Dennis de Jong and Harry van Bommel on the Lisbon Treaty

2 April 2010

Dennis de Jong and Harry van Bommel on the Lisbon Treaty

On Tuesday 30th March national daily NRC Next carried an interview with SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong on the coming into force of the of the Lisbon Treaty. In the interview Dennis de Jong expresses the view that the SP should deal in a pragmatic fashion with the treaty and the possibilities it might offer for a more social Europe. Harry van Bommel also gives his views on the treaty's coming into force and what it means for the SP.

Dennis de Jong SP says 'yes' more often to the EU

Euro-MP Dennis de Jong is announcing a change of course. The Socialist Party has often said 'no' to Europe. Those days are gone. The party sees some positive points in the Lisbon Treaty and is approaching it constructively.

The SP and Europe: that was always no. No to the European Constitution. No to its successor, the Lisbon Treaty. But the Socialist Party has decided on a 'change of course', says Euro-MP Dennis de Jong. In the future he might on occasion say yes. And he's happy with that.

What's changed?

"In the campaign for the European elections last year we stressed Brussels' interfering ways, the way it wastes money, and the EU's neoliberal character. That seemed rather negative to a lot of people. That's understandable, and in the past we led the no campaign against the European Constitution. But now a new situation has arisen. The Lisbon Treaty is in force.”

According to the new treaty's supporters – and the treaty has been in force since the end of last year – it has made the European Union more democratic and better able to take decisions. The European Parliament, for example, has more power. According to its opponents, which include the SP, Lisbon changes little of the European Constitution which a majority of Dutch voters rejected. "But there's also some really good things in it," says Dennis de Jong. And he wants to make use of these.

Such as?

"It's easier now for Europe to do something about workers' social rights. If proposals are made for a European minimum wage – a percentage of each country's gross national product which would be used to establish such a minimum wage – I'd find that a good thing."

That does sound, to be honest, quite logical

"Yes, but I had to explain it within the party. After twenty years of neoliberal policies we're not inclined to see that anything good can also come out of Europe. There's a great deal of mistrust of Brussels in the Netherlands. let's be honest. The PVV (far right party which is extremely 'anti-European) didn't win five seats for nothing.”

But the PVV's Euro-MPs are 'a bit pathetic', De Jong says. All they can do is say no, so they're never a serious proposition for other parties when it comes to discussion, he thinks. "But I like to talk," he says. De Jong is keen to be ‘rapporteur’ on plans for a European criminal law code. This means that he would have to construct a majority in the European Parliament.

In the past the SP has always been against just about any European cooperation in the area of policing and justice, something which has also been made somewhat easier by the Lisbon Treaty. "A Dutch police officer could call a colleague in another country, and as far as we were concerned that's as far as it went," says De Jong. A European criminal code still goes much too far. But from now on the SP is determined to be pragmatic, and not against everything in principle. "We can do our best to work on common characterisations of cross-border offences. A lot of that is after all already laid down in international treaties." And cooperation in the fight against transnational crime he's fully in favour of. "I'm thinking about trafficking in people, people-smuggling, illegal employment.”

So good things come out of Brussels as well as bad.

That sounds like the Labour Party. "We can work with the Labour Party too."

During the campaign you often stood in direct opposition to Labour MEP Thijs Berman with his nuanced 'on the one hand, on the other hand' tale.

"Yes, but Thijs Berman also had rather a strange thing to say: everyone was welcome in the Labour Party, whether you were for Brussels or against. I can explain very well why we are saying what we are saying. During the campaign there was still a chance that the Lisbon Treaty would be thrown out. But the treaty's in place now and it isn't going to go away. It would be hard to demand a referendum calling for its repeal. So we'll try to make the best of it”

Next time it will be harder for you to conduct a campaign

"Certainly, I'm aware of that. But we've still got four years to go to the next European elections. If social rights for workers are established in those years, that would be great, I could come out in favour of that. It could also be that we'll see more things thrown to the market. Then I won't have anything nice to say. But I do hope that I'll have something positive to tell people."

"Less Brussels" becomes "less market"

European affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel of the SP's national parliamentary group finds the words 'change of course' overstated as a description of the Socialist Party's new standpoint on Europe. Harry van Bommel: "I'd call it a step in the development of the party. We accept that the Lisbon Treaty is a reality and move on. 'Lisbon' changes Europe. If Europe adds something, then we'll welcome that, but we'll also often remain critical.”

In the last European campaign the SP was still arguing for 'less Europe'. "If we have to sum it up in a single sentence, that would become now 'less market from Brussels," says Van Bommel.

The original article in Dutch was written by Jeroen van der Kris and appeared on 30th March in NRC Next.

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