The Netherlands: EU member state

The Netherlands has been active in the EU from the very start. Dutch officials, for example, were closely involved in shaping European agriculture policy and the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

The Netherlands and European unification

After the Second World War peace and stability in Europe were sorely needed. European countries decided to work together on economic matters, on the principle that countries that depended on one another would not go to war. In 1952 the Netherlands joined Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and West Germany in establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC contributed to economic growth and ensured greater employment and prosperity.

In 1957 the same six countries signed the Treaties of Rome, the first of which established the European Economic Community and the second the European Atomic Energy Community, more commonly known as Euratom.

In 1958, former Dutch Agriculture minister Sicco Mansholt was appointed European Agriculture Commissioner. He would spearhead the introduction of economies of scale in agriculture and the development of a common European agricultural policy. The Netherlands has always been a major beneficiary of these reforms. Thanks in part to the EU, it is one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural products.

The Netherlands and the treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon

In 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the European Community (EC), and they were followed by Greece in 1981. Spain and Portugal were admitted in 1986. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the pace of enlargement picked up: Austria, Finland and Sweden joined in 1995, and in 2004 the Union expanded to include Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The most recent additions are Bulgaria and Romania, which acceded in 2007.

In 1992 the 12 member states signed the Treaty of Maastricht, which formed the basis of  the European Union. The Treaty contained agreements on a variety of major issues, including Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). In 2002 the euro became the official currency of many EU member states. Since then, Dutch holidaymakers who visit one of the other Eurozone countries no longer have to exchange their money. The European Commissioner for External Relations at the time, Hans van den Broek, a former Dutch foreign minister, played a major role in the implementation of the Treaty of Maastricht.

In December 2009 the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, introducing a number of reforms intended to make the EU more democratic, easier to govern, and more effective and decisive, following the recent accession of 12 new member states. The Treaty, which enables the EU to take decisions more quickly, has greatly benefited the Netherlands. In addition, the more democratic nature of the EU puts the Netherlands in a better position to protect its own interests.

During all those years, the EU has proved the necessity of cooperation. Many issues transcend national borders, like the environment, crime, animal diseases and transport. In these areas the Netherlands can no longer make policy that is independent of EU policy. Like all other member states the Netherlands has to work with its neighbours.

The Netherlands and the European internal market

The European Union now comprises 28 member states, and border controls between many EU countries have been abolished. This ensures the free movement of people, goods and services within the EU. Dutch people can settle and work elsewhere in Europe far more easily than ever before. It is also much easier for Dutch companies to do business with companies in neighbouring countries since they use the same currency and since border controls are a thing of the past.

As the European Commissioner responsible for the Internal Market, Taxation and the Customs Union between 1999 and 2004, former Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade Frits Bolkestein was highly instrumental in the creation of a single internal market.