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Monday, 22 October 2012

The battle pro or contra further political integration of the European Union has only just begun. EP-chairman Martin Schulz fires a warning shot at The Netherlands, accusing PM Mark Rutte of “blocking everything”.

In The Netherlands, the week of October 15 has been the week of Martin Schulz, the chairman of the European Parliament (EP).

German social-democrat Schulz, who had become president of the EP in January, led an existence as ‘nobody’ as far as the Dutch were concerned. Nobody had heard from him and nobody really cared about that. However, this changed on September 20 when Martin Schulz in his role of chairman of the EP, standing together with two Arab leaders,  apologized for the fact that many muslims had been hurt by the so-called anti-islam film The Innocence of Muslims.

Although not everybody in and outside the European Parliament was very happy with Schulz’ demeanour, to say the least, it put the chairman definitely on the map for many people.

For The Netherlands, there was a renewed acquaintance on Thursday, October 18, when Martin Schulz gave an interview to Dutch daily newspaper De Volkskrant ( In this interview he criticized the Dutch attitude of navel-gazing, instead of looking at the things going on in the world.  

Due to the importance and controversity of the statements made in this interview, I will print a substantial part of it.

The disdain in The Netherlands for the European  Parliament is the result of a narrow-minded look at the world. “The problem of the Dutch is that they suffer from navel-gazing. The own belly-button as center of the earth’. This was stated by chairman Martin Schulz of the European Parliament in an interview.

Schulz loves confrontation. He doesn’t care that he evokes resistance and repulsion. ‘At least the people are listening to me’.  When asked if the 26th crisis summit will lead to the desired breakthrough, he answers clearly: ‘there will again be no big bang. Why not? The government leaders, who took all decisive power in their own hands, have to decide based on unanimity, while they are hopelessly divided. I stated loud and clear to the leaders: you are the problem of Europe. PM Mark Rutte of The Netherlands was one of the few agreeing with me’.

Schulz: ‘It would be better for Europe if this week’s summit would be the last one and finally some decisions were made. This will not happen, however, many more meetings will be required. Without a 180 degree change in the decisionmaking process, these meetings are pointless. Last summer, the leaders promised a European plan for growth and jobs, were €120 bln would become available. Four months later I still wait for the first concrete proposals. In the meantime, the Dutch and German keep emphasizing the need of budgettary discipline and more austerity. You don’t need to have a chair in Economy to know that this strategy demolishes all growth.

When asked if the European leaders are performing crisis- or mismanagement Schulz states: ‘I want to be fair and square: they reside in the center of the crisis and try to manage it. However, the reality in Brussels is that Rutte and Merkel first think of their Dutch and German interests. I can’t even blame them. But there is also a common, European interest and that has been neglected during the last few years. The biggest mistake of the last years has been that the leaders exclusively decide the policy. Or to put it stronger: blocking policy with their national veto’s. Examples: there will be no eurobonds, the common financing of state debt, because there is no unanimity. There will be no remission fund for European debt, because Germany, The Netherlands and Finland – a small minority – don’t want that.

‘This proves my case: with unanimity the crisis can’t be solved. Can you imagine that the Dutch government can’t govern, because one minister is vetoing every policy?! The EU needs more power. It should be steered by a European Government, chosen by the European Parliament. This government could be sent home when their policy fails. As long as this doesn’t happen, we will muddle through the crisis’.

‘The United States have one market, one central bank, one currency, one parliament and one government. This is effective, the financial markets trust the US. The EU has one market, one currency, one central bank and SEVENTEEN governments. That is not effective.'

Schulz: ‘Why does not one member of the Second Chamber say to Rutte after 25 failed summits: “Why the heck are you blocking everything”. That is my point. If the Dutch think they are better off without the EU, fine. These are the consequences: your companies lose access to the world markets; your criticism against China and Brazil to stop deforestation will be neglected; your guilder with be blown to smithereens by speculators and you are on your own while looking for tax dodgers.’

I like Schulz’s style. He doesn’t beat about the bush and doesn’t try to become popular in The Netherlands. Although his demeanour in September may be entitled as a banana peel slip, he has a strong comeback with this interview.

He will step on a lot of people’s toes with his message that a seventeen government leadership doesn’t work in the Eurozone and that the government leaders are looking too selfishly at their own country’s interests, but he definitely has a point with that.

