Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the European Parliament
Mr President, Martin,
ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to address you today, as prime minister of the country that
for the next six months has the privilege of holding the Presidency of the EU
Council. It's a fine tradition that each new Presidency outlines its plans
before the Parliament. But it's also entirely logical - because the European
Parliament is where all the lines of the EU converge. So we'll be working
together closely over the next few months. The Dutch Presidency looks forward to
this opportunity, I can assure you. Together with you, we will work hard to
achieve as much as possible for the people of Europe.
How we see the EU depends in part on when and where we were born. I was born in 1967 and, living in The Hague, my family's conversation at the dinner table often revolved around politics and society. Including the latest developments in European cooperation. Like the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 - a discussion I still remember very clearly. I was only twelve, so I couldn't vote yet. But I felt it was a big deal. After all, for my parents' generation, European cooperation was linked directly to history. For that generation, above all, it meant 'nie wieder Krieg' - no more war.
For younger generations, Europe doesn't carry the same emotional charge. If at all. The reality is that many people are slowly but surely growing sceptical about the EU. The way they see it, the EU interferes in their lives for no good reason, while achieving very few real results. Its benefits seem far removed from everyday life. At the same time - rightly or wrongly - the irritation people feel about rules made in 'Brussels' is never far away. There's only one way for you and me to counteract this: we need to achieve concrete results and make sure they are visible. And we need to stick to areas where the EU can achieve more than member states can by themselves. In short, Europe must be relevant to people's daily lives. And over the next few months, the Netherlands wants to help make that happen.
It's clear that the Netherlands is taking over the Presidency of the EU in difficult times. We're seeing a massive influx of refugees, fleeing a bloody conflict that's happening all too close by. The situation on our eastern border is also complex and fragile, and the EU's relations with Russia are troubled. The barbaric attacks in Paris have shown once again that we cannot take our free and democratic way of life for granted. And all this is going on while Europe is recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Second World War. Far too many people are still unemployed. None of these problems can be solved by a single country acting alone. The countries of Europe share a big responsibility.
Against this backdrop, the Netherlands has been preparing intensively for the Council Presidency. Two months ago, for example, I welcomed a delegation from this Parliament at the Hall of Knights in The Hague's Binnenhof, at the heart of our parliamentary democracy. It was a successful, productive visit, and we addressed a number of pressing issues. But there was also a historical symbolism to the occasion. Because the Hall of Knights played a special role in the early history of European cooperation.
In 1948, it was the venue of the Congress of Europe, which would go down in history as the dawn of the European Community. The Congress was attended by 750 delegates from 26 European countries. Politicians and academics, artists and journalists, philosophers and business leaders. They included great Europeans whom we remember to this day. From Konrad Adenauer and Jean Monnet to Altiero Spinelli and Paul-Henri Spaak. The event's honorary chairman was Winston Churchill, who spoke passionately about the importance of cooperation based on common values, common economic interests and common security needs. Three pillars that have lost none of their relevance.
The Congress in The Hague laid the foundations for the Council of Europe, the
European Coal and Steel Community and the Treaty of Rome. It even discussed -
only three years after the end of the Second World War - the idea of a monetary
union, a single market without borders and a representative assembly. It was a
conference full of lofty ideals and grand institutional visions. And in the
decades that followed, those ideals and visions would slowly but surely take
One of the Dutch delegates was foreign minister Dirk Stikker. Fifty years ago, when he published his memoirs, Stikker looked back at the early days of European cooperation, which he called 'an age-old dream'. He wrote, 'It has been attempted by conquerors, pondered by philosophers, sought by scholars, and sabotaged as well as extolled by politicians - often at the same time. It is not a simple thing, to be accomplished with a bit of good will and the stroke of a pen.'
This is the tradition in which we stand today. 'Europe' is a large, complex, shared project that can only move forward one step at a time. I don't believe that anyone in those early years could have imagined quite how complex the project would be at times - both technically and politically. But the founders might also have been pleasantly surprised at many of the things the member states have jointly achieved over the years. Our free and open democratic systems. The unprecedented prosperity and welfare enjoyed by Europeans today. The power of our single market. We can be proud of these achievements, but we must be vigilant, too. Because they need to be maintained.
This is the tradition in which we will fulfil our duties as Presidency holder. The tradition of cooperation that transcends what countries can achieve alone. The tradition of working, step by step, towards a goal. We must be committed and determined, but also pragmatic and realistic. That's the approach we want.
And I promise you that we'll put our long Dutch experience of coalition-building and consultation to full use. There's plenty for us to build upon. Take the political priorities of the European Commission. Or the strategic agenda of the European Council. And let's not forget the calculation made by this parliament: that we're missing out on up to 1.25 trillion euros a year by not making full use of the single market - for example in the digital domain. In short, Europe doesn't need new lofty ideals or grand visions. It needs results. It needs to deliver. And for that, we first need to follow up on what we've agreed. Keeping promises and sticking to agreements should be the new normal in Europe. A deal is a deal. That's a key principle for the Dutch Presidency.
