Netherlands “Obstructive” in Europe, Rutte “Impotent”

European officials criticize the “obstructive” role Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte plays.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands arrives for a European Council summit in Brussels, March 1 (The Council of the European Union)
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands arrives for a European Council summit in Brussels, March 1 (The Council of the European Union)

The Netherlands is seen as an increasingly obstructive European Union member state while Prime Minister Mark Rutte is “scared” of his own parliament, diplomats told the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant for an article that was published on Saturday.

The officials all spoke with the paper anonymously but vehemently criticized Mark Rutte in particular for the “pernicious” role he is supposed to play in European Council summits.

Rutte doesn’t want a constitutional debate. He’s simply put a cross behind the words ‘solidarity’ and ‘sovereignty.’ Then you’re done talking in Brussels because that’s what it’s all about.

Whether it’s the Netherlands’ reluctance to finance European bailout funds, its opposition to raising the European Commission’s budget or allowing Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen Area customs union, other nations are frustrated with its intransigence and rising Euroskepticism.

Said one ambassador, “Rutte seems an impotent and scared premier. Time and again, he bleats during EU summits, ‘I cannot go against the wishes of my parliament.’ Other leaders get the impression that he’s Wilders’ puppet.”

Until April of this year, Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party backed Rutte’s coalition of Christian Democrats and liberals in parliament. Wilders is a staunch opponent of deeper European integration. Indeed, he advocates a Dutch exit from the European Union altogether in his election platform for September.

For all the criticism that European diplomats levied at them, it does not appear that Dutch influence has suddenly waned due to either Wilders or Rutte. Previous Dutch governments were also opposed to Bulgaria and Romania entering the customs union until they tackled corruption and improved border controls. The European Commission has since come around to the Dutch position.

The executive similarly embraced a Dutch proposal to enhance the powers of economic and monetary affairs commissioner Ollie Rehn to penalize eurozone countries that break the currency union’s debt and deficit rules — over strong French resistance.

Public sentiment in the Netherlands is turning against the European project. The two most Euroskeptic parties could gain up to a third of the seats in the new parliament, according to recent polls. Rutte’s own liberal party, which will likely remain in government, is struggling to convince right-wing voters that it, too, is reluctant to bail out weaker euro states. European mandarins denouncing their party leader as “obstructive” probably won’t hurt his popularity at home.