2017 Budget for an inward looking nation
Each year in September the Budget for the next fiscal year (2017) is presented to the Dutch Parliament and debated immediately the days afterwards. 2016 is the last year before the General Elections in The Netherlands. This makes the budget debate a starter for the election campaigns. What we saw was a fundamentally inward looking political class. Holland is on the right track back from the economic downfall of 2008, there is a large and unstable outside world, and we will cling more to what is known and trusted, so the government pronounced. The government (through the King) frames Europe as a trade union, where economic growth and jobs come from. The only other theme where Europe is important, is the refugee crisis. Not even a tiny idea is launched to tackle the consequences of Brexit, or nor are ideas about European defence discussed.
Debate in Parliament
Reactions in Parliament were even less about Europe. Health care, the refugee crisis and the (failed) integration of immigrants were the main topics. After a long discussion, one motion was carried that asked the government to speed up its decision-making about the Ukraine referendum where the majority voted “no”. Two conclusions can be drawn.
Europe is only a hype
First, however heated as the debates pro and contra the European Union were in the Ukraine referendum campaign, the following months Ukraine disappeared from public debate. Of course, Europe was shaken by the Brexit vote in the UK, so political attention shifted to this new topic. Some Dutch political parties nurtured hope of a Dutch Nexit. But in the budget debate only two parties mentioned it without much reaction of the others or the government. Europe is less of a deep concern than one might think. A hype. Given the problems in and outside the EU this is not a comfortable conclusion.
Europe is not “us”
Second, as President Juncker said[i]: “Europe can only work if speeches supporting our common project are not only delivered in this honourable House, but also in the Parliaments of all our Member States.” This is consistent with the idea that Europe is as much of the member states as of the European Commission and the European Parliament. The Dutch government has demonstrated in a sad way that Europe is only “us” in a minimal sense: when it serves Dutch interests, when it helps the economy and when its keeps refugees out.
[i] In his recent State of the European Union. See post “An alternative State of the European Union – What Juncker could have said” in this blog.