On Jan. 1, the six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) was transferred from Luxembourg to the Netherlands. What impact will this have on relations between the Russian Federation and the EU?
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, front row from left, and other members of the EU commission pose for a group photo in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Jan. 7, 2016. Photo: AP
A considerable time before Jan. 1, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that a lot of work lay ahead for the diplomacy of the Netherlands, due to the fact that the Presidency of the Council of the EU would transfer to his country beginning in 2016.
Even after the introduction into the Lisbon Treaty of the post of President of the European Council, there remained within the EU the position of the Co-President, appointed for a period of six months. This position is responsible for organizing and conducting meetings of the Council of the European Union in all its dimensions, as well as for the development by the European Council of compromise decisions on political issues.
Judging by the fact that the Dutch part of the presidency is planning to hold three meetings of the European Council – in February, March, and June – the statement of “great work lies ahead” rings true. The current President of the European Council Donald Tusk has thus set the upcoming priorities for the EU: “We have one clear message from our debate: there is no time for complacency in reforming the Eurozone. We stand ready to take difficult decisions on banking union and economic governance in the coming year."
The four Dutch priorities
According to tradition, the country about to assume the new presidency announced its priorities for the future development of the European Union. According to a document released by Bert Koenders, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the priorities shall be ensuring the implementation of migration and international security. To achieve this, according to The Hague, Europe needs to improve the way it accepts refugees and must “master” migratory flows.
The second priority for the Dutch is innovation and job creation in Europe: “An absolute priority, therefore, is creating an innovative Union founded on structural growth and employment.” Netherlands wishes to see a more active stimulation of entrepreneurs, as well as more activity in the service and innovation sectors of the economy.
The third priority, literally in agreement with Donald Tusk, for Dutch diplomacy is achieving financial stability and strengthening the Eurozone by supporting economic growth and putting the budgets of member states in order. Finally, priority number four, proposed by The Hague, is the implementation of a stable climate and energy policy, which involves “launching of a ‘circular economy’ based on a responsible operation cycle and the re-use of resources...”
What politics pulls apart, economics brings closer together
Today it is not possible to clearly answer the question of whether the Dutch Presidency of EU institutions will make a positive contribution to the development of relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union. Shortly before the New Year, Vladimir Putin in one of his televised interviews suggested that many European countries have recently voluntarily surrendered part of their sovereignty to the United States and NATO, but did not specify examples.
However, we can say with certainty that among these countries, he was referring to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which after 1945 has been fully coordinating its foreign policy with Washington, and in effect is now a junior partner of the United States.
At the same time, one could agree with the view of the well-known Russian scientist and doctor of historical sciences Vladimir Shveycer, who said that the Netherlands have “a strong political and economic position in Europe.”
Nevertheless, we cannot speak about the existence of any special policy approach by the Hague – outside of the overall policy of the EU – when it comes to relations with Russia. A small side note here: the list of nearly 90 European politicians who have been banned from entering the Russian Federation in 2015 includes an MP of the European Parliament from the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, Johannes Kornelis van Baalen, as well as Dutch parliamentarian from the Labor Party Michiel Servaes.
Both of these politicians, who have been actively advocating tougher EU sanctions against Russia, are members of the political parties currently running the government of the Netherlands. Therefore, we can conclude that it makes no sense to expect any “political softening” towards Russia on the part of the current Liberal-Labor government of the Netherlands.
Moreover, a full investigation has still not been completed yet into the identity of who shot down the Malaysian MH17 airliner over Eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014, in which 193 Dutch citizens were killed.
The economy is another issue. We still do not have the final statistics for the past year, but in 2014, Russian-Dutch trade totaled more than $50 billion. Among Russia’s foreign trade partners, the Netherlands occupies second place in the world, and first place in Europe. In addition, Netherlands is also in second place by the volume of direct foreign investment in Russia. It is obvious that under the influence of reciprocal sanctions, the mutual trade turnover between the two countries declined markedly since 2014.
Before the embargo, Russia imported a large volume of agricultural goods. According to initial data, the embargo imposed by Russia means that since 2014, Dutch farmers were unable to sell their products in Russia worth a total of more than $1 billion. The sales of famous Dutch flowers have also been significantly reduced in the Russian market.
In this regard, we should note the words of Russian trade representative in the Netherlands, Alexander Cherevko: “Many Dutch companies actively support the normalization of relations with Russia in the interest of developing their businesses.” At the same time, we can assume that Russian businesses and consumers are also interested in obtaining uninterrupted deliveries of Dutch products.
It is already clear that the “sanctions war” with Europe has brought many problems to Russian society. Against the background of the impact that a catastrophic drop of the ruble, for example, has had on the level of income of the population, Russia has already been surpassed not only by China, but also by poor (according to EU standards) European countries like Romania.
If we compare with the Netherlands, then the size of the average monthly wages in that country is five times higher than in Russia. As the famous axiom suggests: “What politics pulls apart, economics brings closer together.” Russia may not want to cooperate politically with the Netherlands, but economic considerations may decide otherwise.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.