Adriaan Schout: Why all parties are pro-Europe
Wednesday 04 July 2012
The media are creating an image of political parties rejecting Europe for fear of alienating the anti-European part of the electorate. In reality, political parties are outspokenly pro-European, writes Adriaan Schout.
It looks as if this election will be about, or rather against, Europe. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s reluctance to talk about ‘vistas’ and closer integration has been widely interpreted as shying away from awkward European issues in the run up to the September 12 election.
The impression at home and abroad is of a country whose government and political parties are, for the most part, against the EU, or at least strongly divided over the question of Europe.
In favour of European integration
The opposite is true. Most parties couldn’t be more in favour of European integration. Let’s put the dead letter of the party manifestos aside and look at the way parties have been behaving during the parliamentary debates.
Last week saw a crucial debate on the euro and those sombre vistas of a banking union, a fiscal union, an economic union and a political union. The debate was between the prime minister and the party leaders. Both the subject matter and the main protagonists couldn’t make for a better illustration of where our political representatives stand on the European agenda.
The media are putting Socialist party leader Emile Roemer in the anti-Europe camp but although he has trouble coming up with a coherent vision, his comments are increasingly pro-European. He is in favour of a European agenda for growth, a ‘huge’ social agenda (but no interference in our social model), supervision and ‘tough agreements’. He wants a political role for the ECB which is paying for the failures of neo-liberalism.
His Europe is not one of devastating austerity measures, a banking union (although he does want bank supervision), European symbols or interference with ‘our’ pensions. With government responsibility in mind, the Socialist Party is in favour of integration as long as neo-liberalism is kept in check.
Labour and D66 lead the way
Labour leader Diederik Samsom is heading a party divided on Europe but is strongly pro-European himself. And he doesn’t mind the costs: Samsom is in favour of a banking union, including savings guarantees. Europe is closely linked, he emphasises, and this creates risks which have to be managed. If banks aren’t stabilised elsewhere and people transfer their savings, banks and pensions in the Netherlands are endangered as well. Like D66, Samsom fears a financial erosion if the European banking system isn’t stabilised.
D66 is even more outspoken and is opting for the immediate introduction of Eurobonds and a political union with elected European Commissioners.
The Dutch European tradition
The Christian Democrats are doing what they always do: putting the family first. Dutch families are dependent on the jobs and incomes generated by the EU.
GroenLinks is more or less on the same page as Labour, CDA, D66 and the SP: we need better economic supervision and financial setbacks should be a shared responsibility.
Rutte is close to this line of thinking and not really shying away. All he is saying, as Labour does, is: first things first. This fits in with the Dutch European tradition. First we agree on the rules and then we’ll see what else is needed. The prime minister also wants countries to be free to decide on their own policies as long as they don’t infringe the deficit agreements.
‘Keeping to the rules’ provokes the usual hum of discussion in The Hague beehive between Rutte and the other parties about whether or not countries which respect the rules have handed over sovereignty. It’s a riveting subject politically, I’m sure, but practically it is irrelevant because the need for rules is not up for discussion.
PVV pretend anti-Europeans
The PVV is the only party that speaks out against the euro and further integration. But this stance is not as clear-cut as it seems. During the most turbulent 18 months in recent European history, Wilders took step after step towards a closer union and supported emergency funds.
The question is whether Wilders will want to pull the plug on the euro or whether he might perhaps not want to create economic chaos. For now, the PVV is only pretend anti-European.
Warnings from the past
Each of the parties’ visions has its flaws. The enthusiasm of D66, Labour, CDA and GroenLinks could easily evaporate in the face of the endless row of referenda their proposals will inevitably provoke. But worse is the underlying naivety about the lessons that should have been learnt from EMU history.
As early as 1965, former finance minister Frans Witteveen warned against the danger of handing over a blank cheque when it is far from certain countries will honour the agreements. The EU countries (including Germany) have demonstrated again and again they are no respecters of rules. The recent policy changes in Greece and the salary hikes in France, its u-turn on pension reform and vague employment plans show how relevant Witteveen’s warning still is.
VVD and the banks
The VVD is counting on a step-by-step approach in which an agreement on supervision will precede the introduction of Eurobonds and deposit guarantees. The party is ignoring the reality of banks collapsing in the meantime, and countries crippled by unbearable interest charges. The SP looks upon the deficit sinners as victims of neo-liberalism and ignores the damage of monetary financing to Dutch savings.
None of these scenarios is likely to materialise because further integration will be the result of emergency measures and tough negotiations. But even if the party visions don’t have much relevance to the future, they are certainly not anti-European.
A little bit of lip service to the Wilders electorate aside, this show of union is hiding the fact that this election is not really about European integration. Politicians shouldn’t hide behind the EU debate to avoid what it’s really all about: making painful national decisions.
Adriaan Schout is coordinator of European Governance Studies at the Dutch Institute of International Relations Clingendael.
This article was published earlier on Euroforum
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