29th Jun 2022

Dutch open to EU treaty changes from 2008

The Netherlands could envisage EU treaty changes from 2008-2009 but wants to put a brake on enlargement, according to a Dutch government letter spelling out the first clear policy conclusions from last year's Dutch 'no' to the EU constitution.

The Dutch government on Friday (19 May) sent a letter to the parliament on its position on the future of the EU, based on public opinion research and expert advice.

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An internet poll, filled in by around 100,000 people, found that 65 percent of Dutch citizens believe the EU's treaties are in need of revision.

But it also found that 50 percent of the Dutch, who strongly rejected the proposed EU constitution in a June referendum, are against the idea that treaty changes should take the form of a constitution.

"This government will not put the Constitutional Treaty for ratification in the Netherlands a second time," the letter says, a view widely supported by the opposition ahead of the May 2007 elections.

No second referendum

But from around 2008 onwards, the Netherlands is open to institutional reform of the EU.

"The debate on the future of Europe is expected to be intensified in the 2008-2009 period," the document reads, referring among other things to the need for reform of the European Commission after the expected entry of the 27th member state.

Dutch diplomats confirmed that from 2008 onwards they would in principle not resist institutional changes.

The move unblocks the tough stance held by the Dutch so far, characterised by Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot's simple assertion that the EU constitution is "dead," with European diplomats complaining The Hague did not bother to offer any alternatives.

The letter comes just ahead of an informal foreign ministers meeting on the future of the EU in Vienna on Saturday and Sunday (27-28 May), preparing a key EU leaders summit in June.

Mr Bot is set in Vienna to endorse large parts of the European Commission's "citizens agenda for Europe" presented earlier this month, which seeks concrete policy results in the framework of the current treaties.

More EU in asylum, anti-terrorism and environment

The Hague's public opinion survey found that people want more, not less EU involvement in some areas - despite general uneasiness with European integration.

"People think the pace of integration is too high, but they do want more [European] co-operation on asylum, anti-terrorism, environment and energy," The Hague notes.

Over half of respondents said that changes in the EU progress "too fast," but at the same time 70 per cent favour a common EU asylum policy and three quarters see a "large" or "quite large" role for the union in the fight against terrorism.

"The rejection of the Constitutional treaty does not affect the wish for more intensive co-operation in this area," the Hague concludes, indicating that it is cautiously open to the flagship European Commission proposal to remove national vetoes in justice and criminal matters.

"The effects of [the commission proposal], as well as its possible conditions, should be carefully mapped out in the prolonged reflection period."

Strong dislike of enlargement

The Hague is set to take a much more uncompromising position towards further EU enlargement.

Some 55 percent of the Dutch oppose EU membership for Romania and Bulgaria, while opposition to the accession of Bosnia (59%), Serbia and Montenegro (62%), Albania (64%) and Turkey (69%) is even higher.

But the Dutch cabinet would not respond to enlargement-hostile public opinion with a complete block of the membership bids of western Balkan states and Turkey, the letter indicates.

Instead, it will push for a toughening-up of safeguards in entry negotiations with the EU, pleading for new "elements" which should "ensure that progress on political criteria can be explicitly addressed during the accession negotiations."

The Netherlands is set to find a partner in France, where several politicians have publicly blamed enlargement for the French "non" vote to the constitution.

Paris has circulated draft conclusions of the June EU leaders summit stating that "the European Union must fully take into account the views of its citizens on the continuation of the enlargement process, which is an essential aspect of the European project".

France uses in the document the term " capacité d'assimilation", a synonym for the controversial term "absorption capacity" referring to the EU's own readiness to welcome new members.

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