European where necessary, national where possible

The Netherlands is convinced that the time of an ‘ever closer union’ in every possible policy area is behind us. This was the government's message in a letter on the outcome of the ‘subsidiarity review’, presented to parliament by foreign minister Frans Timmermans today. According to the government, this is an issue which strikes a chord with many people across Europe. With this initiative, the Netherlands aims to initiate a process in the EU, based on the principle: ‘European where necessary, national where possible’.

In its letter, the government identifies a number of areas which it believes can better be left to member states. The list was compiled with input from all government ministries and from stakeholder organisations. First, the list will be discussed with parliament. Then the government will try to gain support for its initiative from the European Commission, European Parliament and other member states.

The government emphasises that it is not aiming at a treaty change. The Netherlands fully accepts the existing distribution of competences. It is the division of tasks that it is aiming to discuss: is everything that the European Union currently does really necessary?

A number of very diverse examples of issues which the Netherlands believes could be left more or less entirely to member states: halting the further harmonisation of social security systems; working conditions, which should only be regulated in broad outline; no EU regulation of media pluralism; flood risk management should only be harmonised at European level for truly transboundary water courses; phase out the EU programmes for school milk and school fruit.

There will continue to be a strong need for European cooperation in many areas, according to the government. These include the financial and economic crisis, energy, climate change, asylum and migration, the completion of the internal market, tackling tax fraud and evasion and cooperation in the field of defence.

The underlying objective of this initiative, which stems from a commitment made in the coalition agreement, is creating a European Union that is a more modest, more sober and at the same time more effective.