Thursday

13th Aug 2020

Opinion

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

  • While Rutte has attempted to brush of his 'Mr No' reputation, he has become no less obstructionist on migration and the euro (Photo: Consillium)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte's A Deal is a Deal: A Union of Rules in an Unruly World speech earlier this month to the European Parliament was received as one in which he declared love for the European project domestically, as well as one of pragmatism.

However, some European and international media have been more careful in judging the speech on its merits, and rightly so.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or subscribe as a group

Whereas a trend can be noticed in the rhetoric on the EU (which has changed in the Netherlands somewhat – not just from the prime minister and his Liberal Party (VVD) but also the Christian Democrats (CDA) that had shifted to a soft-nationalist tone during the last national and European elections), the substance has not changed much.

The Dutch government's approach to the EU and the two important challenges of migration and the common currency it faces, shows a rather consistent principled approach.

Whereas Rutte has attempted to brush of his 'Mr No' reputation, he has been no less obstructionist on these issues.

One must 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.

When it comes to eurozone reform, he and his government have continuously blocked any attempt that would imply a eurozone budget and financial transfers between eurozone members in times of need and considered as the 'most hostile' to such ideas.

Forced euro exits

Rutte had been one of the first leaders to suggest in 2011 countries could be forced to exit the eurozone if they did not adhere to the rules.

In the subsequent election year of 2012, he promised to refuse giving a penny more to Greece.

In 2015, he had been one of the firmest in demanding the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras rollback some of his planned legislation, leading a group of hawkish member states.

This stance has continued – just recently, his finance minister Wopke Hoekstra on behalf of 12 EU states torpedoed a thin Franco-German compromise on establishing some form of fiscal capacity that could help deal with potential future financial crises.

Rutte and his government have been no less compromising in the other essential crisis the EU is facing.

Whereas Rutte has mostly deflected demands for solidarity in the eurozone reform, he has continued to push countries unwilling to take in migrants in the ongoing migration crisis that is currently tearing apart the EU.

Instead of accepting flexible forms of solidarity through providing funds and staff, the Dutch government pushed, together with Sweden and Germany, to link the EU budget with migrants, as well as pushed for a majority decision on a refugee relocation mechanism in 2015 and to have it respected by all - which in effect has polarised relations with the Visegrad states, where refugees have no plan to settle anyway.

In effect, this has led to a non-functioning refugee relocation mechanism and increased support for populist parties.

This does not mean the prime minister does not see added value for the EU.

On the contrary, it pursues realpolitik by committing itself to the unity of the EU and ruling out any referendum on the country's membership of the club, often referring to the disaster case of the UK that has pursued this path, as well as emphasising the EU's geopolitical importance in the current more instable world in which Russia is violating Europe's sovereignty, China is becoming more assertive and Donald Trump is challenging the liberal world order.

Nonetheless, Rutte shows little appetite to upset voters and sticks to a narrow national interest focused idea of the EU.

When it comes to the country's financial contribution to the EU, he and his government have been opposing an increase in this, despite the looming departure of the UK and the increased tasks of the EU, for instance in the area of migration.

Therefore, the Dutch stance is rather a principled one, one that has almost led to a break-up or serious damaging of the Eurozone before.

Regarding the migration crisis, Rutte helped divide the EU with his insistence on obligatory quotas for refugees.

Problematic here is that whereas his obstructionist and principled approach might control populist forces in his own country, it has fueled such tendencies in other EU states.

From the rise of both Syriza in Greece and the Five Star Movement and the League in Italy, to the consolidating of conservative authoritarian forces in Poland and Hungary.

This paradox in Rutte's approach unfortunately undermines the EU's unity and "ever-more perfect union" he has committed himself to.

One can only hope Rutte and his government find out soon that preserving unity whatever it takes (to quote the president of the European Central bank that saved the euro) serves narrow national interests as well.

Robert Steenland is an associate at the Warsaw-based Centre for International Relations

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column

Drums of war again, in Europe

Just a few weeks ago, as Europeans in several countries put their furious debates about masks and corona appsinto higher gear, Turkey and Greece almost came to blows in the Aegean Sea.

News in Brief

  1. Amazon people urge EU banks to stop funding pollution
  2. Russia vaccine could be "dangerous", Germany says
  3. EU to finance new Covid-19 research projects
  4. Croatia receives EU earthquake relief funds
  5. Facemasks required throughout Brussels
  6. EU opposes Mexico's transparent junk food labels
  7. Greece accuses Turkey of 'escalation' in maritime dispute
  8. Slovakia expels three Russians linked to Berlin murder

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Belarus violence goes on, as EU ministers scramble
  2. French navy to deter Turkey's oil and gas grab
  3. EU ministers urged to talk Belarus, Turkey sanctions
  4. Drums of war again, in Europe
  5. EU looks on as Belarus protests turn lethal
  6. EU virus-alert agency says new restrictions needed
  7. Minsk violence prompts talk of EU sanctions
  8. Schrems privacy ruling risks EU's ties to digital world

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us