The Netherlands in a changing EU, NATO and UN

January 25, 2006 - nr.45

Summary: the Netherlands and NATO, the EU and the UN


The EU is seeking a new internal equilibrium after the recent enlargement. The rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by France and the Netherlands has created a situation in which there is a need for consolidation and reflection. The Treaty could have gone some way towards creating such equilibrium by streamlining decision-making procedures and identifying clear areas of competence. Yet the question remains whether the Union can achieve the additional deepening that is so essential in certain areas. For example, it has so far failed to tackle the greatest threat to Europe’s prosperity effectively. In the field of internal security, much also remains to be done when it comes to cooperation on criminal investigation. For lack of consensus and military resources, the EU’s external security policy has long remained limited to statements of intent. It is only very recently that concrete steps have been taken, by setting up the battlegroups. The EU will not be able to play a meaningful foreign policy role on the world stage until it can organise itself internally in such a way as to reach unanimous foreign policy decisions, make optimum use of the opportunities provided by cooperation with NATO, and raise and maintain the standard of European military capabilities. Only then will it be seen as a valued and serious player in the areas of particular importance to it, such as energy and the environment, and in its relations with the US. All these are areas in which the EU still has a long way to go. This is discussed in Chapter II.


NATO is recovering from a serious transatlantic rift, and full recovery will require considerable efforts on both sides of the ocean. It is essential that transatlantic dialogue be revived, in NATO as well as through the EU, and the AIV supports any proposal that encourages this. Lasting recovery will, first of all, depend on all the allies, including the US, seeing NATO once more as the primary forum for discussing strategic security issues within the meaning of Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Secondly, the standard of European military capacity needs to be further raised and maintained. European defence budgets must remain high enough to ensure this, rather than being the subject of repeated cutbacks (as has happened in many member states). Thirdly, there must be a strategic debate on the principles underlying the global deployment of NATO forces. Notwithstanding all the fine words and statements of intent on both sides of the Atlantic during President Bush’s recent visit to Europe, it remains to be seen whether any of this will materialise in the near future. This is discussed in Chapter III.


The UN, in turn, is struggling to steer a course that will be credible at both ends of its spectrum of members: (1) the US and the wealthy, powerful West, and (2) developing countries. Achieving a new consensus based on the notion of collective security is crucial, but problematic: crucial because countries are increasingly interdependent, problematic because the interests of the 180-plus states that now make up the UN are far more diverse than when the organisation was first set up. Yet in the absence of such a consensus there will no longer be any basis for the UN’s continued existence. It is also important that the organisation continue to receive enough funding, staff and military resources to pursue its policies efficiently. The Netherlands must contribute to this and urge others to follow suit. This is discussed in Chapter IV.


As we have seen in the earlier descriptions of the three forums that are of greatest importance to the Netherlands, this international constellation – for all its usefulness – is fragile to say the least. None of the three has yet displayed sufficient ability to reform, despite all the good initiatives in that direction. Given the scale of the challenges in the field of prosperity and welfare, security and the global issues outlined in Chapter I, this is worrying. There is a risk that some or all of the multilateral organisations will prove incapable of facing the challenges ahead, and hence that the structure of the international society which has taken shape in recent decades will collapse. That would be a disaster for this country.


The practice of ‘incremental decision-making’, whereby instruments are altered stage by stage without the ultimate political goal ever being explicitly defined, is typical of the way in which international organisations operate. Although both NATO and the EU have been able to make impressive progress in developing their range of instruments, they have never reached agreement as to strategies and ultimate goals. This may undermine public support for the decisions reached, as the results of the referenda on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe appear to indicate.


The challenges described in the introduction no longer only concern the three forums referred to. An important part is now played not only by new formal intergovernmental bodies such as ASEAN and Mercosur, but also by informal gatherings of groups of countries to which the Netherlands does not belong, such as the G8 (and to a lesser extent the G20). One major change has been the spread of international consultation and cooperation between civil society organisations and the private sector, as well as bodies in which the international and national private and public sectors cooperate. Governments are increasingly aware that the challenges of globalised society cannot be faced without such forms of cooperation.


