Dutch ‘subsidiarity review’ strikes a chord with UK euro critics

Amsterdam canal houses Netherlands Dutch.JPG

The British government hailed yesterday (24 June) a move by the Netherlands to initiate a process in the EU aimed at slashing the number of areas covered by common EU policy and legislation. The European Commission said it would follow the debate and figure out what conclusions to draw from it.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans on Friday presented a letter summarising the outcome of a “subsidiarity review” carried out by the government.

Subsidiarity refers to the EU's powers to intervene only where it is able to act more effectively than the member states acting on their own, and provided that EU treaties gives it the right to do so.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “the time of an ‘ever closer union’ in every possible policy area is behind us”.

In its letter, the government identifies a number of areas it believes should better be left to member states rather than the EU. The list was reportedly compiled with input from all government ministries and stakeholders.

Halting the creeping harmonisation of social security systems and working conditions are among the areas cited in the letter. Other include the regulation of media pluralism, flood risk management (the EU should have a say only on transboundary water courses), and EU programmes for school milk and school fruit, which should be phased out.

The Dutch government said the issue of subsidiarity strikes a chord with many people across Europe. With this initiative, the Netherlands wants to initiate a process based on the principle: ‘European where necessary, national where possible’.

No treaty change sought

First, the list will be discussed with parliament. Then the government will try to gain support for its initiative from the European Commission, European Parliament and other member states.

The Dutch government emphasises that it does not aim to change the EU treaty and that it fully accepts the existing distribution of powers between Europe and the national level. Rather, it is the division of tasks which it argues merits discussion.

London expressed its support to the Dutch initiative. The UK is conducting a “balance of competences review” between Britain and the EU and Prime Minister David Cameron has invited the public to review “competence after competence, area after area”, and express views on “what is right at the European level and what is right at national level”. The exercise ends in the autumn of 2014.

UK Europe Minister David Lidington said in a statement: "We welcome the Dutch government’s subsidiarity review as an important contribution to the debate about the future of Europe. We agree with our Dutch partners on ‘ever closer union’. And we share their goal of creating a European Union that is more modest and more effective – a European Union in which things are done at a European level only when necessary and at the national level whenever possible.”

Lidington said Britain was looking forward to follow up on the Dutch recommendations, “to build a more flexible, competitive and democratic EU, and one in which powers can flow back from the EU to the national level”.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment, the European Commission said it was aware of the Dutch initiative. “We will follow up this democratic debate which takes place in the Dutch parliament and we will decide what conclusions we could draw,” spokesman Frédéric Vincent said.

The Dutch review is similar to a UK government initiative, begun in July 2012, to audit Britain's relations with the European Union.

Foreign secretary William Hague said that British “public disillusionment with the EU is the greatest it has ever been”.

The audit would be about testing the grounds for a “flexible membership” with the EU but not disengaging or withdrawing from the EU, Hague said.

>> Read: UK's Europe 'audit': True debate or eurosceptic vote-winning 'ploy'?

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