European cooperation is a must – but it must be the right kind

22 April 2008

European cooperation is a must – but it must be the right kind

European cooperation is a must – but it must be the right kind of cooperation. The government should stand with its citizens, not against them, as is the case in the Netherlands. This was the message that SP Senator Paul Peters brought to the government in the Senate today. Labour Party Secretary of State for Europe Frans Timmermans wasn't all that pleased with this, accusing the SP of spreading "conspiracy theories".

Paul PetersPaul Peters, former professor of teratology – the branch of medicine which deals with congenital abnormalities – called the way in which the European Union was put together in the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht an example of just that. "The European Union is the result of an entanglement between major European corporations and politics. Money, rather than people, are central to it. The citizens of the member states don't come into it." The rejection some years later of the European Constitution by two-thirds of the Dutch electorate can be explained by this congenital defect of the European Union, said Peters, whose contribution to the debate was also his maiden speech in the Senate.

That Frans Timmermans, PvdA (Labour Party) Secretary of State for European Affairs, in his speech following that of Senator Peters, concentrated all of his fire on the latter, was something from which Peters took a great deal of pleasure. "I understand that the Secretary of State has his problems with our version of things," Peters said. "If we're talking about European cooperation, most Labour supporters would, after all, be more at home in the SP."

Timmermans accused the SP of spreading 'conspiracy theories' and sowing the seeds of doubt and anxiety amongst the citizens when it came to European cooperation. Peters reminded him, politely, that he had not so long ago called the SP's proposals regarding Europe "one of the most interesting reactions to the Dutch 'no' of 2005."

Senator Peters went on to quote Secretary Timmermans' own weblog:

‘The SP makes a large number of points as to what is not good in Europe. Many of these points are worth closer examination. Above all the relatively much too great role played by the market side of the social market economy in European cooperation is persuasively mapped out. It is of course not coincidental that much of the SP critique is shared by the Dutch government: Europe is performing below par and for the European citizen it falls short of being a recognisable authority and one which he or she can influence.’

Timmermans no longer wants to know about such things. The Secretary of State grumbled about the SP and delivered a eulogy to the European Union since Maastricht. He declared that our present state of prosperity would not exist without the European Union. Peters pointed out that Norway, Switzerland and Iceland did not belong to the EU, "yet are on average as countries richer than the EU and their inhabitants on average happier". Senator Peters predicted that the European Reform Treaty (the Lisbon Treaty), the successor to the rejected European Constitution, would bring a large number of new problems if it were ratified in all EU member states and did not, for example, fall in the forthcoming Irish referendum. Peters emphasised that the SP would continue to make efforts, also within the new European framework, to make Europe more for the citizens and less for corporations. "In this we are not counting on the magical devices which the government sees in the Reform Treaty, such as the subsidiary test, the yellow card procedure, the citizens' initiative, the rigging up of the European interparliamentary conference or a metamorphosis of the European Parliament. We count much more on what showed itself in 2005 and is now increasingly present: the concerned public who, where possible, will try to make it clear to government and parliament why Europe must be made much more a social Europe, rather than one which is ever more liberalised. Every opinion poll shows that the citizens are as things stand increasingly more in agreement with us on this than with the government - and we will in the coming months and years be trying to maintain and build on this.’

Peters regretted that the government had not listened more closely to the public and made efforts to win a better treaty. "My political group considers that the government, if they are so persuaded that the Lisbon Reform Treaty represents a good response to the citizens' 'no' vote, should have been able to go into a second referendum with confidence. Yet it is now anxiety about the people which provides the reason for excluding the people from the game. It's not something which fills a person with joy."

Senator Peters demanded also that more attention be paid to the financial needs of that other European cooperation organisation, the Council of Europe. That organisation, of which every European country is a member, was principally directed at enhancing democracy, the extension of the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Europe. Its organs, such as the European Court of Human Rights, the European Human Rights Commission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), deserved more support, Peters argued. A motion brought forward by the SP and Christian Democrats (CDA), will almost certainly in two weeks' time win the support of a unanimous Senate, and Foreign Minister Verhagen has promised to carry out the motion's proposals, despite resistance to enhanced funding which, the minister says, is evident in other countries.

Senator Peters urged an improvement in relations between the European Union and Russia and more active efforts by the EU in the Middle East. When the Foreign Minister said that Israel had been forced to "defend itself for sixty years", Peters noted the forty-year occupation of the Palestinian areas. "If it's demanded of the Palestinians that they recognise Israel and stop using violence, then Israel must also recognise the Palestinian state and end the occupation, with all its violence." Peters hoped that the EU would put more pressure on Israel.

To close, Peters put the argument for a less colonial attitude from the EU in relation to the former colonies of European countries. He said that it was a good thing that these countries would have better access to the European market but inegalitarian that the EU was demanding in exchange virtually the complete opening of their domestic markets. "Trade treaties, whether multilateral, regional or bilateral, must recognise that developing countries need special treatment in order to be able to protect their markets and their workers against, amongst other things, subsidised products from, and dumping by, the West," he said. "In addition bilateral and regional trade treaties must exclude essential services such as education and health care from compulsory liberalisation and governments in developing countries must themselves have the right to tax overseas investors in order to raise state revenues. Moreover, sufficient time must be taken during the negotiation of new trade treaties, without tariff rates being fixed in advance, so that developing countries' governments and local populations can follow them."

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