Brexit Musings (19) – The Federal Train From Lisbon


The EU is a community of values and a partnership of 27 sovereign member states, that make each other stronger, when a joint approach is needed…The EU is not an unstoppable train speeding towards federalism. – Mark Rutte 

  Just as Theresa May was thanking the heavens for Brexit, in Mansion House, a little known Dutch garden gnome, was threatening to disrupt the harmony of Jean-Claude Juncker’s federalist rose garden. The offender resembles another anti-Federal garden gnome who, in turn, resembles more Harry Potter, than anybody of importance. I’m referring to the former Dutch premier, Jan Peter Balkenende (he’s the Harry Potter look-alike), and the present Dutch premier, Mark Rutte. Both have spoken out over the EU’s quest for federalism. In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, in 2007, Balkenende hinted that national parliaments should be given a stronger role than hitherto, since decisions that affect citizens locally should also be taken locally.

Directives from Brussels should not be heavier than strictly necessary – Jan Peter Balkenende, 2007

Of course, we all know what happened next. Balkenende’s speech was in March, and the Lisbon Treaty was signed in December. The Lisbon Treaty is considered, by some, as an intermediate step on the way from an economic community to a political Union, and from a Union of governments to a Union of citizens. If that doesn’t make your eyes water, nothing will. The question is – are you crying or laughing? Mark Rutte’s speech in Berlin was even more remarkable (excuse the pun) because it coincided with Theresa May justifying her relentless efforts in wanting to make everybody cross with her. Minutes before Theresa May was to deliver her speech at Mansion House, in a language that was her own, Mark Rutte spoke about his, in a language that wasn’t.

You had a choice today. You could have listened to a speech in the U.K. about a future without Europe. Or a speech in Berlin by someone who believes in Europe and wants to talk about the best way to move forward with Europe. – Mark Rutte

“This is what I believe, and this is how Europe should be…” was his basic message to the German audience. During the speech one could almost picture Rutte boarding a high-speed train, in Lisbon. The train, whose destination was Brussels, was full of well-meaning federalists and was dangerously speeding its way through the European countryside. On the outskirts of Berlin and then Paris, Rutte pulled the alarm handle in a valiant attempt to stop the train. Whether Rutte has succeeded in stopping the Federalist train from Lisbon remains to be seen. Rumblings emanating from Paris and Berlin seem to point to the fact that certain Europeans are adding coal to the steam engine, in order to accelerate the already speeding train. Mark Rutte did have a message for the French and the Germans. That the EU needs to deliver on its basic promises, and Brussels serve the member countries, and not vice-versa, were principles high up on Rutte’s agenda. And whether the French and Germans like it or not,well –

It’s not only about Macron and Merkel, but about how we go forward collectively.

Mark Rutte’s speech was as clear as it was clairvoyant. Maybe I’m biased, of course, because his views coincide with mine. The only difference being – he is much more powerful than I am.

Everyone should keep their own house in order. And if there is genuinely no alternative, good neighbours help each other. But we should do things in that order. European funds are a last resort, not first aid.

Doesn’t that remind you of the UK’s golden age when Margaret Thatcher wanted everybody living under the same roof to pay a poll tax? Yes, even that snotty nosed teenager, never setting his foot out of the attic, would have to contribute to society. Well, such a vision would certainly put the Greeks in their place. But Rutte’s vision of Europe goes further than simple economic reasoning. The EU “must deliver on its basic promises of prosperity, security and stability. If it doesn’t, “people will start believing the false promises and pipe dreams of the political extremes.”  For one so quiet, when it comes to participating in the European debate, Mark Rutte wants to make his voice heard. Up to now, the Netherlands have pretty much stayed on the sidelines of EU politics despite being part of the founding members all those years ago. It is a country that is now caught between sadness of losing a trusted EU ally and trepidation about finding a new role for itself in the EU. For Rutte, there is no doubt that the continuing deepening of the Franco-German influence on the EU must be balanced and, in some cases, countered. Jean-Claude Juncker and his bunch of federalists may have just have got rid of the noisy garden cat but must be wary of the garden gnome.