Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. I asked him why European foreign policy is so 'naive', like the misplaced courtship with Libyan leader Gaddafi and deposed Egyptian President Morsi. Van Rompuy reacted irritably and praised soft power: being nice, starting up dialogue and financing under certain conditions. This approach runs upon its limits in the Ukrainian crisis. The Kremlin only knows hard power.
The difference between the EU and Russia is that the first can make vague, often unattainable promises such as EU membership, while the second has instant, tangible coercive measures. Ukraine has to (re)pay 24 billion euro of loans and unpaid gas bills to Russia this year. Ukraine is on the verge of bankruptcy. According to Dutch Minister Timmermans it will take at least another 30 years before Ukraine joins the EU. Ukrainian EU membership in 2044 versus Putin who has the fate of the Ukrainian economy in his hands: who is the strongest?
A bankruptcy of Ukraine returns to roost in the face of the EU; who will need to pay the 35 billion euro to keep the country on its feet? The EU is struggling with low growth and high unemployment. Citizens need to tighten their belts and are not keen on financing Ukraine - a sort of Great Greece. European leaders are calling for help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that only comes up with loans under strict conditions. These will lead to a deeper recession at the expense of heavy industry and mining in the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine. This reinforces the divergent forces in the country.
Last year I was invited to a dinner with Roger Bootle. He was presented to me as a 'respected voice' in British financial circles. I was looking forward to it. During the meal, Bootle held a fanatical plea for British withdrawal from the EU. I confronted him with counter-arguments, such as the impact on British exports to the EU. Bootle got irritated and became increasingly angry. The dinner turned unpleasant and I left early, which rarely happens, so as to avoid a fight.
Roger Bootle is managing director of Capital Economics, which published a report on the Netherlands and the EU. In the same way as Bootle wants a British withdrawal (Brexit), he advises the PVV to pursue a Dutch exit from the EU, the so-called NEXIT. Instead of sounding like a 'respected voice', Bootle actually sounds like chief economist for the UK Independence Party UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, which preaches Brexit. The recipe is more drastic for the Netherlands than for Britain. By exiting, the Netherlands would not only leave the single market, but also the Eurozone and the Schengen zone for free movement of people.
According to Bootle there would be some 'transitional problems', but the Netherlands would then have more advantages than disadvantages from 2035 on. Britain and The Netherlands wouldn't pay any more money to the EU budget, abolish unnecessary EU legislation, conduct their own immigration policy, re-introduce the Dutch guilder, and the EU would offer both countries a favourable trade agreement. The Netherlands would then turn into a Switzerland at the North Sea.