Britain Can’t Count on Dutch for Reforms in Europe

When push comes to shove, the Netherlands will always back Germany over the United Kingdom.

British prime minister David Cameron speaks with his Latvian and Dutch counterparts during a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, May 22, 2013
British prime minister David Cameron speaks with his Latvian and Dutch counterparts during a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, May 22, 2013 (Valsts Kanceleja/Thierry Monasse)

British prime minister David Cameron can’t count on his Dutch allies to get reforms in Europe, the Netherlands’ leading conservative weekly said on Sunday.

According to Elsevier magazine, the Netherlands, continental Europe’s fifth largest economy, will always support Germany over the United Kingdom when push comes to shove.

The country’s liberal prime minister, Mark Rutte, shares many of Cameron’s priorities in Europe, from strengthening the single market to returning powers to member states.

After nationalist parties surged in May’s European Parliament elections, both leaders argued that the vote should bring a halt to ever-closer union.

“The European Union cannot just shrug off these results and carry on as before,” Cameron said at the time. “We need an approach that recognizes that Europe should concentrate on what matters, on growth and jobs, and not try to do so much.”

Rutte agreed, saying, “The first thing we have to do is to formulate an answer,” one that “contains fewer rules and less fuss from Europe and focusing Europe on where it can add value to things.”

But Elsevier points out that the Dutch have since given the British scant support when it mattered. They voted to appoint Jean-Claude Juncker, a European federalist, to head the new European Commission, leaving Cameron almost isolated in his opposition to the former Luxembourg premier. The Germans backed Juncker and the Netherlands wouldn’t imperil their relations with what is their most important trading partner.

Most recently, the Dutch, like the British, complained about a rise in their contribution to the European Union budget that resulted from revised gross domestic product figures. But they wouldn’t support the British in actually blocking the increase.

The Netherlands is also unlikely to endorse Cameron’s proposal to limit free labor migration in Europe.

Cameron’s constant defeats make a British exit from the European Union more likely. If he fails to bring about significant changes in Britain’s membership — keeping it out of political integration schemes and reducing European interference in the United Kingdom’s laws and regulations — a referendum, due to take place in 2017, could very well produce a majority in favor of withdrawing from the European Union altogether.

“The fact that the Netherlands keeps saying it wants the United Kingdom to remain a EU member state isn’t worth much,” says Elsevier. It may agree with what Cameron is saying but, unlike him, the country isn’t willing to risk its European Union membership for the sake of accomplishing significant reforms.

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