6th Jun 2023

The Hague wants safeguards against EU powers in new treaty

Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot has said a new EU treaty should include substantial changes to the EU constitution text, including fresh safeguards against Brussels "meddlesomeness."

In a speech delivered in Amsterdam on Thursday (9 November), the Dutch minister gave one of the clearest indications so far on what the Netherlands wants from the EU constitution after Dutch voters last year rejected the charter in a referendum.

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"During a future revision of the treaty, the title and references to the European flag and the European anthem in part I of the [constitutional] Treaty could be scrapped," the Dutch minister said referring to research indicating that voters' fear of an EU "superstate" was one of the reasons for the Dutch no.

Reiterating that The Hague would not re-submit the existing constitution text for ratification, he added that "the argument that the EU is too meddlesome could be countered by a clear separation of competences and support for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality."

"Subsidiarity" is a term in EU jargon meaning that Brussels should only legislate or act if local or national action is ineffective.

The Bot speech indicates that The Hague may in any future talks on the document press for stronger safeguards against what is being seen by parts of Dutch public opinion as the EU's tendency to over-regulate and act like a state.

His comments come as polls indicate that his party - the Christian Democrats led by Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende - could win the 22 November elections in the Netherlands, with the Labour opposition steadily losing ground in the past few weeks.

Mr Bot's questioning of Part I of the constitution - on the EU's institutions and values - could put the Netherlands at odds with many EU capitals as well as the European Commission which see this part as the core of the charter.

The Dutch minister also said Part II - the charter of fundamental rights - could be ditched, if the EU as a bloc acceded to the European Convention of Human Rights, a 1950 treaty which falls outside EU structures and is linked to human rights watchdog the Council of Europe.

But although Mr Bot's readiness to ditch Part II of the constitution echoes a recent plan by French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy for a "mini-treaty", the Dutch politician said Mr Sarkozy's plan would not be enough.

"The weak point of Mr Sarkozy's so-called Mini Treaty is that it is focused only on the institutions," Mr Bot said. "I do not agree with that. In a new treaty, there has to be attention for the concerns and questions of citizens."

Despite his plea for stronger safeguards against EU over-regulation in general, he said the union should be given legal powers in specific areas where citizens want the union to do more, including energy security; the fight against organised crime; foreign policy and the environment.

He added that citizens' worries about uncontrolled EU enlargement of the union could be addressed by enshrining the political entry criteria for new members - the so-called Copenhagen criteria - in a new treaty.

"The issue of enlargement could be tackled by giving treaty status to the Copenhagen criteria," he said.

Mr Bot said such a slimmed-down treaty, which would at the same time include new policy-related elements, would be "substantially different and better" than the EU constitution.

The latest election polls show that Mr Bot and Mr Balkenende's Christian Democrats enjoy a three- to five- seat lead over the opposition Labour party led by Wouter Bos, with many voters however still undecided.


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