Reform the EU from within, not from the sideline
‘European countries need economic growth, more jobs and a strong EU that protects them in times of change. And that means reforming the Union. But change needs to come from within, not from the sideline. We will make it as difficult as possible to let the British leave the room. It’s an illusion to think you can leave the EU yet still be part of an increasingly stronger internal market.’
This was the message conveyed today by foreign minister Frans Timmermans at an event staged in London by Policy Network on how to tackle the euro crisis and on the United Kingdom’s position within the European Union.
‘There are two things we have to do,’ said Mr Timmermans, ‘strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union and boost democratic legitimacy. Without the backing of the European people, the European project has no future. On this point, the Netherlands agrees entirely with the UK.’
‘However, the EU has more than just a simple choice between two extremes: an ever closer union or a never closer union, as the British position seems to suggest. The EU is characterised by the diversity of its member states. That has always been the case and will continue to be so. The real question is how we can modernise the EU for us all. We need to reduce costs and encourage greater democracy, while preserving the stability and prosperity we’ve achieved.’
In the Netherlands’ view, this includes more efficient European institutions, greater transparency in decision-making, a stronger role for national parliaments and a fresh look at what the EU should be doing and what should be left to individual countries. ‘The Netherlands shares the UK’s desire to review these competences,’ said Mr Timmermans. ‘But that’s something you need to do together with other countries and with the European Commission. Changing the competences of the EU and its member states must surely be possible within the existing treaties.’
Taking part in the Policy Network debate were EU President Herman Van Rompuy and EU Commissioner Olli Rehn, as well as a dozen or so international experts from the business community and think-tanks.