What did the Dutch Presidency do for the EU Foreign Policy?

External Relations

The efforts of the Dutch Presidency focused particularly on putting the instruments for improvements to counterterrorist measures into place as quickly as possible.

Few days after the launch of the Slovak Presidency of the EU, we would like to present our analysis towards those goals and achievements the Dutch Presidency obtained during the semester from 1 January until 30 June. The Netherlands are experienced in holding the presidency of the EU, having shown adequate competencies and skills in governing the EU machine – as they have already taken on the mantle 11 times.

Migratory crises, risk of implosion of the Schengen system, terrorist threat, more questions after Brexit and the dispute on rule of law with the Polish government: the European Union faced concretely a wide number of crises from the very beginning of 2016, when the Netherlands were about to start, for the eleventh time, the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Differently from 2004, when the Netherlands tried to create spectacle around their job at the EU level on the basis of a massive media campaign; the Presidency wanted this time to show itself more modest and, necessarily, even more efficient.

On the other hand, the relevance of the EU Presidency has been also lesser now than the last time the Netherlands held it,12 years ago. While the then Prime minister Balkenende was claiming for the institution of a real “EU government”, there is now a Permanent President of the European Council (currently Donald Tusk) and – thanks to the Lisbon Treaty – a stronger High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Federica Mogherini). In this changed political and institutional context, the current Dutch Prime minister, Mark Rutte, played the (not so simple) role of a committed broker in order to help the EU find common solutions to those alarming challenges.

The efforts of the Dutch Presidency on European Security

The Netherlands have been part of the new “troika” to hold the Presidency in turns between January 2016 and July 2017, together with Slovakia and Malta. The triumvirate established a joint, 18-month work programme for the Council, moving from 4 top priorities:

  • a comprehensive approach to migration and international security;
  • Europe as an innovator and job creator;
  • sound, future-proof European finances and a robust eurozone;
  • forward-looking policy on climate and energy.

In the light of the current complex security situation and in the context of counterterrorism, one of the most important actions identified by the Dutch Presidency was the efficient implementation of the EU Internal Security Strategy 2015-2020.

In a broader sense, the Presidency has been able to develop a coordinated European response – required in view of the transnational nature of cyber crime and cyber security issues, terrorism and organised crime, and, of course, including human trafficking. This applies equally to preventive action on radicalisation. On the basis of existing instruments, the Netherlands Presidency focused specifically on fostering those dynamics and procedures typical of the operational cooperation and, in the same direction, further improvements to the exchange of information, while considering a high level data protection safeguards.

The Presidency also addressed, with relevant achievements, the proposal to amend the framework decision on terrorism, improved rules on firearms and a proposal for a European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) for third-country nationals.

The efforts of the Dutch Presidency focused particularly on putting the instruments for improvements to counterterrorist measures into place as quickly as possible, in view of the great importance attaching to them and in order to simplify the implementation of those actions planned by the following Slovak Presidency.

The no-permanent seat within the Security Council

On 28 June, the Netherlands had the chance to play a greater role in terms of promotion of the EU as a core player in the international relations game. Within the buildings of the UN, there were indeed elections organised in order to award countries with a no-permanent seat within the Security Council, for the next two years.

After a tough race-at-two between Italy and the Netherlands for the seat, ambassadors of both countries decided for a “third way”: Italy and the Netherlands will be sharing the seat, one year each. The possibility to reach such a decision had been previously discussed during the last Euro Summit in Brussels, were the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, found a common field with his Dutch counterpart, PM Mark Rutte.

Such political convergence, between two European countries – one of which was at that time the current EU President – means a lot for the entire European Union and its foreign policy. Coordinating the EU goals with the international agenda, through the channel built by these two countries will foster the role of the European Union within the international community and, in particular, if we consider the current status of the European Union within the framework of the UN system.

What are the results?

What are the results? Despite original goals, something went wrong for the Dutch Presidency, which had to work on a very wide range of topics, as we could easily observe. This is particularly true for 2 different fields in which the Dutch government wanted to take action, strictly related to the EU foreign policy, namely protecting Schengen’s external borders and ensuring the possibility for the UK to get a reform of its EU membership.

The former has been a sensitive issue for a long time and reveals day by day how tough it is to deal with it for a disunited Union. However, the second one is the real monster, showing how simple it can be for the European Union to sink under the waves of political and economical challenges that hit strongly and constantly the European project and its stability.

Giovanni Asmundo

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