Thought Babble

The MFF Negotiations: Has Rutte Made a Frugal Fool of Himself?

Photo: Dutch PM Mark Rutte © Stephanie Lecocq/Pool/AP
Last month, the European Council finally managed, to agree on Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), outlining the EU’s long-term budget from 2021 until 2027. The highest budget in the EU’s history came, with the ability of the Union, to raise its own funds. It is undoubtedly a cause for celebration to many of us.

The MFF negotiations were long and painful. The lobbying for the new budget started back in 2018. The summits on the new EU Budget stalled, throughout 2019 and substantial part of 2020. I must admit that it is a miracle that the decision-makers managed to agree on the Community Budget. Yet, the agreement came at a high cost. Many concessions and trade-offs were made: the guarantee of the rule of law or Eurobonds

The “Frugal Four” At It Again?

The excruciating negotiation process, to a great extent, can be blamed on the so-called “Frugal Four”: Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden. These four countries are net payers of the EU Budget; and two of them (Austria and the Netherlands) are members of the Eurozone. The Frugal Four wants the EU money to be allocated responsibly. In such a way that they can supervise the distribution of their share of the EU funds. In their view, the EU is a little more than a stock market with some additions. But since the EU budget is a shared pot, that’s not exactly the case.

During the last few months, the negotiations on the next MFF have hit a wall numerous times. But perhaps the most outrageous was the behaviour of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. During the February Summit, Mr. Rutte preferred to read a biography of Chopin, instead of proceeding with negotiations. This callous lack of solidarity earned the Netherlands the title a new opposition leader.

In other words, you could say that the Dutch are the new British.

But why do the Dutch hate the poor? And what does it has to do with the stance of Mr Rutte during EU Summits?

Rutte-ing for European Separatism?

Mark Rutte has been in power since 2010. He lhas led three different cabinets since that time, and he has survived a few crises. His conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is part of the ALDE party.

Now you may assume that the Netherlands, as a founding member of the EU, should probably be at the forefront of European integration – especially with an ALDE government in power. The facts, however, point to the contrary.

Despite proclaiming the pro-European attitude, the stance of the Dutch government is the opposite. This is very visible in the political positions of VVD on European Affairs. I interacted several times with different officials from Mark Rutte’s government, myself. And you know what happened? Any mention on my part of an ever-closer Union would provoke an adverse reaction from their side.

In the domestic political scene, Rutte loves to blame Brussels for shortcomings of his own political decisions. Often he would spread misinformation on the current state of the European Affairs. Thanks to 10 years of rule of VVD, the Dutch people don’t understand well the European Politics. Despite being well informed, the EU seems something distant to a regular Dutch citizen.

Are the Dutch the New British?

I am not sure where I should look for the guilty party herer. Whether it’s the British influence during the Brexit fiasco that has been very strong in Dutch culture? Or perhaps the protestant religion which has shaped the Netherlands into a country of traders? Or, is it he traditional stance of the Netherlands towards the European Commission? I suppose it’s a little bit of everything.

The Netherlands likes to act and pretend that they are more independent from the rest of the EU. As a heavily coastal nation, the Netherlands supports more neutral, not European political Commissions, which plays well into the Dutch vision of Europe. A Europe of nations, not the Evil Federated Super Europe. A friend of mine once joked that the Dutch are scared of two F-words: federalism and feminism… This, combined with the British influence – another sea nation no less – explains a little lack of solidarity. That is present in the recent stance of the Dutch government.

Do the Dutch Hate the Poor?

Bearing this in mind. How does it relate to hate of the poor and Dutch culture?

To start with, we should come to one realisation. The Netherlands grew into prosperity thanks to its protestant culture. A culture that cherishes hard labour and believes that God rewards hard work. Despite that the Netherlands is now an secular country, this mentality is still prevalent. The downside of this belief is that if you are poor, it means that you are not working hard enough. Now let’s add to this picture, what the typical depiction of the Southern European countries. Greece, Spain and even Italy are viewed as poor and undeveloped. Struggling with various crises.

This disdain for the poor is also present in the Dutch domestic policy. Ever since VVD came to power, the wealth gap in the Netherlands has widened a lot. The social welfare has been cut on numerous occasions. Which kind of parallels, their European Policy.

From the outside, the Netherlands seems like a relatively equal and progressive society. And that would be true if we would be talking about the Netherlands from the 1980s and 1990s. Today, however, I would say that the Netherlands is one of the most unequal societies in the European Union. The wealth gap in the Netherlands has increased ever since Mr Rutte took office in 2010. As of 2020, the wealthiest 1% of Dutch society owns more than 30% of the private assets in the country. However, the exact numbers are not known.

This state of wealth disparity can be attributed to reforms that Mr. Rutte has undertaken ever since became the Prime Minister. He has cut back on various social spending to balance the budget sheet. Probably, the most famous one would be cutting the financial aid for students and replacing it with a loan.

I could go on, but I feel it’s time to wrap up this article…

The Bottom Line

The stance of the Netherlands in the European political scene mirrors its domestic policy. The Netherlands is home of many tax-evading corporations, same as it supports the wealthy to become more prosperous. At the same time, the Dutch government has little regard for the less fortunate, both domestically and abroad.

Finally, VVD knows very well that it won’t commit more to the European project. That would require explaining to citizens, what the European Union actually is, and why it is crucial. Moreover, the Dutch would have to change their transactional approach to the EU. Otherwise, we might see the continuation of the Dutch Eurosceptics like Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet.

The MFF negotiations have only highlighted that it’s time for the Dutch to step up and finally call Europe their home. Otherwise, we run the risk of the Netherlands repeating many of the past mistakes of the UK

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