Mr. Marnix KROP

Minister Plenipotentiary; Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, Paris


Lecture in the Cicero Foundation Great Debate seminar "The French Presidency and the Treaty of Nice - EU Reforms or European Vanguard?", PARIS, 17 November 2000

Ladies and gentlemen,

The French statesman Talleyrand once said that as a diplomat one doesn't have to be intelligent as long as one has had a good education. I doubt if I fulfill the latter condition, but - given the fact that I forfeited most of last night's sleep to prepare for today's speech - I am sure I lack the first qualification. Planning my time properly is certainly not my greatest talent; nevertheless I am honored by the invitation to address this conference which deals with "The French Presidency and the Treaty of Nice" and has as its subtitle: "EU reforms or European Vanguard".

As most conferences that want to appeal to different groups with different tastes, also this conference carries a rather grandiose title. However, the message of the organizers seems clear: either the Union under its current French Presidency succeeds in sufficiently amending the EU Treaty with institutional reforms or else it will be haunted with the specter of the formation of vanguard groups of states. These would want to intensify the integration process but would thereby at the same time threaten the unity of the Union. Against the background of the intended enlargement of the EU with more than ten new member states, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, this specter evokes the image of a fragmented Europe at a time in which unification seems most called for.

The title of this conference conveys a sense of urgency, which - given the stakes at hand - seems justified. The EU finds itself at a historical junction at which it is confronted with the need to make two choices at the same time (just like Smokey Bear who hit upon a fork in the road and who was advised to take both legs). Enlarging its membership and deepening its integration process: both are called for on their own terms but they are also intimately linked. In this sense is a success in Nice a precondition for simultaneously deepening and enlarging the Union. However, there is no guarantee of success on either path. Nor is it inconceivable that lack of success in Nice will not lead to the specter of vanguard groups taking Europe along the road to fragmentation. Nice might just as well lead to stagnation and to a return of muddling through. This might especially be the case if Nice produces a halfway result: neither a spectacular breakthrough nor a dramatic failure - some of the required deepening but not sufficient for preparing the Union for enlargement. In fact, this outcome - Nice not as an outright but more as a half-baked result - is not at all unlikely. This brings me to the topic of this speech.I have been asked to address the issue of "Safeguarding the Interests of the Smaller Member States in an Enlarged Union" and to deal in this context with the Dutch Proposals for the Nice Summit.

Finding a New, Workable Balance Between Bigger and Smaller Members

It is true that a success in Nice will depend to a degree on the ability of finding a new, workable balance between the rights and interests of both the bigger and the smaller members of the Union. This is not only true for the present Union with its 15 members, most of which are smaller or even small states, but this would even apply more to an enlarged Union, where practically all new members will fall in that category. Compared with the original European Community of the six Founding Fathers, which combined three big states with three smaller ones, the present Union presents a big-small balance which has tilted towards a ratio of 5 vs 10. Within in an enlarged Union it will even further 'deteriorate' (so to speak) towards 7 vs 20.

It is clear that something has to be done about this relationship between big and small, about the internal institutonal arrangements, in order to restore the effectiveness of the Union. Effectiveness is one of the key words in the present European debate and in the run up to the Nice Summit. For it is not so much the ratio between big and small as such which is at stake, but it is the wish to enhance the effectiveness of the Union's actions, to improve the coherence of its outlook, and to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of its decisions. Coherence, effectiveness, and legitimacy are the concepts which are at the center of things in Nice and by which its results should be measured.

That is certainly, at least, the position of the Netherlands which may be a small country, but which is not just looking for the safeguarding of its more narrowly defined interests in the IGC. Fully within the tradition of Dutch European integration policies, the Netherlands are once again seeking to serve their specific interests within a more broadly defined notion of European progress. From the host country of the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam this 'noblesse oblige' is to be expected. It is with this approach that the Dutch try to live up to their self-image of not just being a small country. With sixteen million inhabitants the Netherlands is not only a big country among the smaller ones, but traditionally it also has a certain idea of Europe and a certain vision of its place in the world. General de Gaulle fully hit the mark, at least in the Dutch perspective, when he called the Netherlands not just a small country, but also a great nation. Safeguarding the interests of the smaller member states is too limited a scope for Dutch European policy, even though it does play a role.

The Dutch Approach of the IGC: Taking A Broad, Not a Narrow View

First of all the Dutch approach of the IGC has been to concentrate on the agenda. Not only had we had a hand in the definition of the institutional requirements which have come to make up the three so-called 'leftovers of Amsterdam': an extension of qualified majority voting, a resetting of the weights within the Council, and a review of the functioning and composition of the European Commission. In Amsterdam the Dutch Presidency had made proposals to deal with these issues. Most of these again play a role in the debates in today's IGC. But the Netherlands have also, from the beginning, strongly advocated a broadening of the IGC agenda. Not just did we want to include the reform of other institutions such as the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors. We also made a strong plea for loosening up the Amsterdam rules on Enhanced Cooperation so as to facilitate future initiatives for deepening the integration process. We thought that inclusion of these topics would not only be justified on their own terms, certainly with enlargement in mind, but we also thought that a broadened agenda would make it easier to find compromises among the member states.

After much hesitation by many European partners and even quite some resistance from the incoming French Presidency, enhanced cooperation was taken up as the fourth major topic on the agenda for Nice. It is fortunate to observe that enhanced cooperation now appears to be the subject for which a good result looks most promising at the moment. It will help to fend off the temptation of forming pioneering vanguard groups outside the treaty context.As to qualified majority voting, a topic which is most crucial for enhancing the effectiveness of the Union's actions, the Netherlands have sought to have it accepted as the norm and starting point for all Union decision making: i.e. QMV as the rule, unanimity as the exception. In vain, so far, but awareness has grown among the European partners that in this respect much progress is desirable.

