The rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU fell to the Netherlands at the beginning of January 2016. EURACTIV France spoke to Ed Kronenbug, the Dutch envoy to France, about the EU’s top priorities over the next six months.
Ed Kronenburg is the Dutch ambassador to France, a position he has held since 2012.
Kronenburg was interviewed by EURACTIV France’s Editor-in-Chief, Aline Robert.
The Netherlands has just taken over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. How do you see the next six months unfolding?
Our concrete aim is to ensure the best possible management of the implementation of the important decisions that have been made. For example, the distribution of 160,000 refugees and the establishment of ‘hotspots’. It is our ambition to make progress on these important issues that are not being dealt with quickly enough.
We also hope to break down the remaining barriers within the European Union, including barriers to the internal market. Finally, we are committed to improving the coordination of economic and budgetary policies within the framework of the European Semester. The way countries currently act on their economic and budgetary policy recommendations is not ideal.
Are you unsatisfied with the way policy coordination between member states works?
We hope to see more exchange taking place. Today, under the European Semester, the Commission and the Council, in close cooperation with the countries concerned, determine the concrete recommendations for structural reforms, but these are not always followed. We would like to create more dialogue, which will allow us to discuss better practices.
The follow-up and exchange could be carried out as part of the Ecofin Council. We are not targeting any country in particular; it is a question of using a method that can allow member states to guarantee the viability of their public finances and the measures they take to stimulate economic growth and employment.
The Netherlands will hold a referendum in March, on the Association Agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine. Reading between the lines, isn’t the real question of this referendum “are you for or against the European Union”?
Yes, that is always a risk. A referendum is often hijacked from its original objective. It is true that the answer that is given does not necessarily have much to do with the subject of the referendum.
And I am not sure that turnout will even reach 30%, which is the minimum threshold for a referendum to be valid. I remind you that it is a consultative referendum, which is not the result of a government initiative, but will be organised by a civil society organisation. It is the first time that this kind of referendum has been held.
The UK referendum on Brexit may take place under the Dutch Presidency. Is this a danger for the EU?
I am optimistic about the British referendum, because the Brits will see where their interests lie: staying in the EU is by far the best outcome. But to justify the benefits of political cohesion, we have to learn to manage crises together. We will have to demonstrate this during our Presidency, including on the subject of refugees.
Your programme will include the application of the COP 21 agreement.
Yes, we think we have to accelerate this process and review the commitments as quickly as possible, particularly at a European Union level. The Dutch Presidency is determined to push ahead. We will also examine the question of the Energy Union.
Hungary and Slovakia have lodged complaints to the Court of Justice of the European Union against the decision to distribute refugees within the EU. What do you think of this decision?
Our position is that the decisions that have been made must be enforced. We must respect our commitments. Also, this is only a question of 160,000 people out of millions of refugees. Turkey is hosting three million! We will do everything we can to ensure the €3 billion aid package for Turkey goes ahead as planned. Certain countries have not yet provided their financial contributions. This they must do; the decision has been made.