The existing multilateral structure clearly has its limitations and sometimes lacks the power and resources to be effective, which in turn fuels unilateralist tendencies. For example, there are insufficient resources to monitor and enforce compliance with UN Security Council resolutions and non-proliferation treaties80 The American attitude towards multilateral action is also very relevant here.81


After reading this advisory report it may also be wondered whether the existing multilateral institutions are actually capable of tackling today’s problems, some of which will soon become very pressing. At a recent conference on matters of current concern to the UN, the environment and energy security were identified as ‘the next generation of issues’, to be tackled in a subsequent round of reforms. Coalitions of governments, civil society organisations and the private sector are also essential if progress is to be made on the major international issues such as poverty reduction, financial stability and health. Greater focus on the environment, raw materials and energy security is urgently needed.


The twenty-first century will probably call for a new, supplementary form of multilateral action. Opinions differ as to how the world’s largest and most urgent problems should be tackled. In addition to moderate ideas about gradual institutional reform, such as setting up a world parliament or expanding the G20, there are proposals to create at international level new multilateral forms of organisation based on networks82 In any event, international efforts to tackle global problems will benefit from close cooperation between the public sector, the private sector and civil society, for many issues have political, economic and social implications and are transnational in nature. Moreover, this is a trend that has existed for some time. For example, Anne-Marie Slaughter describes how decentralised government institutions are increasingly working together through their own transnational networks. ‘Global governance’ is thus taking shape not only through traditional multilateral institutions, in which countries pursue their own national interests, but through more informal international cooperation between decentralised policymakers and institutions. It is important to examine how such decentralised international cooperation networks can be strengthened so as to assist the existing multilateral organisations without undermining their authority.83


The AIV believes it is necessary for each international institution to focus on organising input from civil society. There will also be a continuing need to seek international decision-making methods that will allow effective, authoritative action based on, and making use of, the existing multilateral institutions.



Although the three forums discussed in this report differ in their goals and membership, there are similarities in the way they operate. For a country such as the Netherlands, investing in a decisive EU is an important way to work towards an effective UN and to encourage constructive policy dialogue with the US that will complement and facilitate deliberations within NATO.


In a number of respects the Netherlands occupies a special position. It is a leading international actor when it comes to investment and the provision of financial services abroad, as well as development cooperation activities – both by the government and by private organisations. It is one of the few countries whose official development aid exceeds the international target of 0.7% of GNP. This unusual combination of international financial strength and close involvement in developing countries is acknowledged internationally, but not sufficiently highlighted at home. This country also makes a considerable and much-valued military contribution to international crisis management operations, including ones at the upper end of the spectrum of force. The Netherlands is thus effectively pursuing a two-track policy, based on strengths in both the ‘soft sector’ and the ‘hard sector’. Another of its assets is that it is very widely perceived to be an unprejudiced, reliable partner in international affairs. This has to do with that twotrack policy, which puts this country in an ideal position to create links between such seemingly different policy fields as security and development cooperation, as well as between Europe and the US, and to make proposals in these areas.


The Netherlands’ efforts to define its position in the three forums discussed in this report, and in the international arena as a whole, must always be based on these existing achievements and the resulting opportunities to highlight its own particular policy aims.


As a trading nation – almost half of Dutch GNP comes from exports – the Netherlands has a particular interest in an open, stable global economy. As a small country that is a major investor with considerable economic power and interests, it has an interest in international regulation and in ‘fair play’. As a small country that is highly vulnerable to the risks outlined in Chapter I, it has an interest in being part of effective international structures that are capable of facing those challenges. Dutch efforts must therefore primarily be aimed at strengthening such structures, focusing on the priorities set out in the previous chapters. The Netherlands simply has no alternative to operating within the multilateral institutions discussed in this report, and the government should make this very clear to the Dutch people.



80            The reports by the Panel of Eminent Persons and the UNSG discuss the problem of proliferation in considerable detail. It is also the subject of a separate advisory report which the AIV is drawing up at the government’s request as this report goes to press.

81            In March 2001 the US withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, in December 2001 it withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, in May 2002 it revoked its signature of the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, and in September 2002 it published a National Security Strategy in which it reserved the right, without any reference to the restrictions imposed by the UN Charter, to take preemptive military action if necessary in order to eliminate a potential serious threat. The same attitude is reflected in America’s stance on the treaty banning anti-personnel mines and its rejection of the verification protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The most recent example of all is Iraq.

82            J. F. Rischard, High Noon: 20 global issues, 20 years to solve them, Oxford University Press, 2002.

83            Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New World Order, Princeton University Press, 2004.


