What does the governing centre-right actually want from Europe?

19 November 2013

What does the governing centre-right actually want from Europe?

Although Mark Verheijen of the governing centre-right VVD has apologised, he was of course correct when he said that Europhiles such as Guy Verhofstadt, who heads his party’s political group in the European Parliament, and EP President Martin Schultz, represent a major menace to continued support for Europe. But what about the Eurosceptics in his own party? Are they sincere or only thinking of the forthcoming European elections?

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP

Verheijen Letter of Apology

Harry van Bommel'Hardened Europhiles’ like Guy Verhofstadt, president of the centre-right ALDE political group in the European Parliament and president of the EP, are more dangerous to European cooperation than is a Eurosceptic such as Marine Le Pen. This is what Mark Verheijen, MP for the centre-right governing party the VVD, asserted last week. Although he gave his apologies for the comparison, he stands by the analysis underlying his remark. ‘Constantly talking about more Europe, about a federal Europe in which the member states lose their identity, is bad for support for Europe,’ as he says in his letter of apology. With these words he opened, at a well-chosen moment, the discussion around the question of who is politically responsible for the growing aversion to the EU.

Question of guilt

It seems logical that Verheijen should look for the guilty parties primarily within the European political establishment. It is from that neck of the woods, after all, that proposals for an ever more far-reaching transfer of sovereignty come, despite the lack of support amongst the public. Federalists such as Verhofstadt and Schultz don’t appear to be interested in this, and they go on happily constructing, to an ever greater extent, their longed-for federal Europe. In Verheijen’s declaration it’s clear that he blames these outspoken federalists, and above all their 'constant talk’ about a federal Europe. Yet it’s primarily the real, actual steps which are being taken in the form of budgetary contracts with member states which should provoke our concerns. Unfortunately, about these Verheijen has nothing to say.

The VVD and its supposed Euroscepticism

The VVD is trying in the Netherlands to adopt a Eurosceptic pose, but in Brussels always obediently bends the knee. At the last European elections it’s lead candidate, Hans van Baalen, swore that in the coming years no country would be allowed to join the EU, but this year the VVD gave the green light to Croatia. Now the VVD advocates the halving of the European Commission and wants to see a new European treaty, but postpones discussion of this until after the elections. Meanwhile the budgetary contracts with the member states have been put in place, with the Dutch government, a coalition of VVD and Labour, swallowing its original objections to these contracts. In my view the false Euroscepticism of the VVD is a bigger source of mistrust amongst the voters than are the federal daydreams of Verhofstadt and Schultz, who are at least honest about their ambitions for Europe. Prime Minister Mark Rutte also fuel this mistrust on the part of the electorate of the Dutch line in Europe when he says he will resist the far-reaching transfer of powers yet allows control by EU institutions over national policy to grow explosively. The VVD wants to maintain its freedom to determine policy on health care, education, the labour market and pensions but ‘super-commissioner’ Olli must of course be able to force the ‘necessary reforms’ in these areas, if needs be on pain of punitive fines. The Euroscepticism of the VVD is thus above all for domestic consumption and is primarily served up in the runup to elections.

Anger in the crisis countries

In crisis-hit countries people knew immediately what the Brussels-imposed limitations on their governments’ freedom to choose their own policies would mean for a state or a national parliament. There, the anger was directed less against Europhiles such as Verhofstadt and more against the Troika and heads of government such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This was due to the lack of responsible people’s representatives to whom they might have spoken directly. The rejection of Europe by the broad public is the result, and so parties like our own PVV and France’s Front National flourish effortlessly.


Despite a flirtation with the rhetoric of British Prime Minister David Cameron, there is no question of any real effort towards the repatriation of authority to the national parliaments. Otherwise, the VVD and its allies in the ALDE group would indeed, just as we do, fight for the right to reject the negotiating agreement between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. In addition, limiting the number of European Commissioners is merely cosmetic if at the same time the power of these bureaucrats is not reduced. Yet the VVD wants to give more power to European Commissioners selected in back rooms, such as Olli Rehn. What will remain if the VVD has its way is a more powerful Europe without democratic guarantees or political choices being made clearer or more answerable to the electorate. In this way this false Euroscepticism comes down above all to a defence of the status quo - and the declining support can take care of itself.

This opinion piece first appeared, in the original Dutch, on the website Joop.nl

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