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The Netherlands is not an island. In order to achieve our goals we have to cooperate with other countries. Ideally, within the United Nations; in reality within the European Union.
By Sjoerd Sjoerdsma
The individual at the centre. That, in a nutshell, is what D66, as a social-liberal party in the Netherlands, is about. A world in which people are free to think what they want to think, and free to do what they want to do. That is the driving force behind our political thought – also when it comes to our foreign policy. To D66, foreign policy is not just about protecting the interests of sixteen million Dutch people. Instead it serves to create a sustainable, safe and stable world for all, a world in which individuals can be themselves and have every chance to make the most of their lives.
The best way to achieve this is through international cooperation. Demographic and climatic developments are putting this international cooperation to the test. The global financial crisis fosters nationalist feelings. Fossil fuels are becoming depleted, resulting in tensions. Food and water are divided unevenly. D66 believes these are not arguments to cooperate less, but rather more. Ideally, all countries in the world would cooperate on an equal footing and engage in dialogue. Ideally, the United Nations would be the platform for addressing global issues directly. Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet. The platform on which Dutch foreign policy should take shape is the European Union.
For the Netherlands is losing its influence in the world. As a founder of the ECSC, Bretton Woods and others, the Netherlands used to be a major player. But a Dutch seat at the main table of international diplomacy is no longer self-evident. The seat at the G20 was temporary. Countries our size are ranking lower and lower on the new global scale. This is in part self-inflicted. Think of the years of substantial cuts made to spending on diplomacy, development cooperation and defence. It is, of course, also in part due to developments elsewhere in the world.
But it is not only the Netherlands that is losing influence. The European Union is also no longer a self-evident global player. In the year 1900, there were 1.6 billion people living on earth, 25% of whom were Europeans. By the year 2050, there will be 9 billion people on this planet, of whom only 7% will be Europeans. Meanwhile, the Americans have made a tough choice in their defence policy: less Europe. The American military presence in Europe is being reduced as the focus shifts towards Southeast-Asia and the Middle East. Europe will no longer be a top priority.
Since our influence, our having a voice at the table, is becoming less and less self-evident, it is crucial for the European Union to come up with a truly communal foreign policy. The notion of creating such a communal policy is not new. Since the Second World War attempts have been made to set up a joint external policy. In the early 1960s, President De Gaulle tried to found a political union in which the European member states would cooperate not only in the area of defence, but also in foreign policy. De Gaulle’s plans failed initially. But in 1970 his wish came true in the form of the European Political Cooperation. This was the direct predecessor of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
In the last few years the external policy of the EU has been extended further. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty enabled the appointment of a High Representative. She – Representative Ashton – travels the world as the diplomatic voice of Europe. She shares the table with heads of government and has her own diplomatic office, the European External Action Service (EEAS). D66 wants a strong Representative. D66 wants the European Union to take on a leading role in dealing with the big issues. Trade agreements. Climate deals. Civil and military missions. Humanitarian and rescue missions. Disarmament operations. But while we are enthusiastic about the ideal of a strong European foreign policy, we are critical of the way it is currently carried out.
How do D66’s liberal values actually relate to the main values existing within the European Union? All EU member states have indicated in the preamble to the EU Treaty that they feel inspired by the cultural, religious and humanist traditions of Europe. It was these traditions, amongst others, that formed the foundation for the development of the universal values we recognise today. The inviolable and inalienable rights of man. Freedom, democracy, equality. The rule of law. These values are repeated in article 2 of the EU Treaty. Through this Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, all member states have also committed themselves to the abolition of capital punishment.
Thus, under the Treaty, everyone is committed to these principles. At the same time, EU member states regularly clash over their implications. D66 sees a number of areas in which the EU can conduct a joint external policy without much of a problem. Think of customs tariffs and product standards in major trade agreements. Think of environmental and transport agreements. But then we come to our development cooperation policy. D66 thinks parts of it could fall under a joint external policy, but that there may be disagreement. Aid funds, after all, are linked to good behaviour. And member states as well as the European Commission often disagree about what constitutes ‘good behaviour’. And then we haven’t even mentioned peace and security, the issues on which we diverge most. How can we conduct one EU policy in those fields? What if we had European armed forces – when could we then deploy them with a mandate from all member states?
The question is: what does an integral European foreign policy mean for Dutch foreign policy? Can the Netherlands still set its own priorities and take action on an individual basis? What happens when European agreements clash with Dutch aspirations? What happens if the Netherlands wants to consistently defend gay rights, while there is no European consensus on this issue? In which areas is the Netherlands willing to, in time, give up its independent voice, and how can we, at the same time, hold on to our unique position as a trailblazer when it comes to issues like the rights of women and gays, or our acclaimed 3D policy?
And there are many more important questions like these. How do we strengthen EU institutions like the EEAS so that they are effective, efficient and able to act decisively, and how do we shape our own diplomatic service in the meantime? How do we acquire a joint EU seat in the UN and financial organisations while guaranteeing that these organisations will be thoroughly reformed? How to we create a common EU policy that is not only conveyed externally, but also internally, within the Union? These questions show that the Netherlands should think more strategically about the role of the European Union in national foreign policy. D66 will gladly take the lead in this.
is a Member of Dutch Parliament for D66. His main interests are foreign affairs, international relations and development.
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Dit artikel verscheen in idee nr. 6 2013: Crossing European borders
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