I totally agree with him that Rutte has been blocking everything in Europe during the last few years. I said it myself a few months ago in The Dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. As far as I’m concerned, PM Mark Rutte of The Netherlands and PM David Cameron of the UK are in a neck-on-neck race about who did the most damage to the European Union and eventually to themselves and their own countries. While it could make them ‘hometown heroes’ among many, many voters, because they ‘fought for the interests of their own countries’, in reality they have been shooting in their own two feet.

Readers of this blog might not like this thought, but ask yourself this question: How much chance do The Netherlands and the UK have as single economies in a world where the United States, China, Russia, India and Brazil rule and where is no EU to protect them from these larger economies. “Well, do you feel lucky?!”

However, this Saturday, 20 October, the savvy European correspondent of Het Financieele Dagblad, Ulko Jonker, wrote a must-read piece opposing the vision of Martin Schulz. In the interest of letting you look at things from both sides, here are some pertinent snips from this excellent article.

If we want to survive, than there is no alternative: more Europe. And so, for the first time in the 60-year history of the European cooperation, there is on the agenda that countries abolish sovereignty to the European Union.

‘Towards a genuine economic and monetary union’ is the shameless title of Herman van Rompuy’s proposal to repair the Euro. Twenty years after the Maastricht Treaty the fact is acknowledged that the then new, pompous name ‘European Union’ was nothing but a disguise for the same ole’ European Economic Community. Believe us, now we are really going to do it, this title states. This mantra is not only a repudiation of the success story that was repeated over and over again in all euro-countries until 2008, it is also a warning.

If the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) of the last twenty years was not real, what more is not real about the European Union? Is the whole Europe not an illusion then?

As long as the nation state is the dominant governance model in the parts of the European Union, Europe will be an emperor without clothes, an attempt to make believe. The Euro was a brave attempt to rise to the occasion, to seal the European dream in the new reality of an ever closer union. Now we can start all over again.

As a consequence of a sequence of compromises, financial juggling and naivity, the EMU became a political triumph, but also a political monster. The inherent weakness of the EMU was not the concept, but the way that European politics turned it into an empty shell. Also Germany did so, when that was in their advantage.

The new reality is that the saving of the Euro and the Euro-zone is a condition to conquer the crisis: within the Euro-zone as well far outside. The question is if the United States of Europe are the answer to the technocratic and rational challenges, like the financial crisis, the globalisation of the economy and the question how 9 billion people can be offered a home and food.

Can the United States of Europe exist in a community that found her true enemy in the defenders of the nation state, that have been sent to Brussels by their voters to defend their sovereignty and own interest against the federal enemy. Schulz is theoretically right when he states that Europe should have one government to solve its problems. However, he is believing in fiction when he states that only the government leaders are stopping Europe in its final destiny. Referendums in France and The Netherlands, in North- and South-Europe already made a radical end to the dream of a federal Europe, when even the first steps towards this direction were blocked.

Europe, as a warrant and principle for food and a place to stay during the rest of the 21st centry is an existential concept. But the trust that is necessary for making the definitive choice between a European Community of Nations and the real European Union, must be regained step for step, as it won’t succeed with visions and illusions. The European dream is over, the long march has started.

This was without a doubt the best article that I read from Ulko Jonker and therefore I printed a large part of it. Undoubtedly he is right with most things he states in this article.

However, there is one thing that I disagree upon with him. The fact that The Netherlands abolished the European Constitution in 2005 was not an anti-European sentiment as such in my arrogant opion, but rather a protest against a Dutch government that treated the European unification with the self-evidence of a steam-roller that rolled ever countering voice flat.

There was no room for a fair debate on the necessity of this European Constitution. The only parties against it were on the extreme left and extreme right side of the political spectrum: the contaminated sides. The opinion of The Hague was: there is the yes-vote and the wrong vote. The results of this steam-roller attitude are now history. The Netherlands voted against the European Constitution and started a growing anti-European attitude since those days.

What makes things difficult for me on a personal level is that I agree very much with both Schulz and Jonker. Schulz for acknowledging the fact that there is no other option than a further unification of the EU to get the Euro and the Euro-zone safely through this economic crisis. Jonker for pointing out that it are not only the leaders of the Eurozone countries that are stopping this unification process, but also the citizens of the different European countries.

That is the strength and at the same time weakness of a democracy: you have to listen to the people that you don’t agree with. This is something that both the European nation leaders, the European commission and the European leadership failed to do. The price for this failure might be high in due course when the whole Euro-zone would sail in the mud. 

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