Back to School: SP will join official voices in giving lessons on Europe

19 December 2007

Back to School: SP will join official voices in giving lessons on Europe

Dutch officials who work for the EU will be going back to their old high schools on 14th April next year to speak to classes, according to a government announcement issued today. Because there's a great deal to be said in response to the government's view of this European Union, the SP would like to join in. "MPs, Senators and other elected representatives, members of the party's internally elected executive, and policy advisers will be available on 14th April 2008 to round out the story of the EU," said Harry van Bommel, SP spokesman on European affairs, in parliament today. The occasion was the annual debate held in the Dutch national parliament on the "state of the European Union."

The highlights of Harry van Bommel's contribution to the debate:

Harry van BommelAfter the cabinet's hundred day tour, the government is once more reaching out to the citizen – now with the European Union on offer. The Secretary of State has already appeared on TV to give a foretaste, with slogans such as 'Europe is there – it's not going away', or 'Europe, just get into the habit'. The SP is left wondering if this communication strategy, where the European Union is presented as a sort of chronic illness which the patient has to learn to live with, is going to awaken a positive Europe-feeling. In the name of heaven, which advertising bureau did the government go to? Was it, as one might suspect, the same bureau which led the government to defeat in the referendum in 2005?

René Cuperus, from the Labour Party's Wiardi Beckman Foundation, described this touchingly in the press the following day: "One minute you're cheating people out of a referendum,” he wrote in De Volkskrant, “the next you're calling, as it can no longer do any harm, for a new debate on Europe. That is at the very least a question of poor timing.”

Of course it must be explained to the citizen what Europe and the new treaty are about. But because the Cabinet first of all comes along like a thief in the night and steals one of the citizen's rights, the right of initiative, this debate circus if of course so much cheek. Why not simply limit yourself to giving information? Undoubtedly that would also save a great deal of money.

The government has announced that Dutch officials who work for the EU will be giving classes at their old high schools on 14th April next year. Because there's a great deal to be said in response to the government's view of this European Union, the SP will be doing the same. MPs, Senators and other elected representatives, members of the party's internally elected executive, and policy advisers will be available on 14th April 2008 to round out the story of the EU that the government will be spreading. We're taking bookings from now, and it's free of charge. So I'm telling the Secretary of State, then, that, 'The SP is there and it's not going away!' That's not a threat, it's a promise.'

A referendum campaign would have allowed both sides, for and against the new treaty, to be discussed, whereas now it's more a question of whether the critical voices will also be given a chance. Certainly not if sceptics have to wait for money from the European funds. It was only after long badgering that express opponents of the new EU treaty received € 40.000 out of the € 2,5 million available.

The SP has grave doubts about the sincerity with which the government is going about restoring the confidence in European cooperation felt by the majority of the population. As things have unfolded in relation to the reform treaty, European cooperation seems to be more than anything based on European government leaders' iack of trust in their own people. The French President Sarkozy said recently, for instance, "There is a gulf between citizens and governments. A referendum now would put Europe in danger. There would be no treaty if we were to hold a referendum in France, which would then be followed by a referendum in the United Kingdom.’

The referendum on the European Constitution did not lead to the citizen having more understanding of Europe, the Cabinet says. But is that lack of knowledge of Europe a result of too little information or is this existing Europe simply incomprehensible? Who understands, for instance, how it can possibly be that for the thirteenth time in succession the European Court of Auditors has been unable to approve the EU accounts?

It is also incomprehensible that money is pumped around in the way that it is, that it has become an additional subsidy office for local government. Local authorities and the North Brabant Provincial authority are attempting to winkle large sums of money out of the EU to upgrade the areas around railway tracks. Europe is paying part of the cost of the magical transformation of a street here in The Hague into a sort of culinary avenue with countless restaurants. The EU is also financing part of the cost of promoting the Canary Islands as a holiday destination. What is this nonsense? The EU should be spending this money in the poorer countries among the new member states in order to set in motion a real process of development. This would have an immediate benefit in stemming the movement of populations from the eastern European member states to countries such as the Netherlands.

Europe is and remains above all one single market – perhaps not a superstate, but certainly a supermarket. The EU has also really been pushing this. The Swedish authorities want to limit the sale of alcohol but are being frustrated by Europe's market rules. Five European countries see support for public broadcasting as being in the public interest, but this is also ruled out by Europe, because it is state aid/ The Netherlands wants to take action against gambling addiction by limiting casinos. Europe says 'no' because it goes against competition rules. The EU is becoming to a very large degree the enemy of national policy makers who want to take a stand for legitimate public interests.

The SP is curious to know whether the EU is willing to learn from the past. Ben Bot, former Minister of Foreign Affairs is certainly willing to do so. He was right to observe this month that "There was a great deal of disquiet over enlargement – rightly so, in my view, because we expanded far too quickly. We were willing to overlook far too much when it came to these new countries – four or five of them were certainly not ready for accession." Does the government share this view? The SP parliamentary group, in any case, most certainly does.

One of the consequences of enlargement is that member states such as the Netherlands have major problems in relation to the arrival of workers from eastern Europe. Another result of rapid enlargement is that we have a Union of countries which differ hugely from each other in standards and values while the Dutch citizen expects that EU membership will mean a certain minimal similarity will exist in relation to these. With the renouncement of vetoes, the cabinet is expressing its confidence that this is indeed the case. The SP does not have any such confidence, would qualify the picture of the EU as a community of values, and warns of the risks involved in this.

We are also obliged to trust the judicial verdicts of our EU partners when they make use of the European arrest warrant, which forces the Netherlands to extradite people. Yet even a country such as France clearly operates according to standards other than those to which we are accustomed. So a lorry driver, Klaas-Jan Bolt, who was arrested on the basis of a European arrest warrant, has been held on remand for two and a half years without having been brought before a judge. In France, this can last, indeed, for five years. If the differences in the judicial area are so great, we should not be limiting our own policy space by renouncing our veto rights.

We are also concerned about further plans for a European officer of justice, a European surveillance order, but also plans for the EU to have its own police units in order, for example, to tackle violence amongst football fans. What standards will the Dutch citizen soon be encountering here?

A European Foreign Policy?
The EU wants to offer Africa official help to combat poverty but is attempting via trade agreements to break open African markets to its products. The result will be that the African market will be destroyed by competition. In addition, EU plans in relation to labour migration are designed to serve its own labour market, with no thought to the brain drain which burdens Africa. Figures from 2000 already showed that in the case of many African countries the majority of doctors trained there worked in the west. This gives us the gravest suspicions regarding the present situation, let alone the effects which will ensue should the EU also begin to get involved in competition with other countries.

As far as foreign policy goes, the EU has big ambitions for the coming, as agreed in the new treaty,of a High Representative for European Foreign and Security Policy, with his or her own diplomatic service. We saw also last month the appointment of the first EU ambassador, while the European Commission came out with its proposal for EU stickers in passports. But as at the time of the Iraq war and now in relation to the future of Kosovo, when it comes to foreign policy the EU is deeply divided. Ambitions to arrive at a common policy in this area would be better put in the refrigerator, or better still, consigned to the freezer.

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