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European Integration

The Dutch have the reputation of being enthusiastic subscribers to the
ideal of an integrated Europe. The practice of European integration,
however, is not always as wholeheartedly embraced: the Netherlands has
been one of the slowest member states in implementing measures under the
single market. But Europe is not an issue on the political agenda: no
major political party questions EC membership, and surveys consistently
show higher than average popular support for European unification in the
Netherlands. From the Dutch point of view the EC has fulfilled its two
main promises. It has been almost too successful in cementing Germany
not only militarily (through NATO) but also economically into Western
alliances, and the Dutch are now wary of a French—German directorate
within the Community. The second promise, of fostering Dutch economic
growth by demolishing obstacles to trade (two-thirds of Dutch industrial
exports is to other member states), has also been a success, and the
Netherlands has, until 1992, always been a net earner from the EC.

Interestingly enough, the Dutch had to overcome initial hesitations
before developing their pro-Europe attitude. When the European Coal and
Steel Community was set up, the Dutch objected to a supranational
authority, whereas supranationality was later to become one of the
characteristic Dutch desires in Brussels. Another source of hesitation
was even more curious: fear (by all major parties except the KVP), of a
papist Europe. This fear even had an impact on the composition of the
1952-6 Cabinet. In Chapter 2 we noted that in 1952 the portfolio of
Foreign Affairs fell to the KVP, but that the other parties balked at
the prospect of all the Foreign Secretaries in the EC being Catholics.
As a compromise a non-partisan Minister of Foreign Affairs, the banker
Beyen, was appointed, in addition to whom the Catholic diplomat Joseph
Luns became minister without portfolio, with the right to call himself
Foreign Secretary when abroad. When asked why the Netherlands had two
Ministers of Foreign Affairs, his stock reply was that, the Netherlands
being such a small country, the rest of the world was too large an area
to be covered by just one minister. Ironically, it was the Catholic Luns
who turned out to be a staunch Atlanticist, and it was Beyen who became
one of the founding fathers of the Community. The latter succeeded,
together with Belgium’s Foreign Secretary, Spaak, in laying the
foundations of the EC Treaty after attempts at a European Defence
Community and a European Political Community had foundered in 1954.

Once these initial hesitations were overcome, two important obstacles to
European integration remained: a fear of domination by one or more of
the larger member states, and an emphasis on Atlantic cooperation in the
areas of defence and foreign policy. Because of these reservations it
has been argued that the Dutch Foreign Office sought to model ‘Europe as
a greater Holland’. The fear of a directorate of larger countries,
France, or a Franco-German coalition, made the Dutch into proponents of
widening the Community by including more countries, but it was primarily
translated into proposals to strengthen the EC’s supranational
institutions, the Commission and the European Parliament.

Countries such as the Netherlands, it is felt, are too small to exert
influence in an intergovernmental power game. Supranational bodies, on
the other hand, are likely to pursue pan-European interests, and such
interests are deemed more compatible with Dutch interests than are
specific French or German interests. Thus supranationalism became a
preoccupation of the Dutch within Europe, from the near unanimous motion
in the Second Chamber to transfer powers to supranationalist
institutions in 1948, to the conflict in 1991 between the Netherlands as
temporary chairman of the EC and the British government about
supranationalist tendencies in a Dutch draft for the Maastricht treaty.
The Dutch insistence, since 1964, on a directly elected European
Parliament with real powers should also be interpreted in this light.

Officially, the Dutch have always worried about the ‘European democratic
deficit’: decision-making increasingly shifts to Brussels, where it is
outside the purview of national parliaments. This gap in democratic
accountability should be filled by a competent European Parliament. The
introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament, first held
in 1979, was celebrated as a Dutch victory for democracy. Turnout for
these elections was low everywhere, but it was particularly
disappointing in the Netherlands. This has not helped much in giving the
supranational Parliament democratic legitimacy, but the low turnout has
only strengthened the resolve of the Dutch government to push for more
powers for the European Parliament, claiming that the low turnout is
caused by a reluctance to vote for a third-rate legislature. It is
difficult- to ascertain to what degree this concern for European
democracy is real, or whether it merely serves as a flag of convenience
under which to strengthen the supranational character of the Community
in defence of Dutch national interests.

