Forming Coalitions in the EU after Brexit. Alliances for a European Union that modernises and protects

December 12, 2018 - nr.108
Summary

Conclusions and recommendations

On the basis of its analysis in the previous chapters, the AIV has set out the following conclusions and recommendations:

General

1. With the UK’s departure, the Netherlands is losing an ally in some areas, especially the functioning and scope of the single market, the common commercial policy and promoting good governance in the Union. In other areas, the Netherlands had less or no support from the UK, either because their views differed or because the UK had remained outside the integration process in certain areas, like the common currency. The UK also acquired an exceptional position in the field of legal protection in relation to the fundamental rights of European citizens. Ultimately, the strategic objectives of the two countries were not aligned: in the context of European history, the Netherlands has had no other option than to be involved in European integration, while the UK continually had the power to influence the balance of power on the European continent from outside. Now that the UK is leaving the EU, the Netherlands may be able – perhaps as a privileged partner of the UK – to increase its influence.

2. Brexit coincides with far-reaching changes around the EU and in the wider world that call for the Union to show its capacity to act and for a strategic re-orientation of the European narrative. Global challenges in relation to security, migration, climate change and modernisation of the economy call for a Union that does more than liberalise markets, a Union that actively supports its member states in their efforts to protect and develop the European way of life. Prime Minister Mark Rutte showed his awareness of these challenges in his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 13 June 2018. What this implies for the most important policy areas needs to be elaborated for the wider public and for the public debate. The consequences of this new engagement for the Netherlands’ EU coalitions also need to be well thought through. While the UK was always an important partner for the Netherlands in the Europe of the free market, it has also always been less like-minded when it comes to a Europe that modernises and protects.

3. Brexit demands that the Netherlands step up its participation in internal EU diplomacy. If the Netherlands wishes to see its proposals approved, the qualified majority voting system of decision-making laid down in the EU Treaty means that it will have to join forces with a larger group of member states than is now the case. And if the Netherlands wishes to stop a decision being taken, it will be far less easy to form a blocking minority, especially without the participation of a large EU country. The new ‘Hanseatic coalition’ of the Netherlands, Ireland and the Nordic and Baltic countries – even if joined by the other Benelux partners – is not enough to make up a blocking minority. And where decisions are made by consensus – which is often the case in practice – it is essential to win European hearts and minds. This will require strong proposals, active lobbying, and a willingness to give and take. A Europe without the UK calls for the Netherlands to take up an active position in EU institutions, preserving old coalitions and forging new ones, and developing strategic insight into the general balance of forces, transcending ministerial ‘pillars’.

4. Seeking support for Dutch insights and standpoints cannot wait until the moment that European institutions take action. Either alone or as part of a coalition with other member states, the Netherlands must demand attention for its interests – much more than it does now – at the time when proposals, positions, conclusions and suchlike have not yet taken permanent shape. That requires a proactive Dutch strategy, especially in the Commission and the European Parliament. The AIV strongly recommends that the Dutch parliament and political parties step up their contact with the European Parliament. That means that the House of Representatives has a role to play, not least in dossiers that eventually require the active approval of national parliaments (such as decisions on the MFF and accession treaties). This approach also requires a carefully designed and maintained policy on the part of the Netherlands to promote the employment of Dutch nationals in European institutions at all levels, whether in permanent employment, seconded from the Netherlands, working in Brussels or, for example, at the European External Action Service (EEAS).

5. Entering into coalitions has always been strategically important for the Netherlands’ position in the European Council and the Council of the European Union. An EU without the UK will be much more of an open field for the Netherlands, without specific geographical dominance. The customary Dutch preference for North-Western Europe is already becoming untenable, and will become even less so in the next few years. That calls for a flexible approach, in which no member states should be excluded from the conversation in advance, whether they are from Southern, Central or Eastern Europe, from the Iberian peninsula to the Visegrád Group. Shifting coalitions in various policy areas also prevent the dividing lines between groups of member states from always being the same and causing divisions to harden, resulting in alienation – a risk that has potentially serious consequences for the single market, the Schengen system and the Union’s external resolve and credibility. A new approach to coalition-forming will provide a finely interwoven network that will strengthen the Union as a whole.

