The 'reality' of The Hague versus the 'distant sights' of Brussels

The formation of the government in The Hague always runs the risk of cementing domestic navel gazing in the coalition, with no regard for the rest of the world. On November 7th, 1989, the Lubbers III government was formed. The coalition agreement codified compromises made in The Hague. Two days later, the Berlin Wall came down. Communism collapsed, Germany reunited. The Hague was not prepared for anything; the agenda of the House of Representatives was dominated by the prohibition of pit bull terriers. Lubbers completely missed the boat on German reunification, causing him to miss out on a top job in the EU later on. The world was turning in high gear; The Hague was standing still.

A delegation from the House of Representatives recently visited European President Van Rompuy, the author of the so-called 'distant sights' of Brussels. He advocates everything that ends with 'union': a political, monetary, military and banking union. In politics there is no goal; there is only process. Van Rompuy deals with process in which all participants are trapped before they even realise it.

Before the summer, the banking union seemed to be far away. Initially the recapitalisation of ailing banks was to take place through the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), after 'effective and operational banking supervision' had been created. The latter will take years, because the European Central Bank (ECB) lacks the human resources and expertise to supervise 6,000 banks. Last week, during the 26th euro rescue summit, it was decided that recapitalisation is possible from the 1st of January 2013. Effective supervision has not been established, but is instead presupposed: a legal myth. Mediterranean Europe needs fresh money now. The distant sight appears not to be that distant after all.

VVD and PvdA better watch out that they do not step into the same trap as Lubbers back in 1989: a coalition agreement with an expiration time of two days. In the coming years, the entire system of European Treaties will be renegotiated, because of the inherent flaws that came to the surface. For instance, all the Treaty Articles on the euro have been violated. Europe is trapped between three fault lines: a North-South gap, a Euro zone and non-Euro zone gap, and a competition gap with the respect to the rest of the world. There are limits to this muddling through and renegotiation is inevitable. The coalition agreement needs to leave room for a negotiation position in Europe.

The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, kicked off his interview in the Volkskrant by mentioning the word Kompetenzordnung. Schulz, who enjoys barking like a Euro Feldwebel, lashed out at Secretary of State Ben Knapen who said earlier that the European Parliament does not represent the citizen. He is correct, a view, by the way, that is shared by the German Constitutional Court. In its ruling on the Lisbon Treaty the Court stated: the European Parliament is not representative because not every vote carries the same weight. For a German seat one needs 800,000 votes, for a Luxembourg one 80,000.

The European Union does not have Ordnungspolitik. Brussels is leading a bureaucratic process: everything is part of its own competence catalogue which always needs more money and powers. Schulz names four main areas of European policy: international trade, monetary union, migration and the environment. Strangely enough, he forgets the single market, the essence of European integration and its trump card. When Genosse Schulz positions himself as Vordenker, the VVD and PvdA should not lag behind. They have to work on a European reform agenda that suits the Netherlands. What ought to be on such an agenda?

1. Division of competences. The EU should focus on five core tasks: the single market plus the four areas mentioned by Schulz. Foreign policy is in principle a core task, but usually results in a coalition of the willing. By concentrating on those main tasks, other policy areas - social policy, tourism, culture, sports - can stay in the hands of the Member States. The European Working Time Directive or plans for a European minimum wage only cause structural unemployment anyway.

2. A European Senate. National Parliaments should play a greater role in enforcing the division of competences. Representatives from national parliaments could form a European Senate which judges Commission proposals and rejects them if needed. The Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Affairs Committee can be abolished. The European Commission can be shrunk to 12 Commissioners in order to prevent bureaucratic overproduction.

3. Flexibility. The problem of European integration is that Brussels focuses too much on uniform solutions. In the end, European rules and regulations become a straightjacket suffocating everyone. The euro zone needs an exit procedure to facilitate an orderly retreat and - if possible - an orderly re-entry. The myth of an irreversible euro puts unbearable tension on the entire Euro zone. In the area of immigration there has to be a certain bandwidth. Why should it not be possible to let Member States set the minimum age for family reunification themselves, within a certain margin?

The philosophy of European integration as 'an ever closer Union' resulting in a federal entity has failed. Integration is a balancing act between uniformity and diversity. Too much uniformity will shatter the EU. Europe is too diverse for that.

Rather than to cement the past, the new coalition should look ahead at a negotiation position. In Brussels there is no heroism; there is only the battle for interests in the trenches of procedures.