Opinion

EP 2019: between now and summer recess everything will change

11-03-2019

With the European elections coming up, what can we expect from the Dutch?

In March, provincial and senate elections might result in a shift in power for the current Dutch coalition: if it loses its senate majority, passing bills will ultimately be more challenging. Furthermore, recent polls see the rise of another Eurosceptic party – Forum for Democracy, which would make selling EU policies to the Dutch electorate increasingly difficult over the coming years.

But why should you care about the Netherlands, you ask?

Is PM Mark Rutte looking for a job in Brussels?

Some may remember Mark Rutte’s mild Euroscepticism at the onset of his career as Dutch Prime Minister. No more money to Greece was one of his party’s unofficial slogans of 2012. It exemplified Rutte’s approach.

According to rumours, Rutte is now aiming for a high position in Brussels. This comes as no surprise: in 2019, evidence for Rutte’s change of heart is plain to see. Only one thing stands in the way of this prediction: it seems he does not want to leave domestic politics. Where Rutte’s initial denial of his European ambitions could be seen as self-defence (never reveal your true ambitions), his current promise to the Dutch voter to finish what he started is pretty convincing. Especially considering he would already have had to book his tickets to Bruxelles-Schuman by now.

But Rutte remains an interesting cog from a business perspective. The ex-Unilever-manager-turned-Prime-Minister is known for his business friendly liberal approach. And the new and improved Euro-friendly Rutte has blossomed into one of Brussel’s old boys. The ‘three M’-powerhouse that is Merkel, Macron, and Mark takes centre stage in Brexit negotiations, refugee rebates, you name it. He is an eager initiator in and out of the spotlights. No wonder the Netherlands are mentally preparing for his departure – whether it be in May or later.

What about the ambitions of European Commission Vice-President Timmermans?

Septilingual Commission VP Frans Timmermans is our second key Dutch player in the European arena. Timmermans’ Dutch Spitzenkandidatur is not unique: Bas Eickhout is also Spitzenkandidat, but for the Greens (sharing his kandidatur with Ska Keller). Unlike Eickhout however, Timmermans actually has a – tiny – shot at the presidency. Without a coalition partner Timmermans’ chances seem negligible, but this should not stop us from considering his role in Brussels.

Timmermans is responsible for the fairly recent revision of the transparency register for lobbyists in Brussels, one of Commission President Juncker’s early promises. The Council of Ministers is now subject to this register as well. Critics wanted to extend the register to the Member State Permanent Representations, but for Timmermans this was a bridge too far. Either way, Timmermans himself is known for his extensive EU-network.

An October 2018 poll revealed over half of Dutch citizens to be in favour of Timmermans becoming the next Commission President. An interesting detail is that any president of the European Commission has to be approved by the Council, which means Rutte might have to approve Timmermans’ possible ascension to the throne. But barring the unlikely, Timmermans’ popularity won’t be enough for the Dutch to welcome their first Commission President.

Brexit and the Dutch

But let me be honest, only one issue really dominates the European agenda in the Netherlands: Brexit is coming. The Dutch have an immense interest in this area, their main business-partners have committed kamikaze and the Dutch are scrambling to minimise the damage. Rutte’s and Timmermans’ ambitions reflect their approach to Brexit. Rutte’s main efforts in Brussels are centred around damage control for the Dutch. The stakes are high, a British business exodus favours settlement in the Netherlands. Timmermans repeatedly warns of the damage that Brexit will cause – from a European perspective. Precisely what you would expect froman aspiring Commission President.

With elections at home and in Brussels, and Brexit on the horizon, we can predict only one thing: between now and summer recess, everything will change.

This blog can also be found on the EU-website of APCO.

Why should you care about the Netherlands?

Tom Brouwer

Partner

+31 (0)70 304 6499

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