Advice request


Mr F. Korthals Altes

Chairman of the Advisory Council                                       

on International Affairs

Postbus 20061

2500 EB Den Haag                     



May 2004



Dear Mr Korthals Altes,


I am writing to you in my own capacity and on behalf of the Minister of Defence, the Minister for Development Cooperation and the Minister for European Affairs.


The following topic is listed first in the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV)’s work programme for 2004:


“The position of the Netherlands in the EU, NATO and UN

The decisions taken in 2002 and 2003 concerning the intervention in Iraq and the prospect of the enlargement of the European Union and NATO in 2004 have created new factors in Dutch foreign policy. How should the Netherlands respond? How can Dutch interests and ideals manifest themselves in this new reality? What policy is appropriate in this context? How robust are the policy intentions expressed in the explanatory memorandum accompanying the 2004 budget?”


The questions are based on the express wish of the House of Representatives of the States General that these matters should be examined by the AIV.


I and the other ministers mentioned above wish to submit a number of issues for consideration by the AIV, since additional advice on these matters, in conjunction with the earlier requests for advice on such matters as crisis management, failing states and preemptive action, will be of use to the ministers concerned.


On 22 April 2004 I exchanged views with the AIV on the advisory work that is currently in progress. On that occasion I expressed an interest in advice on the effectiveness of the multilateral system. The main focus of the present request for advice is the Netherlands’ capacity to enhance the effectiveness of the system.


The ministry is currently drawing up memoranda on related topics. You will be informed of these by the responsible officials once the AIV starts dealing with this request.


Although the topics raised extend beyond the forthcoming Dutch Presidency of the EU and your advice will have more long-term implications, I hope to receive the AIV’s report in the course of the summer.


I look forward to a report in which the Netherlands’ capacity to act will as far as possible be discussed in an integrated manner, extending across the boundaries of the bodies in question. This will put the country in a better position to act effectively and decisively.


Copies of this letter are being sent to the Presidents of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the States General.


Yours sincerely,



Bernard Bot





Request for advice on the position of the Netherlands in the EU, NATO and the UN


1. The European Union

The position of the Netherlands in an EU with 25 Member States has been under consideration for some time now. Besides the ‘closer cooperation' referred to in the new treaty, other more informal leading groups may emerge. The ‘big five’ are cooperating on JHA, and France, the United Kingdom and Germany appear to want to take the lead when it comes to the CFSP and the CESDP. There are other fields of activity within the EU that may lend themselves to closer cooperation on a structured or unstructured basis.


The questions here are: Which dossiers could the Netherlands successfully handle with the help of an informal ‘leading group’, and which countries could it work with most effectively on each of the various dossiers? Does the AIV believe there are topics for which the Netherlands should itself initiate closer cooperation and/or the creation of informal groups? What role can cooperation between the Benelux countries play here? How can the Community method be maintained and inclusiveness be promoted? What weighting of votes will be desirable and feasible under conditions of closer cooperation, given the provisions on ‘structured cooperation’ in the new treaty?



The questions here are: To what extent are ad hoc coalitions that emerge within NATO and during individual operations compatible with the consensus model on which cooperation within NATO is based? In what circumstances can NATO partnerships (on a project basis or otherwise) with organisations such as the EU, the OSCE, the UN and other regional or international bodies that deal with security aspects play a part? How should the relationship between NATO and Russia develop? Is the present composition of NATO still sufficient for it to carry out its new core tasks, or should new strategic partners (such as Japan, South Korea, China and Australia) be sought?


3. The UN

Experience gained and lessons learned in connection with Kosovo and Iraq will play a role in the reform of the United Nations. The High-Level Panel is due to report to the UN Secretary-General at the end of this year. The questions here are: What could the Netherlands do to enhance the UN’s legitimacy and decisiveness when intervening in situations that pose a threat to peace and security?


What scope is there for a coordinated EU stance within the Security Council on this as well as other matters (Article 19 of the Treaty on European Union)? How can the Netherlands’ involvement in other global fora with development, financial, social and economic agendas best be used in support of UN efforts to promote peace and security? What can the Netherlands do within the EU and NATO to help make the UN more effective and ensure that efforts to promote peace and security are implemented in practice?

