Sunday

19th Nov 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Focus

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.

MEP switches vote on 'private expenses' transparency

A small group of MEPs are looking into how members of the European Parliament spend the monthly €4,300 'private expenses' funded by taxpayer money. Last month, MEPs voted on transparency amendments on the funds.

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse