Dutch EU presidency to focus on the big issues
The Dutch EU Council presidency is an opportunity to help Europe move forward in environment, security and transport policy, say MEPs.
On 1 January, the Netherlands will begin their six month stint at the helm of the EU Council. The country's previous mandate was over a decade ago, long before Europe was rocked by successive crises. It won't be easy, but Parliament's Dutch MEPs are hopeful about the next half year. They expect their government to focus on key, big picture issues.
One of these, of course, is the ongoing refugee crisis. EPP group MEP Jeroen Lenaers acknowledges that, "the Dutch presidency comes at a particularly challenging moment. The Union is confronted with incredible challenges, of which the refugee crisis and the fight against terrorism will be top of the list."
"When it comes to the refugee crisis, it will be essential to insist on the application and implementation of all decisions that have been taken by the Council so far. Currently, Europe is still over-promising and under-delivering"
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"The Dutch presidency will need to make progress on three key proposals: a European border guard, a common EU list of safe countries of origin, and a permanent relocation mechanism."
In the wake of last month's Paris attacks, Lenaers also stresses that; "We urgently need to adopt and implement the exchange of passenger information (PNR) and continue to strengthen our efforts to tackle terrorism financing."
ALDE group deputy Cora van Nieuwenhuizen also expects security and the refugee crisis to be focal points of the presidency. She says, "We need a Europe that focuses on big issues. The Dutch presidency will undoubtedly be dominated by the migration crisis, the tension at the western borders of Russia and the threat of Isis."
"The current European migration system is inefficient; it drives people into the hands of human trackers, which indirectly finances the war against the west. Europe needs to help provide safe havens for refugees in their own region, otherwise the migration crisis will destabilise European societies."
"The Dutch government wants to make progress on these issues, so that the Union contributes to what it is meant to do: making sure that European citizens live prosperous and safe."
For ECR group member Peter van Dalen, "during the presidency, the Netherlands should become the EU's 'enforcement chair'. Existing and new rules must be respected and kept in all of Europe. Equal enforcement of rules must be central in transport, fisheries, monetary affairs, Schengen, banks and many other areas."
He also warns that, "Brexit would be a disaster for the EU and for the Netherlands. The Dutch should do everything they can to stop the United Kingdom - a good ally - from leaving the Union."
Transport is another important policy area. ALDE group MEP Matthijs van Miltenburg says, "Europe's aviation sector is a strong driver for economic growth and jobs. The Dutch presidency will be a key player to enable progress in the Council on important pending and new aviation dossiers."
"They will hold the keys to boosting the competitiveness of aviation in Europe, making progress on a single European sky, clarifying passenger rights and starting to negotiate comprehensive aviation agreements with third countries based on a worldwide level playing field."
Presidency highlights for EPP group MEP Wim van de Camp will include, "the European aviation summit, work done on smart road transport and finishing the ports services regulation and the fourth railway package. The focus should be on delivering concrete results to make transport drive Europe's economic recovery."
The Dutch EU Council presidency is the first following COP21. As such, environment policy should feature prominently, although ALDE MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy accuses the Dutch government of having, "wanted to use their presidency to water down European nature legislation, but that seems more and more unlikely to happen, thankfully."
He hopes the presidency will, "focus on innovations in environmental legislation. We need new innovative legislative instruments to move towards a sustainable economy. This would allow progressive industry to move much faster, without being bothered with new rules and obligations. A lot of thinking on this has been done in the Netherlands and I sincerely hope that they will push that agenda."
His colleague Jan Huitema adds, "We have a lot of potential in Europe, especially in our agriculture. The Dutch presidency is a great opportunity to foster the most advanced solutions for today's agricultural problems and produce more products with less input of resources - for example by using precision agriculture that results in less need for fertilizer and crop protection material or less antimicrobials on our animals.
"The Dutch have best practices to share that we can use throughout Europe. Deploying precision agriculture should be a top priority."
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The Born Free Foundation's Will Travers argues that EU policymakers must move quickly to stem the tide of the growing global trade in wildlife trafficking.