Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

Masterclass: Is Europe a jungle?

Monday, February 13 2012, 9:52

The second lecture of the 2012 Montesquieu Masterclass was given by prof. Jan van der Harst. The subject was the Dutch European policies since 19145.

IS was clear that Dutch European policies between 1945 and 2012 can be divided into two periods. The first was the period between 1945 and 1990 during which The Netherlands followed a policy which had an Atlantic orientation. It was focused on defense and the economy. This was clear in its focus on NATO in which the US was the great power and where the other NATO member states, large and small had equal powers. AS for the European policy the focus was on economic cooperation. Defense limited to the European partners was considered undesirable.

The Netherlands profited from the cooperation in Europe in the sense that it gained more than what it brought in. Moreover The Netherlands did not want any European state to dominate matters, which resulted in a strong supranational drive.  Supranational institutions such as the European Commission and the European Court of Justice were important instruments.

The end of the Cold War, the unification of Germany and the Maastricht Treaty meant the start of the second period. This forced The Netherlands to review its policies. The influence of the US on defense weakened and NATO has less influence as well. As a result of these changes socio-political integration gained more importance. The “narrow” economic oriented policies lost influence. In spite of this the Atlantic orientation in Dutch policies is still present, but the re-orientation of Dutch policies was necessary.

All the matters have consequences for the European debate. France and Germany respectively want a monetary and a political union. The larger European states become more assertive. The discussion is now dominated by states. This means that for instance the role of the European Parliament in the current crisis is minimal. According to van Walsum the present intergovernmental European structure is like a jungle. Dutch European policies, which were in favour for European extension until 1990, have now changed and show hesitation towards more EU member states above the present twenty seven. The Netherlands now receives less than it pays into the EU.

As a consequence the discussions abut the EU in The Netherlands have gained a different character. There is more opposition and the discussion is no longer dominated by the (political) elite. The Netherlands has become less ambitious. The drive for supranationalism is an instrument to further Dutch national interests. The problem is also that the discussion does not cater for a final European vision. It has become a matter of “muddling through”. Fine-tuning is a necessity, but is hard to achieve. The Netherlands has become defensive in stead of offensive where Europe is concerned.

During the discussion the opinion that the elite has dominated the discussion far too long and has not opened up was an important issue. The electorate is not happy, which promotes populism. There should be a long-term vision for Europe and incidents should no longer govern policies. Structural solutions should prevail. The advantage of the present crisis is that fundamental issues are finally addressed, but this discussion should ultimately result in a celar and definite vision for the future.