25th Oct 2016

Netherlands attacks 'creeping' EU powers

The Netherlands, one of the Union's six founding countries, has attacked "creeping" EU interference in people's day-to-day lives.

Its coalition government said in a memo published on Friday (21 June): "The Netherlands is convinced that the time of an 'ever closer union' in every possible policy area is behind us."

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It said the Union's slogan should be: "European where necessary, national where possible."

It underlined that it does not want to change EU treaties.

It also said there is a "strong need" for joint EU action on big-ticket items, such as economic governance, migration and defence.

But it noted that a review of EU powers by its foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, shows an equal need for "creating a European Union that is more modest, more sober."

The review - a 22-page document sent to Dutch MPs - was leaked, also on Friday, by the London-based think tank, Open Europe.

In what it dubs "creeping competences," Timmermans' paper says the European Commission should stop publishing non-binding "communications or recommendations" in areas where it has no mandate.

It says EU countries should have more control of "implementing acts" - EU officials' tweaks to existing law, known as "comitology" in EU jargon.

It also says that if a verdict by the EU court in Luxembourg "interprets EU legislation in a way that EU legislators did not foresee" then the original law should be changed.

The review - drafted after talks with dozens of Dutch firms and trade unions - contains 54 "points of action" on EU policies, ranging from tax to olive oil.

It says the new Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), to be put in place by 11 EU states, should not cover Dutch funds which trade in FTT jurisdictions.

It says Brussels should bin its proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base - a law designed to stop tax avoidance by firms such as Google or Starbucks - because corporate tax is "a national prerogative."

It notes that member states should be able to cut EU officials' salaries more easily.

It rejects the idea of a new EU budget line for economic aid to eurozone countries.

It says there is "no reason for EU-level legislation" on quotas for women on corporate boards.

And it aims to roll back a wide range of EU initiatives, from construction material norms, to forestry management or milk and fruit programmes for schoolchildren.

It highlights a recent fiasco on olive oil as "a good example" of how EU law creates silly "administrative burdens."

Brussels in May retracted a ban, on hygiene grounds, on refillable olive oil jugs in restaurants after a wave of ridicule in European media.

Timmermans said the 2014 EU elections and the 2016 Dutch EU presidency are an "opportunity" to promote his agenda.

The Dutch ideas come after British leader David Cameron in a speech in January also criticised the notion of "ever closer union."

British foreign minister William Hague in July promised to do a Timmermans-type review of "meddlesome" EU activity.

He said his paper will be ready in 2014.

The British study is expected to go further than the Dutch one, with a focus on EU criminal legislation and social policies.

It will underpin the UK's plan to negotiate new opt-outs from EU law and to hold a referendum, by 2017, on whether to stay in the Union.


Cyprus seeks EU support on reunification

EU states should be "more vocal" with Turkey and play a more political role on reunification, Cyprus' EU ambassador told EUobserver.

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