EU code blue

Yesterday saw the Dutch 'celebration' of the 50th birthday of the EU. I am using the scare quotes because as celebrations go, this was the lamest birthday party in recent history (NL)(1). The whole event was televised and broadcast live on state television, where 171,000 (out of 16 million) people finding nothing better to watch, watched the event. It was sad and contrived, exactly fitting the birthday bureaucracy.

But it seems that even the governments heart wasn't really in it. This week saw the parliament fraction specialists on European affairs and the new state secretary of European affairs debated the cabinets plans with regard to the EU and a new treaty-not-being-a-constitution. Trouw reports (NL. But a short, short EN version can be found here) that the Balkenende IV cabinet wants any new treaty to put firm limits on the power and jurisdiction of the EU and give more power to national parliaments to halt the EU usurping all sovereignty through the "acquis communautaire" principle.
In the coming search for what are acceptable treaty changes for a better governed union - without that maligned constitution - the Netherlands will first make crystal clear which national competencies must be preserved. And everything Brussels should keep their hands off: social security, taxes, pensions, culture, education and health care.

German Chancellor Merkel, who has to break through the impasse over the dead EU constitution, will get to hear from Dutch negotiators that national parliaments should be given more power to call 'stop' when Brussels tentacles spread too far in acquiring new tasks.

In one of the more curious aspects of this debate: While the cabinets plans are met with wide approval in Second Chamber (including support from the Socialist Party, Wilders PVV and VVD) two of the biggest advocates of the 2005 referendum in the Netherlands, D66 (liberal socialists) and GroenLinks (green socialists), are now complaining that
The Netherlands are crawling back into its national shell and nowadays paints the EU as the evil giant from the hills
(Alexander Pechtold, D66 fraction leader)

Which was met with the derision and scorn it deserved. Especially D66 has always advocated more 'direct democracy' but in this instance D66 apparently does not like the results of the 2005 experiment with such and is now arguing against one of its own core beliefs. Draw your own conclusions.

In the meantime Nederlands Dagblad reports that negotiations over the Berlin declaration (2), to be delivered next Sunday, are so difficult that it is expected the declaration will be signed by three people only: Angela Merkel as chair of the EU council, Barroso as president of the EU Commission and Hans-Gert Pöttering, the speaker of the European Parliament.

All the national leaders will be present and applaud politely, but none will commit themselves. And thus Merkels ambition for the German EU presidency, revival of the EU constitution ratification process, will have spectacularly failed. No more constitution.

The non-signing of the declaration does not bode well for the EU itself, either. What does it mean when the EU comes up with something that no nation wants to be associated with? Or that a member state has vowed to severely limit the reach of the EU and effectively give primacy back to national parliaments?

Only time will tell, but for the first time since the 2005 referendum I am cautiously optimistic that the Brussels power grab, which should have been complete with the ratification of that horrendous 'constitution' is failing in a manner that is unrecoverable. Well, hope springs eternal, anyways.

(1) But for non-Dutch speakers: I suggest you look at the picture provided in the link. That gives you the 1000 word equivalent you need to understand what I mean. A catwalk with a lady with a birdcage on her head? Oh man, the EU ROCKS!!!

(2) According to a leaked version of the Berlin Declaration seen by EU Observer the declaration contains the phrase:
"We, the peoples of Europe, are aware that Europe is our good fortune!"
Say what? I mean, if you are going to plagiarize the constitution of your favorite target, why do it so... incompetent? And what does it mean, anyway? Are we to adopt Europe as our new continental deity? 'Grant us our daily bread and some good fortune to go with that'? Really, the mind boggles.


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