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There is no single ‘The Netherlands’
This was part of the views expressed during the fourth session of the Montesquieu Masterclass, where Agnes Jongerius, former chair of the Dutch Federation Labour Movement (FNV), and Patrick van Schie, Director of the Telders Foundation (Teldersstichting) - scientific institute affiliated to the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)-, participated as guest lecturers.
Before the crisis, Europe was an example of a democracy with well-regulated social rights, Jongerius argued, where labour unions -particularly the FNV- had a say on the governmental social plans considerably impacting the policy-making process. Afterwards, however, with the change in the view on the importance of social rights, the power of the labor unions in Europe started to diminish and now their influence is negligible. She demonstrated her enthusiasm about the European project, although recognizing the need to develop social policies as well as the economy simultaneously and in the same direction, in order to promote again an example of a ‘better’ Europe. For Jongerius, there is no single ‘The Netherlands’, but a conglomeration of different stakeholders with different concerns and political views, making it problematic to determine a “Dutch interest”. In her view, a ‘fair’ contribution should be seen from a social perspective, where the social rights of all Europeans are included.
In contrast, according to Van Schie, a ‘fair’contribution must be considered in terms of “individual merit”. For instance, when the Southern countries are in financial trouble, their Northern fellows should not always pay for them. Because, if everyone gains by having an internal market, there is no reason why some countries should pay for this benefit while others get extra money for being part of it. Emphasizing the independent and liberal line of his organization, he argued that some member states financially supporting others is a matter in which the citizens should have the right to be asked and decide on. In this line, it is relevant for the European integration process to be explicitly endorsed by the citizens, e.g. via referenda. In Van Schie’s opinion, the euro, although introduced to bring Europe together, is working counterproductively due to the differences among countries. His stance is not against European integration, but against more centralized power in the EU particularly via the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Looking back to the session, both lecturers recognized the benefits of European cooperation, provided that some changes in the current path take place, such as the promotion of social policies or the popular endorsement of the direction in which the EU is heading. However, their particular approaches for tackling the current European crisis concentrated on different aspects: Jongerius stressed the international socialism, whereas Van Schie focused on the individual will.