6. A new approach to coalition-forming means that the Netherlands will have to develop its vision on European integration further and set priorities. As we all know, being right and getting your own way are two different things. Even if the Netherlands resolutely wants to stop something from happening in the EU, it could be more beneficial not to keep pressing the point, or in any case to see whether the point can be linked to something that the Netherlands wants to move forward at European level. The ambition to play a role on the Franco-German playing field calls for the formulation of positive European objectives, and not only a focus on what we definitely do not want. Upholding prudent budget management and a Dutch rebate might be supported by playing a constructive role in the debate on how to strengthen the eurozone and the EMU. It would not be good for the Netherlands’ position in the EU, or for the debate on the EU at home if, at the end of the negotiations, we had to swallow all our stubborn ‘no’s and reluctantly agree to a series of ‘yesses’. Blaming Brussels – as we have seen in the UK – does not help efforts in the long run to build a strong and convincing Europe. That does not change the fact that some well-considered standpoints are sometimes worth holding on to until the end, irrespective of how much support they have from other member states. 1

7. In light of major challenges like the modernisation and digitalisation of the economy, the required energy transition and severe instability and poverty around Europe’s borders, boosting Europe’s capacity to act demands bridging West-East and South-North dividing lines within Europe. By forming new coalitions in these policy areas, the Netherlands is already contributing to a crucial new network that transcends these traditional dividing lines. Without the southern member states, there is no solution to the migration problem. Without the modernisation-minded states in Eastern Europe there will be no modern, sustainable economy. And without the support of all European member states, there will be no stability in the region surrounding Europe. Alongside the image of the Netherlands invoked in the national and international media as leader of the ‘Hanseatic coalition’, persistently saying ‘no’ to France and the southern member states, there is also the image of the Netherlands as a practical builder of bridges with France and the southern and eastern member states, in coalitions pursuing a digital single market, more ambitious climate goals and a solution to the long-term, existential problem of migration and asylum.

8. The influence of the Franco-German axis is expected to increase, which will in any case require the Netherlands to maintain permanent and alert contact with Berlin and Paris. At the same time, as a founder state with a relatively large economy, the Netherlands will also be expected show leadership within, for example, the Benelux and the ‘Hanseatic coalition’ with the Nordic and Baltic member states. Leadership demands political influence and diplomatic capacity, as well as insight into what deals can be made and what trade-offs are required to achieve them. In the AIV’s opinion, the best way for the Netherlands to do that is to focus on improving Franco-German proposals with the support of coalitions with other member states, which can vary according to the issue: with other ‘prudent modernisers’ arguing for a new MFF closer to the German position, and with sustainable investors in favour of ambitious climate goals, more in line with the French position.

9. Playing an active role in the EU is not possible without investing in coordination and the Dutch presence abroad. The EU coordination in The Hague, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was very efficient during the 2016 Council Presidency and should be further reinforced to reduce ministerial ‘pillarisation’ and allow cross-cutting strategic ties between the ministries to continue. The Netherlands cannot adopt a proactive role in EU institutions and a flexible approach in the European capitals (‘multi-bi diplomacy’) without a clearly defined presence. In the recent past, financial cutbacks severely affected the Netherlands’ presence in the EU and the member states. The battle in Brussels is often won at the embassies. If the Netherlands wishes to see its ambitions in Europe realised, it must reverse at least some of its human resources losses and strengthen its European embassies.2

Specific recommendations in certain policy areas

1. In the area of policy on the single market, including the free movement of services and the digital and energy markets, it would make sense to continue working with the like-minded Nordic and Baltic member states, Ireland and, to a certain degree, the Visegrád countries. The aim of this cooperation is partly to exert influence on the large member states, and France and Germany in particular, and where necessary to offer a counterweight when these countries succeed in acquiring sufficient support from other protectionist-minded partners in order to reach agreement on specific single market issues.

2. In the area of social policy, the Netherlands will have to make a strategic choice between adhering to its cautious approach or going along with far-reaching European initiatives. The AIV would urge the government to keep an open mind about social initiatives. It shares the government’s belief that strengthening the social dimension is a crucial component of the future of the EU and deepening public support for the Union. The coalitions that the Netherlands has forged with Sweden, the Benelux, Germany and France in the context of the revision of the Posting of Workers’ Directive are a good basis to build on.

