New Benelux treaty ratified

New Benelux treaty ratified

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In the wake of the Irish 'No' to the Lisbon Treaty, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have ratified a new Benelux treaty. Georg Schreuder Hes reports.

The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have ratified a new Benelux treaty, which will replace the present one in 2010. The document, which was signed at a ceremony in The Hague on the 50th anniversary of the original treaty, is intended to reinforce and modernise cooperation between the signatories.

The Benelux has its roots in World War Two, when the three countries signed an agreement in 1944 to form a customs union. In 1958, the bloc was the first group of countries in Europe to sign a cooperation treaty.

In a joint statement, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and his Belgian and Luxembourg counterparts Yves Leterme and Jean-Claude Juncker said: "Building on what we have already achieved, we want to renew our cooperation in a renewed Benelux and make it stronger". The new treaty focuses on cooperation in areas such as justice and police rather than economic cooperation, which formed the basis of its predecessor.

Irish voters

The signing comes after Irish voters rejected an EU treaty intended to overhaul its institutions, sparking suggestions that the Union could be headed for a 'two-tier' future, with some countries moving ahead with closer integration.

The Benelux member states were founding members of the European Union, and among its staunchest supporters until 2005, when Dutch voters joined the French in rejecting a draft constitution that was replaced by the recent reform treaty.

Joint solution

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said that the Benelux would push to press ahead with the treaty, which has been ratified by 14 - including Luxembourg - of the EU's 27 member states. He added that the Benelux countries would: "cooperate to come to a joint solution for all EU members".

Teaming up

There have been questions regarding the need for a Benelux bloc within the European Union, but Jan Rood, Europe expert at the Clingendael Institute for international relations, said the bloc still had relevance, adding that the Baltic nations aim to emulate its success.

Mr Rood said the Benelux could expand its influence by teaming up with other nations as it did in the case of the Schengen agreement, which ended border controls between the Benelux, France and Germany, and was later adopted by other EU states.

This "Benelux Plus" model could work as a platform for consensus in an expanding European Union, Mr Rood said.

June 2008 

[Copyright Radio Netherlands]

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