Formidable obstacles, however, still have to be overcome to be able to realize this progress, given the sensitivity in one or the other member state of such areas as social policy, fiscal policy, asylum and migration policies and the environment. It is clear that, according to the Dutch view, whenever QMV is applied, the European Parliament should have the right of co-decision.It is in the reform of the Commission and the Council voting that the interests of the Netherlands as a smaller country are most at risk. However, also in these areas the Dutch take more than just a narrow view. As to the composition of the Commission, the Netherlands holds that legitimacy concerns require having a Commissioner for each member state. This is also of great importance to the new member states.

Three Conditions for Restricting the Size of the Commission

The Dutch government concedes, however, that with a growing number of new entrants the effectiveness of Union action will in the longer run require putting a limit to the number of Commissioners, also because it will be impossible to limit the membership of the Council. The Dutch government is therefore willing to discuss modalities for capping and even reducing the size of the Commission in the future (after the forthcoming enlargement), but not without three rather strict conditions.

One condition is that there will be perfectly egalitarian system of rotation, with no special rights for the bigger states. The other is that the Commission's position as the independent guardian of the Community's interest and of the community method will be strengthened rather than weakened. The third condition refers to an acceptable outcome of the debate on the 'répondération des voix' (reweighting of the votes) in the Council. Concerning the national weights within the Council the Netherlands accepts the claim of the bigger member states for an increase in their votes as perfectly reasonable. The present ratio of 5 to 1 could, for instance, be doubled or even trebled, to allow for a better reflection of the differences in population size. The various voting groups should get a balanced place within this new spectrum, also allowing for the accommodation of new member states, both bigger ones such as Poland and Romania, and smaller ones such as Slovenia and Cyprus.

The Netherlands advocates, however, also some differentiation within the various groups. A certain 'décrochage' (uncoupling) of Germany in relation to France, Italy and the UK seems perfectly reasonable, given the 25% difference in the size of their relative populations. Also Sweden's claim to be promoted into the group with Belgium, Greece, and Portugal would seem to be justified on the same grounds. By the same token the Netherlands would like to see itself be allowed to take some distance from the group it is presently in, given the fact that its population is about 50% bigger than that of the second biggest country in that group, i.e. Belgium (16m. vs. 10.5m.). This differentiation could either be expressed in the form of granting these countries some extra votes on a primary scale of weights, or by adding a more objective secondary scale reflecting exact demographic weights. This is a matter that in this context is more of a pragmatic than of a principled nature. For the time being, the Netherlands advocates a single measure, as it would seem to simplify the voting procedure within the Council. But that also depends on where the cut off points for a qualified majority respectively a blocking minority will be exactly put.

Giving European Defense a Treaty Basis

A very important aspect of the agenda for Nice concerns European defense. Two years after the Saint Malo declaration and a little less after the Kosovo air campaign the European Union is about to provide itself with the means (or, at least, the beginning thereof) for decision making and taking action in the field of military crisis management. The upcoming Capabilities Commitment Conference - originally a Dutch suggestion - will provide the stage for the presentation of a European intervention capacity, even though much will remain to be done to beef up national contributions and budgets. Nice will then establish permanent institutional mechanisms and solder a productive and transparent relationship with NATO and relevant third countries. The Netherlands has played a distinct role in this development, both in the definition of the political parameters and institutional arrangements and in the mobilization of the necessary military means and structures.

It also strongly advocates the inclusion of ESDP into the Treaty of Nice (and thus into the IGC agenda). Together with Italy and its Benelux partners, the Netherlands has formulated specific proposals for the redrafting of relevant articles so as to give a treaty basis to this major development in European integration right from its start. Although a growing number of member states take a positive stance on these proposals, it is by no means clear that the Dutch approach will carry the day in Nice. The outcome of Nice is still uncertain. The stakes are high, the political capital invested - not least by the French Presidency - is considerable, but the obstacles to a comprehensive compromise on a substantive package are still formidable.

Toward a European Constitution?

That Nice will result in a failure is less likely than that it will produce a meager result, too meager to be able to be prepared for enlargement. Nice should, however, not saddle the Union with a new set of 'leftovers'. Because even after Nice there will be plenty of room to continue reforming the Union. Partly thanks to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, an interesting agenda is emerging for a constitutional debate to be held after Nice. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will be adopted at Nice, paves the way for a debate on citizen's rights and obligations and could be embodied in the introduction to a European constitution. The Netherlands is in favor of conducting this debate, which could formally be opened by the Belgian Presidency in the second half of next year. A delimitation of areas of competence and responsibility between the Union and the member states could be another element of this debate.

And the reform of the Union's institutions does not have to stop at Nice. With coherence, effectiveness, and legitimacy as our bench marks we should continue probing into the future. A stronger Commission would seem to be part of the answer. So why not have a discussion on the possibility of electing the Commission's President? Why not looking for ways of strengthening the external effectiveness and representation of the Union, which would also involve the Commission. Why not venture into new areas of European democracy, such as the introduction of a Europe-wide referendum? The debate should be opened and, different from the preparation for Nice, it should be really open, involving not just the future new member states but also Europe's citizens on a much larger scale. Who knows, this may lead to another IGC, for instance under Dutch presidency, and to another decisive summit, why not in Rotterdam, in December 2004. Thank you very much.