3. In terms of climate policy, a focus on close cooperation – not only with North-Western European countries like Sweden and Finland, but also with France, the Benelux and Germany – offers the greatest chance of achieving the Netherlands’ objectives. In the field of research and innovation, after the departure of the UK, close cooperation with France and Germany in particular would be the most logical course.

4. As far as the EMU is concerned, the AIV believes the Netherlands should take a constructive approach to Franco-German initiatives resulting from the eurozone summit of June 2018, especially if they are in accordance with the recommendations in the AIV’s August 2017 advisory report on the deepening and strengthening of the EMU. In the debate on the future, joint initiatives with the Nordic and Baltic member states and Ireland (the ‘Hanseatic coalition’) – whether under Dutch leadership or not – emphasise the importance of national responsibility, budget discipline and risk reduction, but will not be able to avoid the political discussion sought by other member states on joint stabilisation, solidarity and risk-sharing. In addition, in order for this coalition to be credible, Denmark and Sweden will need to move towards membership of the eurozone.

5. Within the CFSP and the ESDP, Brexit will weaken the existing coalitions in which the UK often played a leading role, for example on Russia and the sanctions imposed on it. After Brexit, it will remain crucial to coordinate with the UK as closely as possible on these issues. The AIV therefore urges the Netherlands to act as a bridge between the UK and the EU and calls on the government to explore ways in which this can be achieved. The AIV would also refer back to its recommendation in the advisory report on the future of NATO to breathe new life into the Eurogroup within the alliance.

6. In the area of defence, the Netherlands must be open to efforts to make Europe more self-sufficient. As France is the driving force behind this ambition, the AIV recommends that the Netherlands explore the scope for closer cooperation with the French. The AIV sees the fact that 25 EU member states wish to participate in PESCO as a hopeful sign, but considers it almost inevitable that a military lead group will emerge within PESCO, consisting of a limited number of EU member states, most likely Germany, Belgium and France. The aim of this coalition should be to establish a substantial European military capability. The AIV believes that the Netherlands should be part of any such lead group. In that context, the AIV sees the recent decision by the defence ministers of nine European countries, including the Netherlands, to establish the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) as a potentially important step in the right direction.

7. Regarding European cooperation on migration, besides Germany and France a number of southern EU countries are also relevant as potential coalition partners for the Netherlands. In the AIV’s opinion, the Netherlands would be well advised to focus on broad coalitions with countries that look beyond their short-term self-interest (‘North’ versus ‘South’) and work to achieve stability in the MENA region and a humane and effective European migration strategy. This includes working with Italy to combat people smuggling. Such a strategy must be embedded in a broader European development cooperation strategy. That will be sorely needed if migration pressure increases as expected in the next few decades.

8. The negotiations with the ACP countries on a new framework for trade and aid – in which the negative impacts of Brexit for the ACP countries on trade will be an important element – demand an active strategy to ensure that European financial resources for development cooperation are maintained. In this context, the Netherlands will have to seek to work with France, as the traditional bridge-builder with the ACP, and with the Scandinavian countries and Germany, with whom the Netherlands is in agreement on linking aid and trade.

9. On the MFF, the AIV considers that the Netherlands should probably assume that the negotiations, which have not yet started, will ultimately result in a higher EU budget and a higher Dutch contribution. The AIV believes that the Netherlands, together with a coalition of fellow ‘prudent modernisers’, should press hard for the inclusion of conditionality (linking funds to performance on the rule of law and meeting responsibilities in the field of migration), reducing the CAP budget and modernising the EU budget. The AIV is of the opinion that the government should consider taking a more prominent role within this coalition.

Recommendations relating to coalitions with individual or groups of countries    

1. Given the above recommendations, the AIV sees close cooperation with generally like-minded countries – such as the Benelux partners, the Nordic and Baltic member states, Austria and Ireland – as perhaps the most logical choice, but it will not always prove numerically sufficient to influence decision-making in the desired direction or to block unpalatable decisions. The AIV therefore feels that it is both desirable and necessary to keep the dialogue open with large and important member states, such as Spain and Italy, that may not at first glance seem like-minded.

