Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende addressed the European parliament on Wednesday afternoon with a strong call for changes to the controversial European constitution.
Both the Netherlands and France rejected the constitution in referenda in 2005.
Balkenende told his audience – a majority of whom support the original constitution – that the EU should continue amending EU treaties ‘step by step’, a method which, which he said, had proven successful so far.
Constitutional elements, such as the flag and the use of the word constitution should disappear. In addition, the subsidiarity of nation states should be strengthened, so that national parliaments should be able to intervene if they thought legislation was outside the EU’s scope, he said.
The limits of the role of the EU should be clarified. ‘Only then can we lessen the doubts about handing over sovereignty,’ he said. Climate change, energy policy, terrorism and migration were all issues for Europe as a whole, he said. But individual countries should remain in charge of their pensions and social security systems and education.
The Netherlands also rejects the appointment of a European minister of foreign affairs, preferring to use the word ‘coordinator’ instead.
Balkenende’s words did not go down well in the strongly pro-constitutional parliament. ‘Whoever wants to scrap the symbols and the flag, wants to scrap the idea. This is an ice-cold nationalist declaration of war on the European concept,’ one Austrian MEP was quoted as saying in the Volkskrant.
Back home, MPs were also divided. Socialist MPs said Balkenende was only proposing cosmetic changes while GroenLinks MPs said he was going too far.
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