The Netherlands: “firm but fair” towards new EU member states

Simone Wolters
The Netherlands’ position is lukewarm towards further EU enlargement. Many political parties hold sceptical views towards a possible accession of new member states. All political parties have clear standpoints regarding the possible accession of certain countries or regions to the EU. During last year’s elections for the European Parliament and in the upcoming national elections the possible accession of Turkey to the EU is a point of discussion, with the Party for Freedom (PVV) being particularly vocal about its opposition to Turkish EU membership. Almost all political parties state specific standpoints on EU enlargement on their websites and a majority of these websites report on possible enlargement with certain countries. Regarding a possible EU enlargement, some political parties raise the issue of the EU’s absorption capacity and the necessity to increase this absorption capacity before new countries can enter the Union.[1]
The countries of the Western Balkan are a special case. The Netherlands sees cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as a condition for entry into the EU. Foreign Minister Verhagen stated furthermore that the Netherlands would be firm but fair regarding the Copenhagen criteria, in the sense that countries that want to access the EU have to fulfil these criteria as well as implement the acquis.[2]
The “Icesave case”
Dutch public opinion and media are critical towards Iceland’s application for EU membership. The prime reason is the bankruptcy of Iceland’s banking sector, which affected Dutch consumers and local authorities with savings on Icelandic banks. The popular Icesave bank may be seen as an example. Initially, the Dutch government, which had agreed on a repayment scheme with the Icelandic government, compensated Dutch victims of Icesave’s bankruptcy. However, in March 2010, the Icelandic people voted against the agreement to pay back compensation loans to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in a referendum. This has had a negative effect on relations between Iceland and the Netherlands.[3]
Foreign Minister Verhagen has made two considerations regarding the application for EU membership by Iceland. Firstly, without the Icesave discussion there would not have been a discussion about Iceland’s application for EU membership. Secondly, if Iceland wants to become an EU member, the country should apply the acquis communautaire like every other candidate state. Part of the duties that arise from the acquis are the duties regarding the European Economic Area (EEA) of which Iceland is a member. The compliance with the directive on deposit-guarantee schemes is part of the duties of the EEA. At this moment, the Netherlands is waiting for Iceland to return to the negotiation table. The Netherlands is prepared to talk about the provisions under which Iceland will be able to fulfil its duties. Some parties state that accession talks could create a framework and be used as additional instruments to call Iceland to order and accept its duties according to the acquis in a European context.
The Dutch government stated that it is absolutely out of the question that Iceland will join the EU without fulfilling the whole acquis communautaire, including the duties based on the deposit-guarantee scheme.[4] The best way for Iceland to join the EU is to show the ability to meet its commitments regarding the deposit-guarantee scheme and to agree to the reimbursement of the loans of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom regarding the Icesave dispute.[5]
Special emphasis on the Western Balkan
The Netherlands perceives considerable pressure to accept the Balkan states as EU members.[6] Regarding a possible accession of the Balkans, the Minister of Foreign Affairs does not mention dates. Rather, fulfilment of the criteria will be needed. He also opposes EU enlargement in groups. Every country should be judged on its own merits.[7]
According to Minister Verhagen, Serbia is working seriously on the reforms needed for accession. This is clearly marked in the progress report of the Commission. In his opinion, Serbia has the most professional government of all countries in the Western Balkans. Serbia has an actual modernisation agenda and the capacity to execute these modernisations. The Dutch government considers complete cooperation with the ICTY as an important condition for possible accession.
The Dutch government is concerned about the increasing nationalistic rhetoric and political tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Minister Verhagen, the Dayton Treaty brought peace, but the state structure and the Dayton constitution are making the country ungovernable and dysfunctional. At the same time, the patience of the international community is wearing thin. The political leaders have to take more responsibility: “We have to urge them and convince the parties that mutual cooperation is the only option. However, already promising Bosnia that it will one day be able to join the NATO or the EU could have an adverse effect.”[8]
Turkey important during elections
Political parties in the Netherlands are very critical towards a possible entry of Turkey into the EU and possible accession was even considered an important discussion topic during the 2009 elections for the European Parliament. In political debates during election time, right-wing PVV has been especially opposed to Turkish accession to the EU. Other parties except for the Greens and Liberal Democrats (GroenLinks and D66), are critical on their websites and in their election programmes of an eventual accession of Turkey to the EU. On a possible accession of Turkey, Minister Verhagen stated that Turkey could have an important bridging function and could contribute to a dialogue between cultures instead of a “clash of civilisations”. According to the Netherlands, the reform process in Turkey has been delayed in the last few years. The speed of these reforms should be accelerated. According to Minister Verhagen, Turkey should be aware of the fact that the negotiations are an open-ended process and Turkey has to make a move. The Dutch goal remains that accession talks are directed at accession, without the outcome being fixed.[9]

[1] See the websites of the different political parties, available at: (last access: 22 June 2010).

[2] Eerste Kamer: Algemene Europese beschouwingen, 20 April 2010, 26-1117.

[3] Melle Garschagen: Bevolking IJsland wijst Icesave-akkoord af, NRC Handelsblad, 6 March 2010.

[4] Tweede Kamer: vergaderjaar 2009-2010, 21 501-02, nr. 958, 14-17.

[5] Tweede Kamer: Vergaderjaar 2009-2010, 23 987, nr. 107, 3.

[6] Eerste Kamer: Algemene Europese beschouwingen, 20 April 2010, 26-1081.

[7] Ibid., 26-1117.

[8] Ibid., 20 April 2010, 26-1118.

[9] Ibid.