2. Although it is not necessary to embrace every Franco-German initiative immediately, the AIV believes it also in the interests of the Netherlands’ prosperity and security that Germany and France trust each other and continue to pursue their relationship within the framework of the EU. The Netherlands can play a role in fine-tuning Franco-German initiatives and, where necessary, improving them, reminding both partners that Franco-German agreement is a necessary but not in itself a sufficient condition for European consensus. After Brexit, the Netherlands can focus on this bridging role even more, as intermediary between these two large member states, and the other member states too.

3. That of course requires close bilateral relations with Berlin and Paris. For that reason, in the AIV’s opinion, the Netherlands should continue to focus on closer cooperation with Germany, a country with which we may share many interests and much common ground, but by no means in all areas of policy. The Netherlands, for example, attaches great importance to the functioning of the market and the free movement of services, while Germany’s policy is strongly influenced by the interests of its own strong industry, including the automobile sector.

4. Closer cooperation with France, in which the Netherlands is actively investing, is also essential, partly with a view to influencing the direction of Franco-German initiatives. France is a crucial and often neglected ally in efforts to strengthen the pillars of the Europe that protects – defence and stability in Europe’s neighbourhood, regulating migration, modernising the economy, and the social dimension. The AIV feels that more attention could be paid to this aspect in the public debate.

5. Given their attitude towards migration and – in the case of Poland and Hungary –the rule of law, cooperation with the countries of the Visegrád Group is less self-evident. Nevertheless, as the positions of these countries in some policy areas (e.g. the single market) are sometimes close to that of the Netherlands, and since they do not always operate as a bloc, cooperation with them – perhaps through the Benelux – should not be dismissed out of hand.

1 In 2011, for example, the Netherlands and Finland rightly blocked the Franco-German compromise on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen system, because the quality of the rule of law and administrative and legal capacities in these countries were not up to the required standard.
2 See AIV, advisory letter number 32, ‘The Dutch Government’s Presence Abroad’, The Hague, May 2017.
Advice request

Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer        
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague

 

Date           4 July 2017
Re              Request for advice on possible post-Brexit coalitions in the EU


Dear Professor De Hoop Scheffer,

The House of Representatives today decided, pursuant to article 30 of the Rules of Procedure of the House of Representatives of the States General, to submit a request for advice to the Advisory Council on International Affairs concerning the opportunities that the Netherlands will have to form coalitions in the European Union following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (Brexit).

This request is based on the motion by MP Anne Mulder et al. concerning a request for advice on the formation of coalitions with other countries post-Brexit (Parliamentary Papers, 21 501-20, no. 1229. A copy of the motion, which the House adopted on 16 May 2017, is enclosed.

The annexe to this letter sets out the request in greater detail.

On behalf of the House, I kindly ask you to honour this request.

Yours sincerely,

 

Khadija Arib
President of the House of Representatives
of the States General

 

________________________________________________

ANNEXE

Letter of 13 June 2017 from the Registrar of the Permanent Committee
on European Affairs to the Presidium of the House of Representatives

On behalf of the members of the Permanent Committee on European Affairs, I ask you, in accordance with the decision of the procedural session of 1 June 2017, to propose that the House submit a request for advice to the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) concerning the opportunities that the Netherlands will have to form coalitions in the European Union following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (Brexit).

The advisory report that the House would thus request would be a follow-up to the AIV’s report of 22 March 2017, entitled ‘“Brexit means Brexit”: Towards a New Relationship with the UK’. This request from the Permanent Committee on European Affairs is based on the motion by MP Anne Mulder et al. concerning a request for advice on the formation of coalitions with other countries post-Brexit (Parliamentary Papers, 21 501-20, no. 1229). The motion was adopted by the House adopted on 16 May 2017 (Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 2016/17, no. 75, item 9).

The considerations to this motion include the House’s observation that with the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Netherlands will lose a major ally and the relationships of forces within the Union will be reshaped.

The House also notes in this motion that the AIV concluded in its recent advisory report on Brexit that, following the UK’s withdrawal, the Netherlands should pursue close cooperation and coordination not only with Germany, but also with North-West European countries.

Finally, the House in this motion requests a follow-up report from the AIV, explaining with which countries such coalitions could be formed, how, and what is needed to make them possible.