Government reactions

The Chairman of the Advisory Council on International Affairs

F. Korthals Altes



7 April 2006



Dear Mr Chairman,


It was with great admiration that I read the report entitled ‘The Netherlands in a changing EU, NATO and UN’, which the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) submitted to the government following a request for advice on the effectiveness of the multilateral system and the part that the Netherlands can play within it. The Minister of Defence, the Minister for Development Cooperation and the Minister for European Affairs join me in expressing our gratitude for this thorough, interesting report, which combines a broad analysis with a number of specific recommendations concerning this country’s position in the EU, NATO and the UN. The report also makes a useful contribution to the current period of reflection on the future of European integration. You will find below our response to the recommendations in the report.


General (Chapters 1 and 5)


The discussion of the three forums – the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United Nations – is preceded by an outline of the changing context in which they are operating. Here, the AIV focuses on the far-reaching implications of globalisation in a variety of areas. This has led to far greater global interdependence. Modern technology and means of transport are eliminating distance, and economies are increasingly interlinked. At the same time, according to the AIV’s analysis, the international community faces major problems and risks. On the security front we have to deal with disasters caused by terrorism and with an increased risk of nuclear proliferation, due in part to the widespread availability of advanced technologies. On the economic front, the vigorous growth of a number of emerging markets contrasts starkly with the persistence of poverty in various parts of the world, particularly Africa. The AIV also points to the problems of climate change and environmental degradation, as well as the increased likelihood of epidemic diseases. I therefore fully agree with the main thrust of the report, which is that the risks and challenges we now face call for more rather than less international cooperation.


In this connection, the AIV rightly states that the Netherlands, a relatively small country with an open economy, has much to gain from membership of effective international structures that can tackle the problems of the 21st century. I therefore share the AIV’s view that Dutch foreign policy should aim to strengthen international structures both in our own continent and in the world as a whole. The international community is gradually becoming better organised, but not fast enough to keep pace with rapid globalisation and the cross-border problems it raises. In particular, there is a lack of global governance, at a time when more and more issues call for global solutions. We in Europe and the broader Euro-Atlantic area have a number of mutually reinforcing and to some extent overlapping cooperative structures, which include not only the EU and NATO (both discussed in the report) but also the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Regional forms of cooperation in other parts of the world are usually less structured, and efforts to strengthen them should therefore be encouraged. For example, the Netherlands is currently assisting the African Union, both directly and through the EU. As the report indicates, the EU provides the Netherlands with a useful means of contributing to a more authoritative, effective UN. A European Union that speaks with one voice will carry greater international weight and be able to propagate European views more effectively, in its support for multilateral institutions and treaties and in other contexts.


Despite all the excellent initiatives in this area, the AIV feels that the three international organisations discussed in the report are still not sufficiently capable of reform. Given the scale of the challenges that face us with regard to prosperity, welfare, security and global issues, this is something the AIV views with concern. I share that concern, especially regarding the UN system, and in the run-up to the UN summit in September 2005 I repeatedly called for more effective multilateralism. The UN summit led to progress in a number of areas, but did not achieve the qualitative leap forward that was really required. More specifically, the AIV concludes that the UN Security Council and the UN system in general need to be more capable of monitoring and enforcing compliance with resolutions on issues such as non-proliferation. I fully agree. Unfortunately, non-proliferation was an area in which the results of the summit were particularly disappointing: it proved impossible to reach agreement on a passage in the final document identifying the spread of weapons of mass destruction as one of today’s greatest security risks. A global consensus on threats to international security, which the AIV considers desirable as ‘the basis for collective security’, thus seems to be out of reach. The most that can be achieved for the time being is what is in the final document.


The report also looks at how various developments have affected the functioning of nation states. The great increase in cross-border phenomena has indeed put such traditional concepts as national sovereignty in a new light. Many issues that used to be considered purely domestic now have all kinds of international implications. Developments taking place well beyond our borders may directly affect our security and prosperity, and the only way for national governments to influence them is through international cooperation. The more structured such cooperation is, the more effective it will be. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, supranational elements such as the EU’s Community model and the European Commission can play a part here. The Dutch government would greatly welcome a stronger role for the UN Secretary-General, as proposed by the AIV. Despite some attempts to give him more latitude in performing his duties, it is clear that there is currently no consensus in favour of a substantial strengthening of his role that would enable him to act more independently.


