Why is Europe important and what’s in it for the Netherlands?
No more war ever again. That was the motive for collaboration within Europe after the Second World War. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) developed into the European Union (EU) we know today. European collaboration may well now be harder than ever. Five questions about the EU and its significance for the Netherlands.
In this article, read more about:
1. The purpose of the European Union
2. The advantages of EU membership for the Netherlands
3. What the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) has to do with Europe
4. What could be improved in Europe
5. The European agenda for the future
The benefit of Europe – in brief
The European Union was set up to help all its member states and their inhabitants. EU membership costs the Netherlands a significant amount in terms of contributions, but provides much more in the form of trade and economic growth. In the coming years, the SER wants the EU to prioritise the reduction of differences within and between member states and the increasing of broad prosperity. This requires an even playing field for entrepreneurs, enforcement of rules, protection of public values and a strong approach to geopolitical and transition tasks facing the Netherlands and Europe.
The European Union was set up to help all member states and their inhabitants. The aim is to improve the living conditions, employment opportunities, productivity and incomes of the EU population and to reduce the differences between and within countries. Europe therefore wants to be economically strong and social.
The EU’s economic and social objectives are laid down in the Treaty on European Union (1992). Above all, the Union aims to promote peace, its values and the prosperity of its people. A high level of importance is placed on human dignity, freedom, equality, human rights, democracy and rule of law. The Union also strives towards sustainable national and international development and broad prosperity, in which all Europeans share.
To achieve the set objectives, the EU has gained significant powers, which are elaborated upon in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The EU is about policy issues with cross-border effects that the member states can tackle better together, in which economies of scale are used. This concerns the internal market, competition, external trade, economic, monetary and social policy, asylum and migration policy, climate policy and consumer protection. The member states mainly deal with matters such as education, public health, culture, industry, tourism, civil protection and administrative collaboration themselves. For the time being, this also applies to security and defence.
There is a lot of discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of EU membership – certainly after Brexit, the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? The answer is: yes, absolutely.
It’s true that the Netherlands gives more money to the EU every year than it receives, making the Netherlands a net payer. Yet, on balance, the Netherlands’ EU membership provides much more than it costs. That’s in terms of money, but certainly not just that.
As an open trade country, the Netherlands benefits a great deal from the internal market and the lower trade costs within Europe, because the Netherlands earns almost 80 percent of its national income from European trade. The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis has calculated that thanks to the EU, the Netherlands’ gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by 3.1 percent. The Netherlands is even one of the countries that most benefits from the internal market.
The Netherlands also really needs Europe to tackle global issues such as climate, energy, migration and digitisation. Not a single country is able to resolve those cross-border problems on its own. The Netherlands also needs Europe to defend its territory and geopolitical interests.
The issues that the SER focuses on have much in common with the EU, such as general socio-economic policy, working conditions and consumer matters. The SER is therefore very involved in Europe and European integration. Since the Treaty of Rome (1957), the SER has issued more than 200 recommendations in relation to Europe, including the advisory report “Priorities for a Fair Europe” (2019). The SER advisory report for the medium term “Certainty for people, an agile economy and recovery of society” is connected to this.
The SER considers European collaboration essential for sustainable development and broad prosperity. Broad prosperity means that economic growth and progress go together with social cohesion and progress and a good quality of the living environment. This is the common thread running through all SER recommendations in relation to Europe. The future prosperity of the Netherlands heavily depends on a prosperous socio-economic development of the other member states, because they are our main trade partners.
Since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic, the differences within and between European member states have increased rather than decreased. Not all citizens therefore experience the advantages of the internal market to an equal extent. There are people and companies benefiting from the free movement of goods and services, whereas to others, it is simply detrimental, due to unfair competition, cross-border labour mobility and a lack of rule enforcement. The risk is that people will feel left behind and turn away from Europe.
To strengthen public support for the EU, it is important that the EU is committed to a fairer Europe. The SER recommendation “Priorities for a Fair Europe” (2019) advocates a fairer Europe. The aim is that the welfare level increases throughout Europe and the differences between countries become smaller. In European terms, that is known as upward convergence. In simple English: the race to the top.
According to the SER, in order to achieve that, it is important that the employer and employee organisations in Europe are closely involved in the EU’s long-term strategy. If everyone participates and benefits from the prosperity increase within Europe, public support for the European Union among the population will increase and Europe’s position will be strengthened. Together we are stronger in a world in which the strive for dominance increasingly predominates.
The future welfare of Europe largely depends on the way in which we as the EU tackle major issues such as the climate, energy transition and Europe’s international trade position. The shifting power relations in the world are also making the EU face major tasks in the field of security and defence.
In 2020, the EU launched a plan to rebuild Europe following the COVID-19 crisis. The aim of this recovery plan, NextGenerationEU, is to make Europe greener, more digital and more resilient. The biggest stimulus package ever (more than 750 billion euros) was earmarked during this programme period (2021-2027). Part of the plan is the Green Deal: the plan to transform Europe into a modern, raw-material-efficient and competitive economy. The aim is to become the first continent to be climate-neutral.
The European agenda is partly determined by the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which was held from May 2021 to March 2022. The aim was to allow European citizens to help think about Europe’s challenges and priorities in all sorts of different ways. The contribution of Dutch citizens is summarised in the final report Our Vision of Europe.
The Rutte IV cabinet wishes to adopt a leading role in the European Union to make the Union more action-oriented, economically stronger, greener and safer, as stated in the Coalition Agreement. The cabinet is also working to strengthen the military collaboration at EU level.