Interview: Dutch coalition deal eyes more pro-European role, national priorities

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THE HAGUE, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- The new Dutch coalition agreement is more pro-European and reaffirms the Netherlands desire to play a constructive and leading role in Europe and globally, while also addressing pressing national matters such as shortages in the housing market, climate change and energy transition, according to one expert.

"The coalition agreement is a typically Mark Rutte document in the sense that it is optimistic, ambitious and upbeat, and it reconfirms the international and European position of the Netherlands, which is rather high up in the ranking of the most important economies despite its size, being a small country," Adriaan Schout, Senior Research Fellow at Clingendael, the globally renowned Dutch institute of international relations, told Xinhua.

After a record nine months of negotiations, the coalition agreement between four Dutch parties, the same serving in the current caretaker government but also in Prime Minister Mark Rutte's former administration, was presented in the Dutch parliament on Wednesday.

The new coalition will consist of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) led by caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the center-leftist party Democrats 66 (D66) and the smaller centrist party the Christian Union (CU).


The new coalition agreement, setting out the priorities of Mark Rutte's fourth consecutive government, is "more pro-European" in the sense that "it is open" to key issues currently under discussion among the European Union member states.

These include the issue of majority voting in external affairs, when it comes to sanctions imposed on third countries, currently requiring unanimity in decision-making.

"It also indicates that the Netherlands is open to some harmonization of the tax policy," even though under EU rules, tax policy is a national responsibility and not a European one, said Schout.

"These are big steps, but also a mention is made about possible treaty change, which is quite telling," said Schout, referring to the EU's treaty laying out how the bloc of 27 countries operates.

In an effort to emphasize the shift in the Dutch position as spelled out in the agreement, Schout referred to the Dutch voters' rejection of the EU's Constitutional Treaty in 2005, which was meant to set out the conditions for further European integration.

According to Schout, who is also Professor of European Public Administration at Radboud University Nijmegen, said that even though the coalition agreement points towards a more pro-European stance, "the margin for maneuver the Netherlands sees for itself is really limited."

He explained that the Netherlands "may be willing to discuss the effectiveness of the 60 percent debt to GDP rule, for example, but it doesn't mean the country wants to do away with it," referring to a key European fiscal rule, setting the debt-to-GDP ratio below 60 percent to safeguard the stability of the common euro currency used by 19 EU member states.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, launched a revision of the EU's fiscal rules laid out in the Stability and Growth Pact in October with the aim of reforming the rules to deal with a surge in public debt induced by the pandemic and with the huge investment needed to address climate change.

The commission is expected to come up with specific proposals after gathering the views of all countries on what should be done in spring 2022.


The priorities that stand out in the coalition agreement "address big national debates," Schout said.

He singled out policies on the energy transition, the minimum wage, coping with nitrogen pollution and the housing problem.

Indeed, in the 50-page-long document of the Rutte IV coalition agreement, under the motto "take care of each other and look to the future," the four parties agree to invest heavily in tackling the climate crisis, the nitrogen crisis, and the housing shortage.

More specifically, an additional 35 billion euros has been earmarked for combating climate change over the next ten years, mainly investing in energy transition policies in an effort to move toward climate neutrality in 2050 as Sigrid Kaag, leader of D66, the coalition's second largest party said.

Policies include investments in hydrogen, renewable energy, heat, electricity networks and nuclear power. According to the agreement, the Netherlands may build two additional nuclear energy reactors, while it plans to keep the country's only existing nuclear plant operational for longer than planned.

The new coalition plans to build up to 100,000 houses per year to address the housing shortage, while apart from an increase in childcare subsidies and on education spending, an increase is foreseen on the minimum wage by 7.5 percent in stages.

Farmers in environmentally sensitive areas will not be bought out by compulsory purchase orders, according to the agreement. Enditem

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