Monday

26th Oct 2020

Small EU states meet amid search to fill post-Brexit void

  • Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte (l) speaking to his Lithuanian counterpart Dalia Grybauskaite (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is hosting colleagues from other small and mid-sized EU member states on Wednesday (21 June) ahead of the EU summit in Brussels, as the upcoming UK departure from the bloc has incited a search for new alliances.

Wednesday's meeting in the Hague will be attended by representatives from nine countries, each of which are a part of regional groups within the EU.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It will include the three Nordic countries that are part of the EU (Sweden, Finland, and Denmark), the three Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg).

“Talks of this kind provide an opportunity to explore common interests in greater depth, on issues like the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union,” a press release from the Dutch prime minister's office said.

Meetings ahead of EU summits between regional groups of member states are nothing new. However, this mini-summit shows a possible shift of alliances in light of Brexit.

Jan Huitema, a Dutch MEP from Rutte's centre-right Liberal party, recently told EUobserver in Strasbourg that the UK was an ally on agricultural files, which the MEP focuses on.

“We are both in favour of a somewhat progressive, targeted agricultural policy, and attach great value to the role of science,” said Huitema.

When asked for an alternative to fill the British gap, Huitema said he looked at the Scandinavian countries, but noted that the UK “was a big country”.

Together, the nine previously-mentioned countries make up 11.06 percent of the EU's population, slightly less than the UK on its own.

While the UK has traditionally been an ally to countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, these numbers show that it cannot be easily replaced.

Voting power on legislative files, for which member state approval is needed, is related to population share. Even if the nine countries join forces, they cannot form a so-called blocking minority to hold up EU legislation.

Danish PM Loekke Rasmussen told EUobserver in a recent interview in Bergen, Norway, that the UK leaving will mean losing "a voice around the table that we often have been able to understand, especially when talking about the value of free trade ... the value of streamlining the EU institutions, [and] budget discipline."

He noted that on these issues, "other countries might appear a bit more laissez-faire."

"It also adds to the commitment needed from the countries that stand for this line of reasoning – that is, the pragmatic EU attitude," he adds.

"There is no doubt that in a Danish EU political context, we need to be investing more political energy (not money) into influencing EU cooperation the right way," Rasmussen said.

Visegrad option

A stronger force would be if the Benelux countries teamed up with the Visegrad group (V4) - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary - which make up 12.45 percent of the EU's population.

But, ideologically, these groups are further apart.

On 19 June, the Benelux leaders attended a meeting in Warsaw with the Visegrad countries.

The two groups have very different views on how to manage migration, and posted workers.

Originally, the Czech Republic came up with the idea of a meeting in this format when they held the V4 presidency last year, but then the Benelux states were reluctant.

A source said that, this time, the Benelux countries initiated the meeting.

Meeting lacking leaders

At Wednesday's meeting in the Hague between the regional groups, two member states will not send government leaders.

Finland is sending its deputy minister for EU affairs, Kare Halonen, while Denmark is sending its highest civil servant from the prime minister's office - responsible for foreign affairs.

Finnish prime minister Juha Sipilia is unable to attend because he is meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, and his Danish counterpart, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, is preoccupied with government meetings.

Estonian spokesman Juri Laas said that a Benelux-Nordic-Baltic meeting “has taken place on foreign ministers' level before, so it's nothing new”.

“It is a meeting of like-minded countries. We hope this facilitates decision-making,” Laas added.

Agenda

EU summit and Brexit This WEEK

Security and defence, along with Brexit and migration, are among the big issues to be discussed as leaders from all 28 EU states converge in Brussels for meetings and a summit.

UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'

British academics want to guarantee residency and work rights for their EU staff, as well as "enhanced mobility opportunities" for UK and EU students, mostly by keeping British participation in EU funding programs.

EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'

The European Commission rubber-stamped over 99 percent requests by officials to take on jobs in the private sector, posing ethical questions in light of known examples where conflicts of interests appear to be clear cut.

Investigation

Violating promises and law, von der Leyen tests patience

Under EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, transparency was supposed to be a "guiding principle". Instead, the European Commission is asking Kafkaesque questions in response to an access to documents request, and failing to meet its legal deadline.

News in Brief

  1. EU capital bans Halloween festivities due to corona
  2. Belarus: 11th weekend in a row of mass protests
  3. MEPs back vegetarian 'burgers' and 'sausages'
  4. Macron: Pandemic to last until next summer
  5. Czech health minister sacked in corona violation
  6. Johnson waiting for US election in Brexit talks
  7. Europe's Jewish population continues decline
  8. Report: EU border agency flouts law to help Greece

Rightwing MEPs bend to Saudi will after Khashoggi death

Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed two years ago on 2 October. Since then, mainly centre-right, conservative and far-right MEPs have voted down any moves to restrict, limit or ban the sales of weapons to the Saudi regime.

EU parliament vows not to cave in to budget pressure

The parliament's majorty dismisses the German EU presidency's proposal on the rule of law conditionality, which has emerged as the main political obstacle to agree on the next long-term EU budget.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Erdoğan whips up Muslim hate against Macron
  2. Gruelling Brexit and budget talks continue This WEEK
  3. Ministers back EU-wide 2050 climate goal, not by country
  4. The German mayor now facing US sanctions over Nord Stream
  5. EU Commission rejects retaliatory visas for US citizens
  6. Feminists target Polish churches in abortion 'revolution'
  7. South Caucasus death toll much worse than feared
  8. Polish court effectively bans legal abortions

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us