European Union: do better by doing less

7 December 2005

European Union: do better by doing less

After the tidal wave of meddling evident since Maastricht, “Do better by doing less” must henceforth be the guiding principle of European integration. The direction must also change, moving away from the present megalomania and neoliberalism which have forced member states to sell off their public sectors. That means no Services Directive, no Port Services Directive, and no more interference in housing, education and health care. If the government does not bring these elements into a new vision of the European Union, they will again have to answer to the voters at the next election as they did in the referendum.

Tiny KoxSo said SP Senator Tiny Kox on Tuesday at the end of the debate on “the state of the European Union” in the Dutch Parliament's Upper House, the “First Chamber” or Senate. The Senate and government spent the whole day discussing what actions should be taken in the aftermath of the country's rejection of the European Constitution. Foreign Minister Ben Bot recognised, he said, that the citizen must be the “beginning and end” of a new vision of the EU. How precisely to achieve this, the government would be investigating in the coming months. The European Constitution was in any event finished off by the Netherlands' “No”.

Secretary of State for European Affairs Atzo Nicolai gave his guarantee that the Constitution would not be brought back before parliament through the back door, saying that in his opinion the government realised that the citizens did not want to see a European superstate and that public opinion demanded that the Netherlands adopt a more critical and severe attitude when judging proposals which would allow Brussels to run more of the show.

Foreign Minister Bot stated, however, that “in all honesty” the Netherlands' freedom within the EU was limited and that problems would ensure if, after the Dutch “no” to the European Constitution as well as to the proposed Dutch contribution to the multi-annual budget, they were also to reject the EU's plan to establish a “fundamental rights agency”. The Senate has, however, demanded such a rejection, seeing the proposed body as a needless duplication of the existing European Human Rights Office of the Council of Europe. SP Senator Tiny Kox called on his colleagues to stick to their guns over this, as well as over the proposal from the European Union to oblige member states henceforward to maintain a record of all email messages.

Senator Kox also raised the issue with the government of reports that some European countries had allowed the CIA to imprison people within their territory and subject them to torture, in clear contravention of both the Treaty on European Union and the treaties establishing the Council of Europe and the obligations of its members. Such countries, Kox argued, should be subject to heavy sanctions. “Otherwise,” he said, “all the talk about European values and norms will be shown to be empty.”

Minister Bot replied that to date all countries had denied involvement. If this turns out to be inaccurate, measures must be taken, in his opinion, with no regard to questions of why, when, where, how often or how anyone had cooperated in these American practices. Bot said that on Thursday the issue would be discussed in the NATO Council with US Foreign Minister Condoleeza Rice.

Broad agreement across the Senate was established that the debate on the ways and means of European cooperation ought to become a more openly political debate and that more must be done to involve the public in it. The SP's political group in the Senate proposed that henceforward on June 1st every year there should be a moment's pause in memory of the referendum and the 'Citizens' Rebellion' which had stopped the EU's headlong integration in its tracks. “Many politicians saw the Dutch 'no' as a disaster,” they said, “but we see it as a blessing”.

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