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31st Oct 2020

Netherlands keen to curb EU powers in new treaty

  • Mr Balkenende: 62 percent of Dutch voters said no to the constitution two years ago (Photo: Wikipedia)

Dutch prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende has set out his country's position on the new EU treaty, saying it should drop the word "constitution", give a bigger say to national parliaments, set clear limits to EU powers and more precise enlargement criteria.

"We must come up with a mutually acceptable solution that does justice to the concerns which emerged following the Dutch and French referenda," the Dutch leader said in the European Parliament on Wednesday (23 May), referring to the rejection of the old constitution by Dutch and French voters in 2005.

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The Hague – along with London, Warsaw and Prague – is being labelled as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to salvaging the original constitution treaty, with Mr Balkenende's speech to MEPs reaffirming the idea that Dutch voters would only accept a scaled-down treaty that does not create the image of an EU super-state.

The prime minister sketched out four red lines for the Netherlands on the basis of popular Dutch concerns. He agreed the EU bloc should amend its existing treaties, but said the word "constitution" must go, after it became a major factor in the Dutch "nee" on deeper EU integration.

"The Netherlands is in favour of a more traditional document, in the same vein as the treaties of Amsterdam or Nice," he told MEPs.

On top of the name change, the Hague also wants to alter the substance of the old constitution, so that the new text has stronger limitation on qualified majority voting. The old constitution's extension of qualified majority to new areas was designed to make the bloc more efficient in its decision-making.

"We must recognise that countries are afraid to relinquish their vetoes, afraid that the EU will extend its competences by stealth," Mr Balkenende said.

To further increase domestic control over the EU machinery, the prime minister advocated that national parliaments should have a bigger say when it comes to Brussels' proposals. "If a majority of national parliaments are opposed to a given proposal, there must be consequences," he said.

The fourth Dutch red line - concerning stricter enlargement criteria in the new treaty - also addresses popular Dutch dissatisfaction over the prospect of further extending the EU's borders, with Turkey and seven Western Balkan states all in the queue to get in.

"After the latest round we have to realise that the public needs time to get used to the EU in its new form. Things have changed too quicky for some people's taste," Mr Balkenende said, adding "we must allow time for a sense of solidarity to grow."

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