__________________________________________

 

House of Representatives of the States General                                    

No. 1229                                                  MOTION  BY MP ANNE MULDER ET AL.
                                                                   Introduced on 9 May 2017

The House,

having heard its deliberations,

considering that with the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Netherlands will lose a major ally;

considering that the UK’s withdrawal will reshape the relationships of forces within the Union;

noting that the Advisory Council for International Affairs (AIV) concluded in its recent advisory report on Brexit that, following the UK’s withdrawal, the Netherlands should pursue close cooperation and coordination not only with Germany, but also with North-West European countries;

requests a follow-up report from the AIV, explaining with which countries such coalitions could be formed, how, and what is needed to make them possible.

Anne Mulder
Pieter Omtzigt
Joël Voordewind

Government reactions

Letter of 21 December 2018 to the President of the House of Representatives of the States General from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok, presenting the government’s response to the AIV’s advisory report 'Forming Coalitions in the EU after Brexit: Alliances for a European Union that Modernises and Protects’

The government has noted with interest the report of the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) 'Forming Coalitions in the EU after Brexit: Alliances for a European Union that Modernises and Protects’ which was drawn up at the request of the House (Parliamentary Paper 21 501, no. 20, motion submitted by MPs Anne Mulder, Pieter Omtzigt and Joël Voordewind). The government's response to the advisory report set out below should be read in conjunction with previous (and future) letters to the House on this issue. In particular, I would refer the House to the letters on expanding and strengthening the network of missions (Parliamentary Papers 32 734, no. 31 and 32), the response to questions submitted in writing on promoting Dutch interests in the EU (Parliamentary Paper 35000V, no. 4 of 24 September 2018), the government's response to the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) advisory report on 'Variation in the European Union' and especially the State of the European Union, which will be published in January 2019.

As set out in the AIV report, the government is aware that the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union will spell change for well-established patterns and certainties within the Union. Brexit will not only have far-reaching and complex economic, financial, legal and political consequences, but will also affect power relations within the EU. The UK’s departure not only means that the Netherlands will lose a largely like-minded partner within the Union; it will also shift the balance of political power in the favour of the remaining large member states. As a medium-sized member state the Netherlands’ voting power will increase by almost 0.5 percentage points, from 3.37% to 3.86%. Voting power is based on the size of a member state’s population. This means that the voting power of the largest member state, Germany, will increase by almost five times more than the Netherlands’, growing by 2.33 percentage points: from 15.93% to 18.26%. France’s voting power will grow by 1.90 percentage points to 14.95%.

These sorts of shifts mean that small and medium-sized member states that, like the Netherlands, agree with the UK on many issues will need to make a more deliberate effort to work together on initiatives that can influence the direction the Union takes. As also stated in the response to written questions on promoting Dutch interests in the EU, the government is therefore investing in efforts to promote the formation of more structured coalitions with other member states. It is increasingly important that the Netherlands invest in bilateral relations in a multilateral European context. More so than in the past, good relations with – and knowledge of – other member states is essential in order to influence the European decision-making process and achieve results for the Netherlands.

In light of this, not long after the Brexit referendum, the previous government began reassessing the Netherlands’ relations with all EU member states. Since autumn 2016, many discussions have been held with members of government and officials from member states that are particularly important to the Netherlands, either because they generally take like-minded positions or because they play a key role in dossiers that are important for the Netherlands. Investing in relations with other member states requires a tailored approach and a recognition that coalitions can shift from issue to issue. One prominent instance where the government sought to deepen relations with other member states was the meeting held in The Hague in June 2017 between the Benelux and the Nordic and Baltic states, as well as the three meetings between the Benelux and the Visegrád countries that took place in 2016 and 2017. Relations with Germany have remained strong up to the highest level, and since the Brexit referendum we have stepped up relations with France as well.

The balance of political power may be tilting in favour of the large member states, on the basis of relative voting power, but this changing balance of power should not be viewed as a mechanical process, whereby member state’s increased voting power automatically and proportionally translates into more influence. For example, independent research suggests that the Netherlands punches above its weight despite its relatively limited voting power. According to research by the European Council on Foreign Relations (https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_the_more_europe_core_four) the Netherlands is the most influential country in the Union, after Germany and France. This is despite the fact that Italy, Spain, Poland and Romania all have more voting power. In late 2017 the Netherlands was also described in a range of media as one of the most influential players, after Germany and France, when it came to the essential areas of Brexit and the euro.

