Tuesday 01 December 2020

The Netherlands sets out ‘frugal’ position ahead of key EU budget summit

Photo: DutchNews.nl

The Netherlands will enter the next round of EU spending talks, starting this week, with a firm commitment to ensure the budget remains at 1% of EU GDP, not 1.11% as the European Commission is proposing.

Being careful with taxpayers’ money and modernising the EU budget are the two key aspects of the Dutch approach to the negotiations, finance minister Wopke Hoekstra said on Tuesday as he arrived in Brussels for Ecofin talks.

The Netherlands is keen to spend more money on innovation, on securing the EU’s borders and on measures to reduce climate change, Hoekstra said.

‘These are typically 21st century issues,’ he said. ‘But we also think that our joint task should be to be careful with the money we get from our tax payers. That money is not ours. It is money our citizens have earned. And there are various ways we can reallocate that money to spend on the issues we believe are important.’

On Monday, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was one of four European leaders to sign an open letter in the Financial Times calling for moderation in the forthcoming EU budget talks.

Now that the UK, as a major contributor to the budget, has left the EU it is time to ‘cut our coat according to our cloth’, the letter, published in the Financial Times states. ‘The responsible approach in this situation is to prioritise in the interest of our taxpayers.’

Dubbed the ‘frugal four’, Rutte, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen and Sweden’s Stefan Lofven say that ‘being “frugal” does not mean that we are any less committed to the EU than those member states who are arguing for an expanded budget.’

The four countries say that their budget contribution ‘must remain stable, taking into account inflation and economic growth’.

This requires the budget to remain at 1% of EU gross national income and that there should be a system of permanent corrections to protect individual states from having to ‘shoulder excessive budgetary burdens’, the four leaders say.

Flexible

In January, budget commissioner Johannes Hahn told Dutch media the Netherlands would be sensible to adopt a more flexible approach in the ongoing discussions about a new EU multi-year budget.

If they don’t make concessions, other EU countries will also dig in their heels, so will there will be less spending room for the Dutch priorities, Hahn said in an interview with the Financieele Dagblad and BNR radio.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said every country involved in this week’s  budget talks should be prepared to compromise in order to reach an agreement.

EU leaders meet to discuss the spending plans on Thursday.

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