Whatever explanation is the correct one, it should be emphasized that
the campaign for supranationalism has always taken second place to the
Atlantic orientation in Dutch European policy. It is in the interest of
Dutch trade that the Netherlands has always attempted to prevent the
development of a ‘fortress Europe’ by welcoming the accession of new
member states, and by objecting to European protectionism. Yet, within
that framework, the Atlantic orientation has always been given
precedence. Dutch Atlanticism is evidenced by a reluctance to extend
European cooperation to defence and foreign policy, and by its support
of British applications for membership of the Community. The Dutch
attitude is epitomised by Foreign Secretary Luns’s finest hour: his ‘no’
to De Gaulle’s aspirations in 1961-2. In 1960 the French President
announced his proposals for a European Political Union, which included
taking over some of NATO’s military responsibilities, and in which
European institutions would be firmly controlled by intergovernmental
bodies. The circumstance that France was the only nuclear power within
the Europe of the original six member states, and De Gaulle’s suggestion
that the new political union’s secretariat be located in Paris, provided
sufficient fuel for fear of a Gaullist Europe. This anxiety, the lack of
supranational elements in the proposal, and the challenge to America’s
leadership of the Alliance by the formation of a French-led European
defence bloc within NATO, all ran counter to established Dutch foreign
policy precepts. Irritation over the plans mounted when De Gaulle
secured German (and Italian) support on the eve of the 1961 meeting
where the proposals were to be discussed. All other member states,
except the Netherlands, agreed to underwrite the French plans. Much to
the surprise of Europe’s two most venerable statesmen, De Gaulle and
Adenauer, their proposal was thwarted by a Minister of Foreign Affairs
(not even a head of state or government) from a small country. Luns
demanded that the political union should not affect NATO, and that
it-should develop supranational institutions. He was willing to drop
these conditions, however, provided that the UK was included.

This last element, which became known as the Dutch prealable Anglais, is
interesting since it shows that for the Netherlands Atlanticism took
priority over supranationalism. Because of Britain’s special
relationship with the USA, its accession to the Community would provide
the Dutch with a powerful ally in promoting an Atlantic orientation
within the EG. At the same time it was well known that the British were,
(and still are) excessively wary of transferring some of their national
sovereignty to a supranational organisation. The Dutch could not hope to
get support for their plans in that direction from British membership of
the Community. After the inconclusive 1961 summit the Dutch were
gradually forced to accept compromise proposals, and they might have
lost their struggle had not De Gaulle ‘snatched defeat from the jaws of
victory’ by rejecting the compromises, reverting to his original plan,
and vetoing British membership. In 1962 the Netherlands, now joined by
Belgium, once again (and this time definitely) vetoed the proposals.

It is only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the Atlantic
orientation seems gradually to have been pushed into the background. The
causes of this change — it is still little more than a shift in emphasis
— are to be found on both sides of the Atlantic. The USA is perceived to
be less focused on Europe than it was in the past. In the 1970s there
were already growing doubts about the American guarantee of European
security, and subsequently there were calls to develop a European
defence option within the context of the Western European Union (WEU).
Now that the Soviet threat has collapsed, the USA need no longer give
priority to Europe’s defence. A new, more globally-oriented, USA foreign
policy is reflected in President Bush’s ‘new world order’. In economic
terms, the US is forced more and more to look westward. This Pacific
economic orientation of the USA has also weakened America’s
cross-Atlantic ties. At the same time, the international situation has
changed for the Dutch, too. The Europe of the Six has become the Europe
of the Twelve. From the Dutch point of view the most important of the
new member states has been the UK. There is less need for an Atlantic
reservation to European integration now that the Community includes a
large extra-continental power to counter-balance Franco-German
aspirations.

The Dutch are also less opposed to European political cooperation
because they have learned from the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it can be
risky to stand alone. Before 1973 the Netherlands had a strongly
pro-Israel reputation, perhaps not always warranted by its actual
policies. The Arab countries took particular offence at the Dutch
adherence to the English version of resolution 242 of the UN Security
Council, calling for Israeli withdrawal from ‘occupied territories’,
rather than ‘the occupied territories’ mentioned in some other versions.
When war broke out in the Middle East in 1973, the Dutch government
unequivocally condemned the Arab countries, just as it had done in 1967.
It refused to join the other EC member states in a common reaction
because of the more pro-Arab attitude of the French in particular. For
these reasons, in October 1973, the Arab countries imposed an oil
embargo not only on the USA, but also on the Netherlands. The embargo of
the Netherlands was even kept in place four months longer than that of
the USA. Despite panicky reactions at first — ‘car-free Sundays’ were
declared to save oil — the economic effect of the embargo was
insignificant because oil was diverted from other EC countries to the
Netherlands, despite their irritation over the Dutch obstinacy. The
political effect has been more important. Not only have the Dutch
distanced themselves more and more from Israel, but they have also come
to see the advantages of a common European foreign policy.

Now that the renewed momentum of European integration has spilled over
into closer military cooperation within the WEU, and in renewed
proposals for a European Political Union, the Dutch take a less deviant
stance than they did in the 1960s. Yet, when the Netherlands took over
the EC presidency in July 1991, it attempted to redraft the existing
Luxemburg proposal for the treaty to establish a European Political
Union to include more supranationalist elements, and to allow a common
security policy only as a complement to NATO, much to the annoyance of
several other member states. Apparently the traditional reservations
have not yet been completely abandoned.

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