Leiden, Prid. Non. Feb. MMDCCLXIX A.U.C.,
Please allow me to introduce Toomas Hendrik, President of Estonia, a man who says the things I can only wish the Dutch Prime-Minister Rutte to have the courage to say. In this video Hendrik tells us why we need the EU. Firstly, we can no longer blindly depend on the USA as our protector. The USA is increasingly focused on the Pacific theatre, which means Europe will need to learn how to defend itself again. Of course, we could try to do this as 28 different nations, but what good would that do us? We need to cooperate on defence.
Secondly, with regards to the refugees coming to Europe, mixed with economic migrants, it is obvious that we need common borders. It would be ridiculous to close the borders between European countries once more in order to prevent refugees from entering, if we can also create one European border. This means that countries in the centre of Europe will need to provide sufficient funds to the countries that form Europe’s border. But this will still be cheaper than reinstituting our own borders. This also means Eastern European countries will have to share in providing shelter to refugees, even if they decide to repatriate them later on. Besides, even if we decide to limit the number of refugees allowed to enter Europe, and want to prevent economic migrants from entering the EU, we need to have common borders and we will need to commonly provide funding for the refugee camps in the region of origin of the refugees. We need to cooperate on the refugee crisis.
Thirdly, Europe is comparatively less competitive, and in the years to come this situation will only become worse. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of a single market. While those critical of the EU often claim that the EU creates too many rules, it is often the nation states that are to be blamed. While in the USA a company can work with more or less the same set of rules from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, companies in Europe face 28 types of regulation. (So, while I oppose European legislation in sectors that do not cross borders (restaurants, barbers, etc.), European regulation in sectors that do cross borders reduces the burden of regulation 28 times.) Similarly, we still do not have a single capital market, which means that capital is not as freely available as it could be. This in turn leads to lost opportunities. Again, this means European countries need common legislation and regulation. Especially now the internet increasingly abolishes borders that used to exist between European citizens, it is only 28-fold legislation that stands between Europe’s citizens. Besides, I doubt Hendrik will support unnecessary regulation, he comes from one of the economically most free countries in the world. We need to cooperate to to abolish Europe’s internal borders to increase Europe’s competitiveness.
Meanwhile, the Eurosceptic parties grow larger and larger, pretending to come with solutions, while actually only offering us to go back to Europe in 1950. Make no mistake, we have reason to be eurocritical, European elites failed to anticipate the sovereign debt crisis and the subsequent banking crisis, they failed to anticipate the current refugee crisis, while they should have known that we cannot have open internal borders while also having an open external border. Moreover, European leaders have not shown the leadership that citizens can expect from them. Yet, in his speech Hendrik makes clear that all these problems form no reason to flip the table, and barge out.
Yet, Mark Rutte has decided to follow a course of persistent naivity when it comes to the European Union. His credo seems to be: act surprised whenever the EU asks anything of the Netherlands, pretend you have no clue why the EU does what it does, take credit for everything that does go well in the Netherlands and when in doubt, always blame the EU. For instance, the Dutch government refuses to campaign for its own policies with regards to the Ukraine association treaty. It takes a position, but does not want to actively defend that position, as if embarrassed about it. Similarly, in 2015 the Dutch government claimed that the Association Treaty would not enter into force provisionally, except for the parts under the competence of the EU. Then in this month it had to admit that parts of the treaty had entered into force on January 1st, even though these parts did not fall under the competence of the EU. The same year Rutte had to break his electoral promise, because the EU did have to lend another €80billion to Greece, something everyone expected. In 2014 the Netherlands was obliged to pay an ‘extra levy’ to the EU, because its GDP turned out to be larger than expected. Just like the British government, the Dutch government pretended to be surprised, as if it were not there when it was decided that countries pay the EU based on the size of their economy. Likewise, in 2012 Rutte was ‘surprised’ that the EU launched a banking union, something which he had said the Netherlands would block.
The contrast with the Estonian President could hardly be larger. He explains what needs to be improved about the EU, what mistakes European leaders have made, and, yet, why we cannot do without the EU. Rutte hardly ever explains why we need the EU, he often pretends to be sceptical about it. He might say that he will be pragmatic, and will not promote any visionary plans for the EU during the Dutch presidency, but we desperately need a visionary leader. Technocracy is exactly what European citizens are tired of. We need a vision for how to make the EU more efficient, more democratic, safer, and stable. While Rutte might gain electorally by pretending to be eurosceptical, I think on the long term he significantly damages citizen’s trust in both the EU and the Dutch government. In times of rising distrust in public institutions, this is a very dangerous thing to do. If only Rutte was as courageous and visionary as Hendrik.
Bottom Line: Estonia’s President offers a vision for the EU, and is both critical of it, but also realistic about why we need the EU. PM Rutte never bravely defends the EU, but in the end always supports it. I can see why this makes people eurosceptical. The Netherlands deserves a courageous Prime-Minister.