Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

  • Dutch PM Mark Rutte last year at a Nato summit. 'Nato remains our first line of defence and our guarantee of security, and in my opinion that rules out a European army.' (Photo: NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

The European Union should be "less naive and more realistic" about its foreign policy and not be afraid to exercise power, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said in a speech on Wednesday (13 February).

"The EU needs a reality check; power is not a dirty word. Realpolitik must be an essential part of Europe's foreign policy toolkit," he said.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Rutte spoke at the Europe institute of the University of Zurich, in non-EU country Switzerland, where he was giving the annual Churchill Lecture.

The wide-ranging speech will further fuel speculation that Rutte may run for Jean-Claude Juncker's job as EU Commission president, or Donald Tusk's as head of the European Council - although he has denied being a candidate for either post.

Rutte said the EU did not need its own army, which was suggested a few months ago by France and Germany.

"Nato remains our first line of defence and our guarantee of security, and in my opinion that rules out a European army," he said.

But Rutte added that soft power alone was no longer enough.

"Today we live in a multipolar world, in which a growing number of countries and political leaders seem to believe that international relations are a zero-sum game."

"This means that the EU, which was built on the power of principles, is increasingly being confronted by the principles of power," he said.

"But I seriously doubt whether this, on its own, will make the EU as effective and influential as it could be, as it wants to be, and as it should be in the future," he said.

The Dutch PM noted that it was "relatively easy" for the EU to "claim the moral high ground" while depending on the United States' protective umbrella.

The liberal leader said that the EU had leverage it could use geopolitically, like its market access, visa-free travel, trade agreements, and development aid.

It is quite a change for the Dutch politician, who began his career as PM with a much more eurosceptic attitude.

But since the UK, a close ally of the Netherlands, decided to leave the EU, Rutte has turned around towards embracing the EU.

Increasingly assertive Dutch

Rutte's speech also marks an increasingly assertive Netherlands at the EU stage.

The country, a founding member of the EU, has been repositioning itself as an alternative to the EU's two major forces, France and Germany.

This happened while the United Kingdom was on its way out, while Poland, Hungary and Italy have developed antagonistic relations with the EU institutions.

Rutte mentioned specifically that democracy and the rule of law need to be respected in the EU.

"We must always draw the line when fundamental values come under pressure, as they have in countries like Poland and Hungary," he said.

"But a deal is also a deal when it comes to the euro and the Stability and Growth Pact. Because here too, bending the rules can erode the entire system, and we cannot have that," noted Rutte.

While he did not mention France and Germany by name, this appeared a clear reference among EU-watchers to those countries - which have been running budget deficits in defiance of the pact.

Rutte also mentioned US president Donald Trump criticism on multilateral organisations, and called on the EU to seize that as an opportunity to reform the UN and the World Trade Organization.

He also stressed that Trump has a point when calling on European Nato countries to spend more on defence.

Nato countries agreed in 2014 that they should spend two percent of their GDP on defence by 2024, but many European countries have not yet reached that goal.

"We need to stand by this commitment, not only because the Americans have a point when they press for a larger European contribution, but above all because it is in our own interest," said Rutte.

Ending sanctions vetoes?

Rutte also opened up the possibility to reform the way EU countries determine sanctions.

"One of the main problems is that, in many cases, member states and the European institutions are not on the same page, so in geopolitical terms we don't pull our weight as we should and could," he said.

Currently, sanctions are decided by unanimity, so a veto by a single EU country can hold up the entire process.

The Dutch leader called on his colleagues to "give serious thought to enabling qualified majority voting for specific, defined cases".

"Certainly in its own geopolitical back garden, the EU should be a political force to be reckoned with," he said.

There is a qualified majority when a measure has support from 55 percent of the EU member states that represent at least 65 percent of the EU population.

Opinion

Rutte - from 'Mr No' to 'next Tusk'?

Make no mistake – Rutte, sometimes considered as a potential candidate to succeed Donald Tusk, is one of the toughest of the EU's current heads of state.

Dutch PM urges 'less is more' EU model

It was Mark Rutte's Dutch premier's turn to share his vision on the future of Europe with MEPs. An emerging EU leader in the post-Brexit bloc called for a more united, but less centralised Europe.

Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army

Angela Merkel's much-anticipated speech to the European Parliament was brief and to the point. Her message: Europe is alone in the world, the EU should be more united on defence, but not on the economy.

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us