European party in The Hague turns sour
Exactly sixty years ago Winston Churchill invited dignitaries from all over Europe to The Hague to discuss the continent’s future. The Congress of Europe held in The Hague in May 1948 thus laid the foundation for future European co-operation. Though European sentiment in the Netherlands has since chilled, The Hague is marking the occasion by hosting a European party. By Johan Huizinga.
As the European Union holds its breath ahead of Ireland’s referendum on the new EU charter, the gathering in The Hague is scrambling to find ways of luring back the growing mass of disillusioned citizens.
The meeting has been organised by the European Movement, an umbrella group of long-standing pro-European NGOs. Prominent MEPs, the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who currently holds the rotating EU chair, are all attending. Even so, the party has an anachronistic whiff.
A federal Europe
The ideal of a federal Europe the European
Movement has always advocated has become such an outdated notion that hardly anyone nowadays dares to use the
term. A few years ago subsidies to the European Movement were even halted.
(Photo right: Optimistic about the EU - Mr Pat Cox)
Another problem is the Dutch parliament, on whose doorstep the meeting is taking place. It recently bragged that its “Orange card” could block any proposals from the European Commission. A constructive approach, a will to help shape the EU, are nowhere to be found in The Hague—not anymore.
Once an active founder of European unification, over the past 60 years Holland has become little more than a passenger travelling on the running-board and constantly slamming the break for fear the car is going too fast. In 1991, less than 20 years ago, a Dutch proposal for a new European treaty was killed off by the other member states, which opposed giving the European Commission, the EU’s executive, much more power.
It recently emerged that the plan had been hatched by the Commission itself along with a number of Dutch senior officials. Even Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers knew nothing at the time. Since then, European feelings in Holland have been steadily cooling. The Netherlands did manage to place former Finance Minister Wim Duisenberg as the first president of the European Central Bank. But the introduction of the euro in 2002 aroused far less enthusiasm among the Dutch public. And the bloc’s expansion with ten new member states in 2004 made Dutch employees even more worried. By the time of the 2005 referendum on a new EU charter, the Dutch had had it and flatly rejected it.
All this would seem to make The Hague a rather surprising location for a European celebration. But Pat Cox, the former Irish speaker of the European Parliament, sees things differently. After the murder of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn, he argues, Dutch politics was set adrift—and is still searching a new course. In that light, the European treaty came as a welcome scapegoat. The issue wasn’t so much the treaty’s content as Dutch politics itself.
Mr Cox, who now heads the European Movement, remains therefore optimistic. But he does urge Europe to make haste and come to a long-overdue decision regarding Europe’s future organisation. If Europe is to inspire future generations, he warns, it will have to start tackling real issues such as employment and climate change. And it will have to start giving real political answers, whether as liberals, conservatives or social democrats. That, Cox emphasises, should be the real debate ahead of next year’s European elections.
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]