Brussels better than Balkenende? No way!

28 April 2009

Brussels better than Balkenende? No way!

Why is the SP so critical of the EU when the Dutch government is even more neoliberal? This question was put to me in response to the splitting of the country's energy utilities. This policy decision was made possible by Brussels, but not obligatory. On every occasion it seems that in Europe the Netherlands leads the way on privatisation and liberalisation of social provisions and essential services.

by Jasper van Dijk

Jasper van DijkSo it's true that the Netherlands sometimes goes further with its neoliberal policies than Brussels finds necessary. A party such as the Green Left offers just this as the reason why it wants 'more Europe', as this will mean that the government in The Hague, and Premier Jan-Peter Balkenende, could be pulled to the left. This is, in various ways, opportunistic and dangerous reasoning.

First of all it evades the question as to the level at which you want to regulate matters. For the SP it is axiomatic that public provisions such as health care, education and energy should be managed by recognisable authorities. Transfer these to Brussels, and the Dutch people will to a large extent lose any voice in their management. The EU now comprises 500 million people, compared to the Netherlands' 17 million. Public provisions have, moreover, grown out of traditions which differ from country to country. Our health care and education systems differ enormously from those elsewhere. It is irresponsible to treat these things as if they could be imposed in a uniform fashion from Brussels.

Secondly, it is rather opportunistic to transfer a matter to Brussels because you don't think your own government is doing a good job. The fact that our government wants to split the energy utilities or allow market principles into health care is no reason to want Brussels to undo this. Bad government policies should be combated in our own national parliament. Look to Brussels to resist them, and you take the risk that in the future the EU will nevertheless hand health care to the market. But then it will be too late, as you will have lost any say in the matter. .

Lastly, Brussels has in any case never once put so much as the slightest obstacle in the way when it comes to selling off public provisions. The free market is, after all, a fundamental principle of the European Union. If a country takes a lead in this, it's more likely to receive encouragement than it is to meet resistance. So don't expect Brussels to stop Balkenende.

You are here