scóórt niet”. We typeren de pre-2005 periode van relatieve desinteresse in Europa bij burgers, media en parlement dan ook als een tijdperk van permissive consensus: politici en ambtenaren konden praktisch ongestoord hun gang gaan waar het Europa betrof.

Van die permissive consensus is anno 2012 weinig meer over. De permissiveness is gedaald, wat blijkt uit het feit dat méér kiezers hun stem bij nationale verkiezingen laten bepalen door EU-thema’s (van 1 % in 2004 tot 10 % in 2012), en de consensus is gedaald, wat blijkt uit het gedaalde percentage Nederlanders dat voorstander is van Nederland’s EU-lidmaatschap (van 69 % in 2005 tot 58 % in 2012). De politisering van de EU in Nederland is een feit.

Het Nederlandse “nee” heeft een grote impact gehad op bestuurlijk- en beleidsvlak. Politici ontdekten Europa als een issue dat wél tot leven gebracht kon worden en waarmee je wél kon scoren. Er ontstond bij veel politici en ambtenaren een sterk gevoel van “alles moet anders”. En veel werd anders: Nederland is sinds 2005 veranderd in een kritische partner in Europa, heeft een korting op de afdrachten gekregen en Europees beleid wordt minder als buitenlands beleid en meer als binnenlands beleid gezien.

De conclusie lijkt simpel: het referendum heeft laten zien dat het de EU bij burgers gepolitiseerd was, en in reactie daarop politiseerde de EU ook in politieke en ambtelijke arena. Toch is die relatie minder rechttoe rechtaan dan zij lijkt. Er is namelijk iets interessants aan de hand met die post-2005 politisering. Uit onderzoek bleek dat het de meeste nee-stemmers in het referendum geen “nee” zeiden tegen Europa, maar hun onvrede uitten tegen het destijds zittende kabinet en over het tekort aan informatie over het Vedrag. De politisering van de EU onder burgers vond dan ook feitelijk niet plaats in 2005-2006, maar pas vanaf 2009-2010, zo blijkt uit cijfers van TNS-NIPO.

Er zit dus een duidelijk verschil in timing tussen enerzijds de politisering onder politici en ambtenaren (2005-2007), en anderzijds de politisering van burgers (2009-2012). Politici en ambtenaren zagen het “nee” als een aanval op Europa en handelden daarnaar, terwijl de werkelijke electorale politisering pas een paar jaar later volgde, toen de economische crisis een duidelijke EU dimensie kreeg. In die zin zegt het verhaal van de politisering van de EU in Nederland ons dus misschien wel meer over de kloof tussen de burger en de nationale politiek dan over de kloof tussen de burger en Europa.