Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

The Netherlands and the EU – A No-Frills Presidency

23 May 2016

On January 1st, the Netherlands took over the Presidency of the European Union. I know it is not the most exciting topic and, since the Lisbon Treaty, this responsibility is not what it used to be. All the same, for those curious to know what the EU will be dealing with in the first six months of 2016, a few words on the aims, style and substance of our Presidency:

Before that, I must mention here that, as President, we may be entrusted with a fine task: there is a chance that, on behalf of the other 27 members of the European Council, the Presidency will take receipt of an application for membership from Bosnia-Herzegovina. When it comes, the Presidency will guide the application through the Brussels decision making process. But we hope that, by then, BiH has convinced both Council and Commission that enough progress has been made in preparing your country for the next step in the accession process. As you may know, ‘meaningful progress’ in implementing the Reform Agenda is one condition imposed by the Council for the application to be accepted as ‘credible’. In addition, important, outstanding issues remain: the adaptation of the Stability and Association Agreement to the changes in trade relations after Croatia’s accession to the EU and the establishment of an efficient national mechanism which enables Bosnia to coordinate its positions on various EU-issues.

Back to the goals, the character and the essence of our Presidency:

First of all, the Netherlands is assuming the Presidency in difficult circumstances. We are faced with extremism, mass migration, persistent worries about the Euro and a complex and fragile situation on the Union’s Eastern borders. Circumstances, which call for close European cooperation, because no member state can overcome these challenges on its own. These days, more than ever, many people are looking to Europe for solutions – and rightly so. This does not always mean that the EU has a ready-made answer for everything and that cooperation between member states is not always free of tension. In the end what counts are the results.

That’s why The Netherlands will tackle its Presidency pragmatically: what Europe needs now is not grandiose visions or grands projets, what the citizens of the EU want in times of great uncertainty is tangible outcomes.

The Netherlands Presidency expects to be faced with unexpected challenges in the coming six months – most likely: refugee issues and terrorism – and will be judged by the way it handles these emergencies. These crises will put to the test some of the greatest achievements and results of 60 years of hard work on European integration. That’s why my country decided not to present an ambitious list of possible ‘deliverables’. We simply have to focus on the most burning issues of the day.

This does not mean that it is only gloom and doom, crisis management and damage control. During the next six months the Netherlands will not neglect the longer term common European objectives: to spur growth, to create jobs, to ensure a strong Euro, to promote affordable energy and to protect the climate.

Far from that: in order to ensure continuity between Presidencies, our guideline will be a document adopted by the European Council in in June 2014. This paper bears the rather grandiose title of “Strategic Agenda for the Union in Times of Change”. It offered five ‘overarching priorities’ for the next five years: stronger economies and jobs; societies enabled to empower and protect, a secure energy and climate future, a trusted area of fundamental freedoms and effective joint action in the world.

The Netherlands will not just tick off the boxes on the Strategic Agenda. We have a few ideas of our own. Within the Agenda’s scope, our national Presidency programme identified the following four policy priorities:

Migration and international security:

We need to take measures at every level to bring the migratory flows under control. As President, we will encourage rapid and better policy coordination. European ministers responsible for different policy areas should look beyond their narrowly defined remits in order to find common solutions. As individual member states, we need to work on improving the conditions of refugee accommodation, and undermine the people smugglers’ business model.

As a strong advocate of the Rule of Law, a unifying principle for the EU member states, the Presidency will organize a seminar on the significance of EU fundamental values for the migration crisis.

We are dealing with extremists who have only one goal: to destabilize our societies by spreading hate, division and fear. The best answer we can give is not letting them play member states off against one another. For that, we need an improved information exchange and cooperation between the national security services of EU member states. In the field of education, my country will seek to promote discussion of how teaching and schooling can help combat radicalization among young people.

Last but not least: at an informal meeting of foreign and defense ministers early next month, we aim to discuss the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. The EU is currently working on this new approach and its elaboration in the form of specific action plans. These proposals should be ready for debate in the European Council of June.

Europe as an innovator and job creator:

In this field our goals are an improved market for services. We believe it holds a great promise: an enormous increase in jobs and trade: the European economy could grow by €1.25 trillion – twice the size of the entire Dutch economy –, if we truly complete the single market.

Also, less expensive medicines are possible. We are keen to have EU countries buy medicines jointly, as Belgium, Luxembourg and my country already do. One of our aims is to make rules for approving new medicines simpler and less extensive.

The Netherlands will press for the development of intelligent transport systems and encourage partnerships in this field, with self-driving cars as an example. Protection for employees in the EU must be improved. We will push for an end to discrimination on the basis of nationality regarding terms and conditions of employment. Finally, on our to-do-list is to make the digital single market, with opportunities for entrepreneurs and more choice and lower prices for consumers, more efficient.

Sound, future-proof European finances and a robust Eurozone:

The Presidency will work towards a deepening of the Capital Markets Union, will try to make progress on structural reforms. We would like to see more coordination in the economic policies of the Member States and full compliance with EMU agreements. The Netherlands will initiate consultations on a new and reformed multi-annual budget for the Union.

A forward-looking climate and energy policy:

Here our objectives are: stimulating innovative sectors that contribute to a transition to a circular economy. Further developing a European Energy Union and, of course, active elaboration of the agreements made at the recent successful Paris Climate Conference.

Finally, a couple of remarks about the style of our Presidency:

The Council under our Presidency will not be ‘a travelling circus’: all its informal meetings will be held at one location, in Amsterdam. For that purpose, a ‘pop-up’ building has been erected on the site of a former Naval barracks on the Amsterdam waterfront. The building and its contents – mostly state of the art Dutch design – will be sold afterwards. Total expenditures will be substantially lower than in 2004, when we last had the Presidency.

We foresee 11 informal ministerial councils, two other ministerial meetings (Urban Agenda and the EU-US summit), 130 meetings at civil servants’ level. Total expected attendance: 17,500 ministers, delegation members and civil servants.

To sum up: the Netherlands seeks to have a well-organized, efficient, a ‘no-frills’ Presidency, that makes a substantive contribution by tackling issues that are important for the Netherlands and for Europe as a whole. We want to build bridges between actors and make progress in dealing with the current crises related to refugees, international security and finances.

It won’t be easy, but we have opportunities. We will not let the atmosphere of crisis paralyze us. On the contrary: actually, the current predicaments show how much we need Europe. Our strength lies in unity.


Jurriaan Kraak, January, 2016

(This blog was posted earlier in

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About the author

Jurriaan Kraak
Written by Jurriaan Kraak

Dutch ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

Jurriaan Kraak was born on 24 August 1951 in Jakarta (Indonesia). He started his diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1978. After postings to Mexico and Canada, he worked for twelve years in Brussels at the Netherlands Permanent Representations to the European Union and to NATO. Between 1991 and 1995 he was seconded to the Royal Household as Private Secretary of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and HRH Prince Claus of The Netherlands and of HRH the Prince of Orange. Prior to his posting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Latvia. He is married and has two children.