In any case, the division of powers between international organisations and national governments is not a zero-sum game. International cooperation – both global and regional – enables national governments to influence developments that would otherwise remain beyond their control. This applies particularly to smaller countries. Major powers have more ways of protecting their interests, but even they – and the United States is no exception – can only do so in cooperation with others. At the same time, well-run nation states are vital components of effective multilateral organisations. In that sense, the three levels of governance – national, regional and global – are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Also important is the AIV’s focus on the growing role of non-state actors, including multinationals and, increasingly, international NGOs. When dealing with international issues, as the report says, close cooperation between the public sector, the private sector and civil society is essential. Accordingly, the government consistently advocates the involvement of NGOs when the mandates for new UN bodies, such as the new Human Rights Council, are drawn up.


The United Nations (Chapter 4)


The AIV made an active contribution to the preparations for the UN summit on 14-16 September 2005, in the form of its May 2005 advisory report entitled ‘Reforming the United Nations’ (to which the government has already responded). A number of things which the AIV considers particularly important, including adoption of the ‘responsibility to protect’ principle, were subsequently enshrined in the final document of the summit. I see the adoption of this principle as a major step in the emergence of an international doctrine that attaches greater importance to the security of individuals. The key element here is that responsibility for protecting individuals against mass violence will lie with the international community as a whole if the state in question is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens.


Another important result of the summit is certainly the decision to set up a Peacebuilding Commission, another step strongly advocated by the AIV. It is a positive sign that both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council have now endorsed the text of a resolution giving shape to this new body. The aim is to make peace consolidation efforts in post-conflict situations more coherent and so prevent violence from recurring. The core of the new Commission will be an Organisational Committee. In accordance with the agreed criteria, the Netherlands, as a major contributor to UN budgets and programmes, will regularly have a seat on the Committee. In 2006 the Dutch government is in principle prepared to contribute 15 million dollars to the creation of the new Peacebuilding Fund.


The decision in principle by the UN summit to set up a Human Rights Council has now, following intensive negotiations, led to a resolution that was adopted by an overwhelming majority at the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006. In a number of respects the new Council is an improvement on the former Human Rights Commission. Although we were unable to achieve everything we wanted, the results should be seen as the best compromise that could be reached. For example, the new Council is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. This is a step higher than the former Commission, although it does not go as far as the Netherlands would have liked, namely that the Council should be a main body of the UN, like the Security Council and ECOSOC. Another improvement is that the new Council provides more scope for dealing with urgent matters, as it sits for longer periods and can convene emergency sessions – things the Netherlands and its EU partners had pressed for. Another positive feature is that it will be more difficult for countries to obtain a seat on the Council if they themselves violate human rights (one of the problems with the former Human Rights Commission). However, a number of matters have yet to be settled, and this will not be easy given that the Western group has relatively fewer seats on the new Council. One of the main unresolved issues is the new ‘periodic review’ of the human rights situation in each country. More generally, it remains to be seen how the Council will operate in practice. For example, it will have to negotiate its own agenda and rules of procedure. Among other things, the results of this will influence the use of the country resolutions instrument, to which there have always been objections.


The expansion of the Security Council is still under discussion. The main problems here are the conflicting interests of the various countries that believe they qualify for a permanent or temporary seat. A General Assembly working group is now looking at the whole issue. The group is co-chaired by the Dutch Permanent Representative at the UN (together with his opposite number from the Bahamas), which gives the Netherlands an opportunity to mediate. In this connection the AIV would recall the prospects for a European seat on the Security Council in the long term. This will not be an option during the present round of talks on expansion, but the government definitely wants to keep the idea alive. It therefore advocates the inclusion of a review clause in any decision to expand the Council, so that the issue can be raised again at a later stage. What is needed in the meantime is greater consensus (in Brussels and New York) on the positions taken by EU countries in the Security Council.


In February 2006, in pursuance of the decisions reached at the summit, the UN Secretary-General set up a High-Level Panel to examine ways of improving coordination and coherence within the UN family in the fields of development cooperation, emergency aid and the environment. Streamlining is needed in order to make the UN more capable of attaining the Millennium Development Goals. At the moment there are too many organisations with too many mandates (which often overlap), and there is not enough coordination. During the summit the Minister for Development Cooperation took the initiative of encouraging a number of like-minded donor countries (the G-13) to work together for the reform of the UN system. The Netherlands’ ideas about the reforms that were needed were also circulated in writing. These included a more coherent UN presence in the various developing countries. Local representatives of the various UN agencies should in future operate as a single team under the leadership of a Resident Coordinator and should carry out a single, integrated programme. In the more medium term, UN efforts should be further concentrated by merging or abolishing certain agencies. The G-13 recently submitted their ideas to the High-Level Panel. They also sought backing from other countries – primarily from other EU member states but also, of course, from developing countries themselves.


