Tom Eijsbouts thinks Wilders will benefit from the German call to freeze pay.
Mark Rutte and his parliamentary party are keeping their options open and the party is left wondering. Will he take full responsibility for the cutbacks or will he blame Brussels?
The VVD is split down the middle over Europe. Extra party council meetings have failed to paper over the cracks and members are getting desperate. Wilders meanwhile is plotting his next move. The cutbacks and the way in which they are being forced down the prime minister’s throat are not a result of dastardly machinations in Brussels. The orders are coming straight from Berlin. A golden opportunity!
There is no doubt about the severity of the cuts. Germany wants all the European member states to impose a pay freeze, hence the extra cutbacks. But it’s not so much the severity that is sticking in Rutte’s gullet. These hard line measures can easily be defended as a national choice and happen to have ‘VVD’ (not ‘PVV’) written all over them. It’s the fact that we are being told to tinker with the constitution. And that we are being told to do so by Berlin. The European fiscal union treaty agreed upon last week demands that every country include the pay freeze in the constitution. The Germans have done so long ago.
If the constitution isn’t an option, is must be put in the most stringent of national laws and we had better look sharp because it will have to be done within a year of the treaty becoming law, on January 1, 2013.
What Berlin would really like is for the Dutch constitution to become another clone of the German one, all within the space of eighteen months. But that would be virtually impossible. Changes to the constitution follow a two phase procedure, with elections in between. To do the whole thing properly we would have to send parliament home within a year and let the voters decide about the proposed change. It’s a time honoured rule based on a pleasant principle.
The constitutional pay freeze is Berlin’s way of forcing the other member states into pretending the measure is their own doing instead of the result of an ukase by the occupational forces from Brussels (or Berlin). It would be very interesting to see how politicians explain that one away. In any case, elections are better than a referendum. A referendum is a one issue affair decided on by the national underbelly. Elections are about making the connection between what went before and what will be happening in the future.
Sideline constitutional mores
But now that we are being presented with a deadline, we are going to have to sideline our constitutional mores and change the law without so much as a by-your-leave from the people. It’s really quite remarkable that the potential for anti-German sentiment hasn’t been exploited yet. But the moment is fast approaching when Wilders, after having dealt with the Muslims, the Greeks and the eastern Europeans, will set his sights on the Germans and tell them he wants those bicycles back. Like other populists before him, Wilders has only a limited political perspective. He’s running out of targets. He’s struggling and it shows.
So why would Rutte support Germany and Europe? Not because the German wishes should be his command but because no one else was capable and willing enough to take the reigns in Europe. And secondly, because these measures are saving the euro. The economists know it. They are changing their tune ever so subtly, praising where once they derided.
Rutte has to know that the European Union is going to beat the crisis. He would be wise to side with the one who stands to profit most: Berlin, Europe.
Tom Eijsbouts is professor of European law at Leiden University
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