Of course, I say that partly in the light of the most urgent issue we face at the moment: the continual flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries. It's crucial that the agreements we made with Turkey late last year are carried out fast, to relieve the pressure on our external borders. It's crucial to offer refugees a humanitarian alternative to risking their lives at sea in flimsy boats. We need safe reception in the region. It's also crucial that we get Europe's borders under control, especially in Greece. And that the 'hotspots' we've agreed are put in place. The current numbers aren't sustainable. They need to be sharply reduced. And it's crucial to get the registration of refugees sorted out as soon as possible, as agreed, so that every member state can play its part. We're all in this together, and we've got a lot of balls in the air at once. It's precisely at difficult times like this that we need that shared sense of responsibility. TLet me be clear: the current numbers aren't sustainable. We are running out of time. We need a They need to be sharply reducedsharp reduction in the coming six to eight weeks.
So it is both logical and necessary that we devote a lot of our time and energy to the refugee crisis in the months ahead. That is a priority, and the Netherlands Presidency will give it as much focus as possible. At the same time, I'd like to commend the European Parliament on its study of 'The Cost of Non-Europe', which I mentioned a moment ago. Because however pressing many issues are, we cannot lose sight of our long-term goals in areas like innovation, economic growth and job creation. We're putting the economic crisis behind us, and the European economy is picking up again. But one in ten adult Europeans is still out of work, and that is simply too many. And for young people it's very hard to get a foot in the labour-market door. So it's good to see the European Parliament mapping ways of getting more people in work.
A key goal of the Dutch Presidency is to move forward with all existing initiatives, plans and projects aimed at innovative growth and more jobs. And, of course, enhancing the stability of the eurozone will remain a focus of those efforts. But above all we must seize the existing opportunities in our internal market. The figure I mentioned before - 1.25 trillion euros - is double the size of the Dutch economy. It would mean millions of jobs for millions of people. We can't ignore that opportunity. How would we explain that to future generations? I believe that the Commission, the Council, and you - the members of the European Parliament - broadly agree on what we want to achieve here. The Dutch Presidency will do all it can to foster a good working dynamic. And to ensure that the institutions can work together as effectively as possible. For the sake of all those in Europe who are desperately trying to find work. Above all, our young people.
Ladies and gentlemen, the debate on the future of our European institutions is going on - in one way or other - in almost every member state. I believe there is growing consensus that the EU needs to focus on areas where cooperation is either essential, such as the migration issue, or clearly adds value, such as the single market. 'Focus' includes cutting back the excessive regulations that restrict people and companies. Our Presidency fully endorses the Commission's priorities and work programme, which are founded on these principles.
It's good that we are debating the Union's future so openly. And I say that, of course, with particular reference to the position of the UK. The UK is a very important partner. Leaving the EU would be bad for the UK and for the EU. But we should not reduce that debate to the question of 'more or less Europe?' The question is how to build a better Europe: a Europe that makes the best choices and achieves the most benefits for its people. Certainly, in some areas, the EU needs to step back. And the Commission is now addressing this to good effect. But there are also areas in which we aren't yet making the most of EU cooperation.
The perfect example is of course the single market, which is not only an engine of economic growth and innovation, but also the cement that binds us together and makes us strong. And that's why we need to keep a deeper and fairer single market high on the agenda. When it comes to deepening the market, I'm thinking mainly of services and the digital market. Two sectors that are almost completely untapped, even though most Europeans earn their living in one or the other. We need to facilitate shopping online in other member states, attune legislation to the digital age, and tackle unfair geo-blocking. In the market for services, the Dutch Presidency will also be pressing for states to reduce the number of regulated professions.
But I'm also thinking of the challenges and opportunities in the area of
energy and climate change. At last month's successful summit in Paris the EU
presented a strong united front. In the follow-up process, it's vital that we
make full use of the single market's innovative potential. That's something the
Dutch Presidency wants to take forward.
We also need to make sure that all workers receive equal pay for equal work in equal circumstances. Yes, it's a question of fairness, but not of fairness alone. Because a fairer single market will help maintain support for free movement, and will help guarantee that the market functions properly. So this issue will also get a big push during our Presidency.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dirk Stikker was right: European cooperation is not a simple thing, accomplished with a bit of good will and the stroke of a pen. In many cases, the EU doesn't have ready-made solutions for the problems we face. Every country has its own interests and considerations, and negotiations can be tough. But it's like a football match: it's not the style of play that matters, but the final result. And as we all know: Europe scores most of its goals in injury time.
Europe has shown that it can tackle major crises. The financial and economic crisis prompted us to step up oversight of our banks and to place our currency on a more solid footing. We've taken a common line on Russia's actions in Ukraine. And we've closed a deal with Turkey on the refugee crisis. Step by step we're moving forward. That's in keeping with the European tradition, and it is in that conviction that the Netherlands is looking ahead to its Presidency.
Our first and most important ambition in the months to come is to be a good and effective Presidency. One that makes sure that all 28 member states feel heard, and can play their part. One that serves the process effectively, and takes account of everyone's interests. But also a Presidency with the ambition to achieve concrete results. And we can only do that by working closely with the European institutions. And above all the European Parliament.
The Netherlands looks forward to working with you. Indeed, it is only by working together that we can solve the problems facing the Union. Let us do so with the same resolve shown by Sir Winston Churchill when he addressed the Hall of Knights in 1948. 'We cannot rest upon benevolent platitudes and generalities,' he said. 'Our powers may be limited but we know, and we must affirm, what we mean and what we want.' In other words, there's a job to be done. So let's get to work.