The AIV rightly emphasises that the member states must make funding and staff available to the UN so that it can carry out the numerous and often ambitiously formulated tasks that are assigned to it. I therefore find it regrettable that some countries’ contributions are in arrears. This can seriously hamper the UN’s ability to act, especially during peace operations. The AIV also identifies a growing tendency to provide funds ‘with strings attached’ and to earmark them for specific purposes. The report states that funding should wherever possible be in the form of mandatory contributions to regular budgets. This is correct as far as it goes, but it should also be realised that there is a close connection with the management reform process within the UN. The US and Japan are particularly eager to keep up the pressure in this regard, but the EU countries also consider streamlining and stricter financial management essential. At the same time, the leading UN donors are annoyed that some countries which contribute relatively little often press for decisions that hamper efforts to reform management and increase efficiency. The more effective the UN system’s organisation and decision-making processes become, the faster the main donors’ confidence will return and the greater the scope there will be for more unconditional funding.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Chapter 3)


The AIV ‘sees the possibility of increasing divergence in views and actions between Europe and the US as a serious risk.’ In this connection, the report points to NATO’s key role in providing a link between America and Europe. With this in mind, the AIV calls for the security debate within the alliance to be deepened. NATO must fulfil its task as the primary forum for consultations on security issues. At the same time, says the AIV, there is a need for better coordination of foreign policy with the US via the EU.


I agree with this analysis, as regards both NATO and EU-US channels. NATO must be more than just a body that carries out military missions, or a ‘toolbox’ from which instruments are occasionally taken. As indicated in the December 2005 communiqué by the NATO Ministerial Council, NATO is ‘the essential forum for transatlantic consultations on the security challenges we face at the beginning of the 21st century’. This is particularly true now that the organisation is operating in places well beyond the Treaty area (examples include the stabilisation force in Afghanistan, the training mission in Iraq and assistance to Pakistan following the earthquake, as well as support for the African Union mission in Sudan in the form of airlifts and staff capacity building). Close consultations on security policy will encourage the emergence of a more uniform approach to decisions on ‘out-of-area’ NATO missions. Incidentally, I believe that such consultations need not be confined to issues requiring direct NATO involvement, but can extend to a wide range of security policy issues.


In the run-up to the NATO summit in Riga in November 2006, the government intends to pursue existing initiatives on the deepening of political dialogue, the strengthening of military capacity, and, for example, cooperation with NATO partners, whether individual countries or regional and international organisations. Although, partly with a view to maintaining support for the alliance, it is important for the summit to take a clear political stance on NATO’s role in today’s global context, I do not believe this is a suitable time to discuss the possibility of reviewing and updating NATO’s Strategic Concept, as suggested by the AIV. Admittedly, the Strategic Concept dates back to 1999, i.e. before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, but it still provides a good basis for further action. Recently (in December 2005), NATO reached agreement on the Comprehensive Political Guidance document, which can be seen as supplementary to the Strategic Concept. This explicitly states that NATO can play a part in stabilisation, peacebuilding, humanitarian aid and security sector reform, in addition to its self-defence duties. The alliance has thus taken a further step in adjusting to the new strategic context. Against this background, and in view of some NATO partners’ sensitivities about the new direction the organisation is starting to take, I feel that a debate on a new Strategic Concept would for the time being create more risks than opportunities.


Given the need for efficient build-up and planning of military resources, the AIV urges that every effort be made to take advantage of cooperation arrangements between the EU and NATO. More specifically, it recommends that as much use as possible be made of the Berlin Plus arrangements, whereby NATO can make military capacity available to the EU. This has always been the aim of the Dutch government. For example, the Berlin Plus arrangements are already being used in the EU-led peace operation in Bosnia (which the EU took over from NATO in December 2004). The Netherlands is also endeavouring to ensure optimum coordination between the NATO Response Force and the planned European rapid reaction force (the ‘battlegroups’), discussed in more detail in the chapter on the EU. A joint working group known as the EU-NATO Capability Group is looking at ways of achieving maximum synergy between the various efforts to enhance capability. In addition, the NATO Response Force and the European battlegroups regularly share details of their rotation schedules. In any case, it is up to the countries that supply troops to time their contributions so that no conflicting obligations arise. More generally, the government is in favour of greater cooperation between the EU and NATO; in addition to increasing military and technical contacts, joint meetings of the EU Political and Security Committee and the NATO Council should be used for this purpose. However, Turkey (a NATO member) is reluctant to discuss security matters in the presence of Cyprus (a member of the EU), and France also has reservations about closer cooperation between the two organisations.


