April 29th, 2012 • Looking at developments in The Hague, I am struck by one thing: nobody raises any longer the question of whether the Brussels procedures, those which might be put into the framework of ‘economic governance’, are compatible with national democracy. Yet at the same time these procedures have been declared holy and inviolable.
Not only the Europhiles of the liberal D66 and the Green Left, but also the at one time more Eurocritical liberals of the VVD and of the centre-right Christian parties the CDA and CU, take as their starting point the assertion that if European Commissioner Olli Rehn has not, before 30th April, received a piece of paper on which are inscribed the new plans for the 2013 national budget, Hell and Damnation will rain down over the Netherlands. I remember when Prime Minister Mark Rutte maintained that European economic governance would have no consequences for our country. Now this same Rutte is at pains to emphasise how important it is that we fulfil the demands of Brussels, including the maximum of 3% for the budget deficit. Okay, so a piece of paper has now been sent to Brussels, resting on the most slender of parliamentary majorities, and with a good chance that in the end the 2013 budget will in fact turn out to be quite different. But the electorate has still not had the chance to speak. I can only conclude that the whole puppet show has been neither democratic, nor, as far as Brussels is concerned, realistic. The electorate has been bypassed, and Brussels has received a piece of paper that actually says nothing at all.
Of course Brussels is happy to play along with this game. Recall that not long ago the Netherlands was seen as an example to follow, a guide (though along the wrong route), so that if it had been the first to renege on the rule what would other countries have done indeed? And so Commissioner Rehn is tremendously happy with the five party agreement on which the required national budget is based, concluding for convenience’ sake that the proposals are also going to be translated into reality. But there’s a slight problem: before that can happen we are going to have elections here in the Netherlands, and the composition of our parliament could be drastically changed. If these five parties don’t have a majority, the piece of paper won’t be worth very much, but even if they do, this coalition, which is the one which first congealed around the Netherlands’ continued participation in the war in the Afghan province of Kunduz, is far from being a done deal. The Green Left has already announced, in any case, that they want to renegotiate.
We have seen in the recent past that Brussels has less and less respect for national democracy. Berlusconi was chucked out in Italy because the European Central Bank stopped underwriting the country’s loans. It’s good that the man’s gone, but the way in which this happened was not exactly democratic, while the sudden installation of Mario Monti as his temporary successor was principally the work of Brussels. The same thing occurred in Greece when Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that he would put his austerity plans to a popular referendum. Papandreou was out, and in the shortest possible time the ‘technocrat’ Lucas Papademos was his temporary successor, while only on 6th May will the Greek people at last get to vote in an election. And now what’s happening in the Netherlands is something similar: a surprise attack, without the electorate having first had any chance to speak. If Brussels thinks that this policy will bring them popularity, then they are making an enormous mistake in their thinking. For only if people have the chance to express their views, and democracy is respected, will Brussels ever be able to win popularity. Unfortunately they are better at transmitting and influencing than they are at listening to the man or woman in the street.