Mark Rutte: The EU needs to make choices about its role in the years to come

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on the EU to “focus on our core tasks,” saying this will “boost unity.”

Mark Rutte | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

14 Jun 2018

Addressing MEPs on Wednesday, he said, “The challenge is to confine ourselves to these areas and to actually make sure that we deliver on them.”

Speaking in a debate on the future of Europe in Strasbourg, he evoked the spirit of UK war leader Winston Churchill who “once said politics is ability to predict what is going to happen tomorrow and the day after and also the ability to explain why it did not happen.”

Rutte said, “It is clear the EU needs to make choices about its role in the years to come.


“My views on the EU have evolved over the years but recent developments remind us that we cannot any longer take for granted the international order. It is changing and we must accept that

Russia has chosen to distance itself from its neighbours in the west.

“Even our relationship with our most important ally, the US, is no longer self-evident. The US has pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal and has imposed duties on steel, triggering a debate we thought was obsolete.”

He added, “While it is still important to work closely with the US the EU is, I believe, the ultimate example of the power of free trade.

“So, let us broadcast a strong message today to the world that the EU’s power in multilateral cooperation is as strong as ever.”

Rutte, in his address, also said that while Brexit will “leave a big hole”, it had made the remaining 27 other members “more aware of the importance  of working together and to ensure that the EU remains effective.

“Brexit means we have to reconsider how we work together and with others. The power balance will shift so we have to work on new alliances.”

“Already now the cost of the UK leaving the EU is £900 for each British family and this will rise.”

On the Brexit talks, he said, “We need more clarity from the UK side, particularly on the Irish issue, as this is crucial and is important for all of us.

“For the Netherlands, EU membership is self-evident and the single market has brought more prosperity than the EU founders could ever have imagined.

“But a truly strong EU must realise than less is more and more Europe is not the answer. It should, rather, be about where the EU can add value. Ever closer unity and unity are not the same.

“We should work to secure a more perfect union and the EU needs to under promise and over deliver.

“The future of the EU should be about working together but the EU is not a menu you can pick and choose from.

“The debate on our future starts with the question: Is the EU doing the right things and where can it improve?”

To loud applause from the half-empty chamber, he proposed setting a new 55 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, stating, “Can it be done? Absolutely it can, as long a member states make it our goal and that is what I am asking today. We need a new climate ambition which will show again that the EU can take responsibility and achieve a great deal.”

Another area where he said the EU could do better is on the eurozone, adding, “Currently, we are not sufficiently prepared for another crisis. If a country suffers a financial crisis we should help each other as good neighbour but we must use the tools we already have in place for this.”

He added, “For the Netherlands it seems natural that the EU budget should shrink after Brexit. But member states financial contributions need to be proportionate and reasonable.

“The current MFF process is a chance to show EU is serious about reform. Agriculture and structural funds swallow up 70 per cent of the EU budget so spending less here will allow more resources elsewhere.

“Of course, we must also do better on migration, resist an unchecked influx of migrants and make the current asylum system fair and effective.”

Saying that trust in the EU was “under pressure” he told members, “For the EU our most important task is to regain this trust one step at a time.”

He likened Europe to a giraffe because it is “difficult to define but easy to recognise” and added, “My core message is we don’t have to agree on everything in order to recognise the value of unity in a fast-changing world.”

In a reference to the current trade spat with the US, he said that “without the support of the Americans we cannot solve crises even if we have some serious quarrels within this family.”

EPP group leader Manfred Weber seized on Rutte’s comments about President Trump, saying, “Some, like Frans Timmermans, hope that the old partnership with the US will come back but I don’t think it will, so the decision about our future is in our hands. 

“We must decide our future ourselves. The world is dominated by a ‘US first’ approach, of egoism against partnership, but the EU is a good model, advocating less of a nation approach and offering an alternative to the approach of Trump.”

S&D group leader Udo Bullmann told Rutte that the top priority for the EU summit this month “must be migration and to help those who are at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean.”

Guy Verhofstadt, the ALDE group leader, said a “new world order needs a new Europe. It is completely useless to talk about more and less Europe. What we need is a new Europe.

“It is good to look to the past to see where we have to go. We have to create a European golden age at a time when we are surrounded by evil, from Putin, Erdogan and, on a bad day Trump on trade matters. Unfortunately, this is happening almost on a daily basis.”

He said, “Russia denying responsibility for the downing of MH17 is a scandal and EU should be behind the Netherlands in holding Russia to account.”

He said, “It is time to wake up to the fact that we have a US President who is more comfortable with autocrats than its traditional allies. This is the inconvenient truth we face.”

He added, “Inside the EU itself we have another problem, a fifth column: the cheerleaders of Putin who are Farage, Le Pen, Wilders and others, people who are sitting here in this chamber. 

“They do one thing: take the Kremlin’s money.”

Ska Keller, co leader of the Greens/EFA group, said, “Rutte might like to present himself as a man of the people by cleaning up some coffee. But on Europe, his vision is every man for himself.

The Prime Minister is happy to give lectures to others about not keeping their budgets in order. But in continuing to position the Netherlands as one of Europe’s top tax havens, and by blocking and delaying European action against tax avoidance, he is actively undermining the economies of his neighbours.  

“The European Union is not just a market place for corporations. It’s a place where people live and work and they need answers to the problems they face. Tackling unemployment, inequality and growing social insecurity must be our priority, not tax giveaways. Rather than pointing the finger at others, Rutte would do well to consider how his own government is undermining solidarity across the EU.”


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