Like the AIV, I attach great importance to direct coordination between the EU and the US. There is now increasing cooperation with the US on strategic matters. For example, there is coordination on a wide range of regional issues, such as the Middle East and the Gulf region (including Iran), as well as Africa and the Caucasus. This is helping to reduce the friction that arose over the intervention in Iraq. The joint statement on developments in Lebanon has improved relations, particularly with France. Democracy promotion is now an item on the transatlantic agenda. However, there are still clear differences of opinion on a number of multilateral treaties and legal issues, including the International Criminal Court. If European countries can manage to speak with one voice on foreign policy matters, as they already do on Community issues, Washington will be more willing to listen. We must therefore focus our efforts on this.


The European Union (Chapter 2)


The European Union occupies a special place within the Netherlands’ network of multilateral partnerships. The European integration process, together with the NATO umbrella, has enabled us to organise our immediate surroundings much more effectively than in earlier periods of our history. The Netherlands is now reaping the benefits of a well-ordered environment in which peace and stability prevail. This is largely due to European integration. I therefore do not see the result of the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty on 1 June 2005 as a rejection of Europe. Research has shown that there is broad backing for our membership of the Union among the Dutch population. Besides such diffuse factors as dissatisfaction with ‘politics’ in general, the result also seems attributable to the fact that people do not feel sufficiently involved in the EU’s policymaking and legislative processes. The AIV therefore sees the need to bridge the gap between citizens and ‘Brussels’ as one of our main European policy challenges, in addition to others that are more related to the substance of policy. I agree with this analysis. The AIV set out its ideas on how to bridge this political gap in its advisory letter of 13 December 2005 entitled ‘The European Union and its relations with Dutch citizens’, to which the government will respond shortly. The letter is very much in keeping with the current period of reflection on the future of Europe. In the past few decades the European Union has rapidly grown wider and deeper, and it now makes sense to stop and think about how best to proceed from here.


In both the report and the letter the AIV notes that the political debate in the netherlands now pays less attention to Europe, a development partly ascribed to the abolition of ‘dual mandates’ (simultaneous membership of a national parliament and the European Parliament). Meanwhile, European legislation has become increasingly important to this country. The AIV therefore calls for our national political debates and processes to take fuller account of Europe. As already indicated in ‘The State of the European Union’, the government is also in favour of this. Many parliamentary parties expressed similar views when that document was debated in the House of Representatives on 8 November 2005.


The government also sees the result of the referendum as an incentive to screen new proposals drawn up in Brussels even more closely than before for compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. In this connection I also refer to the ‘fiches’ that the government regularly sends to parliament, containing information on communications and proposals by the European Commission as well as relevant initiatives by member states. The ‘fiches’ provide details of the forthcoming decision-making process in Brussels and the Dutch interests involved, as well as an assessment in the light of the subsidiarity principle. The government feels that the application of the subsidiarity and proportionality principles can be improved, at both European and national level. In an effort to encourage this at European level, the Netherlands and the UK Presidency held a conference on this topic in the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights) on 17 November 2005. One of the main achievements of the conference was the broad support expressed for the idea of giving national parliaments a greater role in screening proposed EU legislation in the light of subsidiarity and proportionality. The follow-up conference on subsidiarity, to be held in St Pölten on 18-19 April 2006 under the Austrian Presidency, will look at this more closely. At national level, the government henceforth intends, early in the EU decision-making process, to decide for itself to what extent the two principles have been applied. It also welcomes debates in the House of Representatives on the correct application of the principles, such as the one on the Commission’s annual programme of legislation in December 2005.


The AIV report also includes an interesting discussion of the extent to which core groups can be formed under the Treaty on European Union or outside it. The AIV’s assessment that new formal core groups will not be set up in the near future is probably realistic. The necessity and desirability of enhanced cooperation can only be judged case by case. As a general principle, however, it is important to ensure that the formation of core groups does not erode Community powers or sideline the European Commission. This applies to informal groups even more than to formal ones. The government believes that upholding the Community method provides the best guarantee for orderly decision-making and a well-run Union.


