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.