Dutch vow to fight drugs during EU presidency
30 June 2004 , AMSTERDAM — On the eve of the Netherlands taking over the European Union presidency, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende urged on Wednesday for a crackdown on drug trafficking and called for harsher domestic and European-wide sentences.
30 June 2004
AMSTERDAM — On the eve of the Netherlands taking over the European Union presidency, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende urged on Wednesday for a crackdown on drug trafficking and called for harsher domestic and European-wide sentences.
The Netherlands will assume the presidency from Ireland on Thursday and will oversee a transitional period in Europe with a new European Parliament and a new European Commission in November. It will also supervise Turkey's bid for inclusion in the EU.
In addition, Prime Minister Balkenende said he wished to use the six-month presidency to push for an intensified fight against drugs, news agency ANP reported.
The Christian Democrat CDA leader said a discussion over tougher sentences was unavoidable. But both he and European Affairs State Secretary Atzo Nicolai believe that the core of the Dutch soft-drugs policy must remain standing.
The Netherlands is unpopular with its European neighbours for its toleration of soft drugs. The Dutch are also renowned as the world's largest producers of ecstasy and vast quantities of cocaine are smuggled through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
"You must definitely look at sentencing. You ought to examine whether you are not an easy target for criminals who use a sentencing system that is milder," Balkenende said.
Balkenende hopes in the coming period to draw up more practical co-operative agreements between police services across Europe in the fight against drugs. He said tackling drugs is "necessary", also in respect to public health.
The prime minister said the Netherlands cannot vary significantly from the rest of Europe, asserting that the nation is not an island. "Everything has an international character. You must then, also look at the legal frameworks."
He said greater harmonisation of the European drugs policy is needed and that the trade in hard drugs was "poisonous" for society.
The Netherlands is the first country to assume the presidency of a 25-member EU following the 1 May expansion and Foreign Minister Ben Bot and State Secretary Nicolai sent a letter to the Dutch Parliament last month outlining the government's goals for the second half of this year.
They said the Dutch government will focus on EU enlargement, sustainable economic development, security, the process of preparing the new budget and the international role of the EU during its presidency.
Both ministers said the "dynamic context for the Dutch presidency demands realistic ambitions, vision, leadership and careful organisation".
The Netherlands will oversee an EU summit in December, when European leaders are scheduled to decide whether accession talks with Turkey can be launched.
Ankara will be judged on a strict set of standards established by the EU on issues such as the rule of law, the human rights record and rights for minorities. Turkey has been a candidate for EU membership since 1999, French news agency AFP reported.
Bot has previously vowed that the EU would act fairly when it came to decide whether to begin official EU accession talks with Turkey. Balkenende also welcomed Turkish reforms this month and said: "Turkey and the European Union are growing closer together".
Meanwhile, terrorism is on the agenda as the Netherlands seeks to highlight efforts to counter terrorism and organised crime. It also intends to work on an agenda laying out clear steps towards a European asylum, migration and integration policy.
On a more curious note, "ideas and values" — a pet topic of the conservative Balkenende — will also be high on the agenda.
And following poor voter turnout across the expanded EU bloc earlier this month, the Netherlands said it intends to organise a conference in the second half of this year designed to discuss ways to improve voter turnout for European elections.
Just 45.5 percent of the 350 million eligible voters bothered to make it to a polling booth for the European Parliament elections and Nicolai said the conference is designed to exchange experiences and lead to definite plans.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news