Turning to military matters, the AIV points out that the failure of the new Constitutional Treaty to be adopted means that the European rapid reaction force cannot be based on the Treaty’s provisions concerning permanent structured cooperation. In practice, however, this will not be a problem. Decisions on the possible deployment of battlegroups will, as the AIV itself indicates, be embedded in the EU’s regular structures, more specifically the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This means that they will mainly be prepared by the Political and Security Committee and will be taken by the Council. As for the AIV’s comment that this is ‘a promising idea, and one that the Netherlands should welcome’, I refer to the letter that the Minister of Defence and I sent to the States General on 4 November 2005, explaining plans for Dutch participation in the battlegroups in 2007 and 2010. The EU’s civilian capabilities (including the Civilian Response Teams) are also gradually being expanded, and the number of EU operations – especially civilian missions – is increasing.


With regard to foreign policy, the AIV does not rule out the possibility that the establishment of a formal core group (‘enhanced cooperation’) of eight or more member states may be required at some point. In practice, however, the tendency with regard to the CFSP is to set up informal core groups whose composition may vary depending on the topic or region involved. For example, the three largest member states have taken the lead on the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. The rest of the Union is kept well informed by the ‘big three’, and the line they are pursuing enjoys the full backing of the other member states.


The report refers to the formation of core groups and coalitions almost in one breath. However, there is a fundamental difference, in that coalitions are designed to influence collective, multilateral decisions, especially ones reached by qualified majority in accordance with the Community procedure. Clearly, multilateral decision-making involving 25 member states requires careful bilateral preparations, and the government therefore makes active efforts to forge a winning coalition whenever major decisions are taken in Brussels. I therefore see the passages in the report on the importance of coalitions as a signal to continue on the current path. In practice these will be shifting coalitions, although the Netherlands must certainly cultivate and maintain strategic relations with neighbouring as well as like-minded countries. Like the AIV, I consider preliminary Benelux consultations particularly important in today’s enlarged Union. The recommendation to invest more time in such consultations is thus very much in line with the government’s intentions, especially as it cannot be taken for granted that the Benelux countries will share the same view.


The ‘many-faceted coalition process’ that the AIV describes as a feature of the enlarged Union will indeed make great demands on the quality of Dutch input. In order to exert influence and achieve what we want, the Netherlands must speak with a single clear voice and express its views early on in the debate. Effective coordination in The Hague is therefore more essential than ever. As indicated in the report by the Joint Committee on managing EU affairs, headed by Baron B. J. van Voorst tot Voorst, this will mean determining Dutch positions more strategically and at an earlier stage in the EU decision-making process. In this connection, says the Committee, more regular and effective use will need to be made of the coordination mechanisms that already exist in The Hague. This recommendation has been adopted by the government (see the letter I sent to parliament on 23 September 2005 in the light of this report). As an example of effective action in Brussels let me mention the complex, lengthy negotiations on the Financial Perspectives for 2007-2013, in which the Netherlands eventually achieved most of what it wanted by pursuing a clear, consistent line.


Finally, I would like to mention the fact that the European integration process does not have a clearly defined ultimate goal. The AIV wonders whether it will be possible to muster public support for further stages in the process if this finalité politique is not defined more clearly. Incidentally, it is quite clear what we in the Netherlands do not want, namely uniformity. Instead, we prefer a model that leaves room for diversity and individual identities. The formation of the United States of America, for instance, is not an analogy I would wish to apply to European integration. What we do want is harder to say. I do not consider it wise to settle on one particular model in advance. Views change, and in the coming decades we may well find we want to take further steps that do not appeal to us at the moment. Forty years ago, no-one would have dared predict that there would now be a single currency in large parts of Europe, or that countries from the former Eastern bloc would join the Union. The world is changing fast, and no-one knows how things will be in another forty years. What does seem likely is that Europe will by then account for a much smaller proportion of the world’s population, and of global GNP, than it does at the moment – in which case it may seem an obvious move for the countries of Europe to join forces to a greater extent.


I am sending copies of this letter to the Presidents of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the States General.


Yours sincerely,




Bernard Bot

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Press releases

The press release related to this report has not been translated.