In the government's opinion, this positive assessment of the Netherlands’ negotiating position is down to several factors. Firstly, the Netherlands prepares carefully for negotiations in Brussels in several ways: through the interministerial Working Group for the Assessment of New Commission Proposals (BNC) and the Coordinating Committee on Problems of European Integration and Association (CoCo), deliberations with the House, and more strategic consultations at government level in the Council for European Affairs (REA). This means that, generally, our country knows what results it wants to achieve and what arguments underlie them. At the preparation stage, we also carry out a force-field analysis and identify parties that are likely to support our position. Early on, the Netherlands discusses its ideas with the Commission and with coalitions of member states, thereby heightening its ability to influence policy. Using tools like assessments by the Working Group for the Assessment of New Commission Proposals (BNC) and discussions with the House, other member states can learn about the various assessments being made by the Netherlands regarding EU policy. However, the logic of negotiations also compels the government to present its ideas in such cases confidentially. If, at an early stage, the Netherlands’ red lines are revealed in detail, our country will become a less flexible – and therefore less attractive – negotiating partner, and also less effective at finding a solution which aligns with Dutch interests as closely as possible. When it comes to the optimal protection of Dutch interests, the government must find a balance between, on the one hand, openness about the rationale behind our national positions and the degree of public support for them and, on the other, discretion when it comes to red lines in the international negotiating process. In a more complex post-Brexit playing field, such considerations will probably become even more pressing. At the same time, the government believes that a commitment to confidentiality should in no way interfere with its provision of information to the House.

Second, forming coalitions has been part of the Dutch approach to diplomacy ever since the Peace of Münster was signed in 1648. Due to our own limited military resources and voting power, our country has always had to form coalitions in order to safeguard our own interests. A rules-based multilateral system has become an indispensable instrument in this regard, and the process of European unification is, from this perspective, of historic importance to our country. After the UK was welcomed into the European Economic Community in 1973, it became necessary for us to first seek common ground with one or more of the largest member states (the UK, Germany or France) and then to look to form broader coalitions. The UK was not a like-minded partner on every issue, as the AIV rightly points out, but even in such cases, it often acted as a significant counterweight in negotiations in which the Netherlands took a more flexible position. Examples include the importance of market orientation, open trade relations and transatlantic security policy, issues where the UK often took a significantly bolder position than France or Germany, and the Netherlands regularly found itself taking a position mid-way between the three. On other issues, such as unfettered enlargement of the Union, the Netherlands and the UK often had significantly different opinions.

An effective EU coalition policy must now be viewed in light of how the EU decision-making process itself is organised. While in the vast majority of cases, decisions are taken by qualified majority, in practice there is a strong desire for consensus-based decision-making whenever possible, so as to maximise the level of support among member states. More often than not, decisions are not actually put to a vote, but the mere possibility of voting by qualified majority has a strong steering effect when it comes to reaching negotiation outcomes that broadly reflect the will of all member states. In this context, assembling a blocking minority often has important symbolic value, but is in no way a panacea. A northern ‘Hanseatic coalition’ may not be able to obtain a blocking minority due to the relatively small populations of the member states involved. However, the other member states would still need to take account of such a coalition due to the relatively large number of member states involved, all of which are prepared to use interventions at both official and political level to achieve their goals.

It is therefore down to a coalition’s members to negotiate in such a way as to eventually achieve a consensus that sufficiently reflects their interests or objections.

The government therefore agrees with the AIV that, when it comes to post-Brexit EU decision-making, the Netherlands’ influence cannot be gauged by its potential to form effective coalitions alone. The European Parliament and the European Commission must also be taken into consideration at an early stage. The government recognises the importance of having sufficient numbers of Dutch nationals employed in European institutions at all levels and will work to ensure that the necessary measures are taken to maintain this geographical balance. This will require close involvement on the part of all ministries, rigorous implementation of central government-wide strategic human resources policy with a focus on key jobs, the regular progression of Dutch nationals into more senior roles and a better overview of Dutch candidates who could potentially fill important vacancies.

