November 22, 2017
Could the Netherlands go the way of the UK?
We have argued repeatedly that Brexit was ultimately not a surprising development because the UK had become a semi-detached member of the EU, and did not participate in any of the enhanced cooperations such as Schengen, the cooperation on justice and home affairs, and, of course, the euro. In addition, the discourse in the UK itself treated the EU as something external or alien to Britain. While the Netherlands is a founding member of the EU and takes part in all its close cooperations, Caroline de Gruyter worries that the EU has also become somewhat alien in the Dutch political discourse.
In her column at NRC she cites a booklet produced for immigrants who are preparing an integration test to attain Dutch citizenship as evidence of her thesis. The EU is pretty much absent from the booklet, and in the one paragraph at the back of it on international relations twice as much space is devoted to transatlantic cooperation as to the EU. She concludes that the same can happen to the Netherlands as did to the UK: if you spend decades not telling your citizens about the EU, you could end up with a referendum on belonging to a club nobody knows much about. Foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra recently told European ambassadors that the government must dare to "defend, reform and explain" the incredible project that is Europe. That in itself is a break with the more sceptical recent past, says De Gruyter, but Zijlstra has his work cut out for him.
This is all particularly ironic when Amsterdam just became the next site of the European Medicines Agency, which is moving out of London as a result of Brexit.