quarta-feira, 19 de outubro de 2016
Mark Rutte tries to keep a lid on ‘Nexit’
Mark Rutte tries to keep a lid on ‘Nexit’
The strong ties between the Dutch and the Brits are being tested by the Brexit vote.
By NAOMI O'LEARY 10/19/16, 5:27 AM CET Updated 10/19/16, 9:57 AM CET
AMSTERDAM — As Brexit negotiations approach there’s a distinct chill in the air between Britain and the Netherlands, and it’s not just because Theresa May can’t hope to replicate the bromance between her predecessor David Cameron and Dutch leader Mark Rutte.
The U.K. may be the Netherlands’ third-biggest export market, but the Dutch center-right prime minister has compelling reasons for wanting Britain to squirm as it leaves the EU. Like many European leaders, he’s facing a strong Euroskeptic challenge in next March’s election.
“He doesn’t have the political space to make it too easy for the U.K.,” said Kees Verhoeven of the liberal D66 party, who sits on the Dutch parliament’s European affairs committee. “The only thing that’s really important is: Don’t make the United Kingdom an argument for populists to leave the EU.”
Rutte, the 49-year-old leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), has told parliament he’s training like a “boxer” for the Brexit negotiations ahead. He’ll find it much easier to take a swing at May than his old chum Cameron, with whom he was in the habit of swapping text messages — “mostly about stupid stuff,” Rutte confided to the BBC.
“The only thing that’s really important is: Don’t make the United Kingdom an argument for populists to leave the EU” — Kees Verhoeven
Indeed, Cameron trusted Rutte so much that the Dutchman stood in for him at an EU summit last year. The Dutch, Brits, Danes and Finns often formed a cluster of like-minded northern Europeans to act as a bulwark against German and French influence, according to Adriaan Schout of the Dutch think-tank Clingendael.
“Migration, military defense cooperation, energy liberalization … there are major areas where the Dutch will really miss the U.K.,” Schout said.
The frostier new tone was apparent when Cameron’s successor as Conservative prime minister visited the Netherlands last week. She didn’t even issue a press statement after her meeting with Rutte, in contrast to her visits to Croatia and Denmark; after her talks in Copenhagen, May spoke of a “mature, cooperative relationship” with Europe, whereas Rutte’s tone was much more distant.
“It is evident that we will also have shared interests in the future, but the fact remains that very complex negotiations lie ahead,” Rutte said following his meeting with May. He backed Paris and Berlin in saying that Britain would not be able to remain in the single market while restricting freedom of movement. “This is not a menu to choose from,” he said.
Rather than fueling demands for a copycat Dutch vote, the Brexit result has muffled debate on the EU in the Netherlands as the country watches the worrying events across the North Sea. EU membership has barely been mentioned so far in the incipient Dutch election campaign, and Rutte is keen to keep it that way. The plunge in sterling and political ferment in Britain, where there was a wave of resignations on both sides of the campaign following the vote, have created caution in the Netherlands.
“After Brexit, the ‘Nexit’ discussion went down. It’s quite a paradox but it happened,” said Verhoeven.
Socialist MP Harry van Bommel, who also sits on the Dutch parliament’s European affairs committee, attempted to grill Rutte for details following May’s visit. “He completely kept us in the dark. We haven’t got a clue,” van Bommel said. “The prime minister is not willing to say anything because he says that might weaken the Dutch negotiating position.”
“The main lesson is: ‘Woah. This is a bit too much,'” said Jacques Monasch, a euro-critical member of the Labour party, which forms part of Rutte’s governing coalition. “That no party picks up the momentum of Brexit, that a major partner wants to exit the European Union, I think is a sign.”
Even the openly Euroskeptic parties, fresh from delivering a rebuke to the EU by winning a referendum on a trade treaty with Ukraine earlier this year, are exercising caution and have so far refrained from using calls for a ‘Nexit’ as their rallying cry in the campaign.
Jan Roos, who helped collect the required signatures to trigger the Ukraine referendum, has entered politics at the head of a party whose flagship proposal is a flat tax. Its EU policy is “less Brussels.”
His fellow Euroskeptic Thierry Baudet announced last month that his Forum for Democracy party would also contest the election, but it isn’t demanding an in-out ballot on EU membership. Instead, it would like to hold four separate votes on aspects of EU participation: the euro, free movement, common foreign policy and primacy of EU law.
Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party is neck-and-neck with Rutte’s VVD in opinion polls, did call for the Netherlands to hold its own referendum on EU membership in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s vote. Recently, however, Wilders has been promoting a different policy: for Dutch citizens to be able to demand binding referendums four times a year. Under Dutch law, referendums are only advisory and apply to new treaties or legislation.
Support for the Netherlands to leave the EU dropped in the weeks following Britain’s vote, a poll by the website Peil.nl showed, but it was still at a significant 40 percent of respondents. This means Rutte must tread carefully to avoid exacerbating lingering dissatisfaction among voters, said Monasch of the Labour party.
“I’m afraid the political establishment is going to feel they can ride it out, wait for the tide to change and then go with our plans for a more federal Europe,” Monasch said. “That would be very, very unwise. As soon as anybody in the Netherlands smells that undercurrent, there is going to be trouble.”