Since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the European Parliament has, as a co-legislator alongside the European Council, played a leading role in creating European legislation. Against this background, in a post-Brexit situation, the Netherlands will need to invest more in relations with members of the European Parliament (and not only those from the Netherlands) who are responsible for legislative dossiers that are important to the Netherlands. The House can also play a role in this regard, alongside the government, by cultivating relationships with colleagues in the European Parliament, Dutch and otherwise. In this respect, in order to promote Dutch interests, it is essential that Dutch MEPs are kept abreast of the steps the government is taking with regard to pending EU legislative dossiers for which the European Parliament is a co-legislator. At the moment, this is done by sharing BNC assessment files with Dutch MEPs. In addition, there are of course party political contacts, but the Permanent Representation to the EU can also play an important supporting role in this regard.

In its advisory report the AIV suggests that the Netherlands should use its influence to help the formulation of more positive European objectives and cannot be seen as leader of a group that persistently says 'no’. The government does not agree with the depiction of the Netherlands as a purely obstructionist member state. As Prime Minister Mark Rutte stressed in his speech to the European Parliament, ‘More and more Europe isn’t the answer to the many problems that people face in their daily lives.' The government believes that the Union’s value and credibility only stands to increase if it improves its decision-making and supervision and focuses on the major challenges facing member states: a fair, deep and sustainable single market, international trade policy, the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), a common migration and asylum policy, common external border controls, internal and external security and climate change. The EU member states have already made a conscious choice to cooperate and develop common policy in all these areas. The Netherlands has played a constructive role in this regard, but with the caveat that common solutions must not only be announced, but also implemented. For Europe to be credible it is essential that pledges, agreements and rules be implemented and supervised effectively. This requires strong member states that are also able to implement in practice obligations undertaken at EU level. The government believes that a focused EU that lives up to its agreements carries more weight than a Union characterised by initiatives that are seen as optional by its member states and where insufficient results are achieved.

The government welcomes the AIV's recognition of the importance of well-coordinated, supplementary diplomacy in the European capitals and the need for resources to make this possible. Our embassies serve as the Netherlands' ‘antennae’, identifying risks and opportunities in relation to Dutch efforts in Brussels, lobbying and gathering background information needed to form effective coalitions. On 2 July and 8 October 2018 the government submitted letters to the House (Parliamentary Papers 32 734, no. 31 and 32) stating that the decision had been taken to strengthen the mission network in Europe, largely for the reasons discussed above. In order to enhance European cooperation, in the years ahead additional staff will be posted not only to the Permanent Representation in Brussels, but also to the embassies in Berlin, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Dublin, London, Madrid, Paris, Tallinn, Vilnius and Zagreb, as well as in locations directly neighbouring the EU (i.e. Belgrade, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje and Tirana).

The government broadly agrees with the potential coalition partners identified by the AIV in the following policy areas: the single market, the social dimension, climate policy and research and innovation. In terms of domestic security and migration, the government agrees with the AIV's analysis and with its recommendation on migration. As far as the EMU is concerned, the Netherlands will continue to seek closer ties with like-minded countries that attach value to sound financial policy for the Union and its member states. Where this is feasible, the government will work wherever possible to ensure maximum involvement of the ‘outs’ (i.e. member states that are not (yet) members of the eurozone, but are nevertheless affected by the decisions taken in that forum).

The AIV correctly points out the importance of an approach to coalitions that is largely focused on influencing the Franco-German axis and mobilising like-minded counties like Belgium, Luxembourg, the Nordic and Baltic member states, Austria and Ireland. More than ever, the Netherlands will need to draw on its dynamism and its capacity to forge connections with and between other parties. It is in a good position to do this. The Netherlands is seen by Germany and France as a serious interlocutor. New momentum has been created for partnerships between the Benelux countries and the Nordic and Baltic states.

The government will keep working to deepen such coalitions, but it is also aware of the importance of avoiding any perception of exclusivity within the Union (North v. South, East v. West). The government will therefore maintain friendly, inclusive relations and keep looking to form coalitions with all member states with similar interests, whether in terms of matters of principle (e.g. in the area of the rule of law), specific, material interests or initiatives to make the EU function more effectively.

Press releases