AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government called on Friday for a “more modest, more sober but more effective” European Union, with the emphasis on national sovereignty and far less interference from Brussels.
The British government welcomed the call for less Europe, which follows British Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise in January to claw back powers from Brussels and hold an “in/out” referendum by 2017, if he wins re-election in 2015.
“Europe has to become smaller, leaner and meaner in many areas and cost less money,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday at his weekly press conference.
His foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, said in a letter to parliament that “the time for an ‘ever closer union’ in every possible policy area is behind us”.
He listed several issues the Netherlands wants tackled differently, ranging from generous EU salaries and the expanding remit of EU agencies to the establishment of a euro zone budget and taxation policy.
“These recommendations...could be translated into an action agenda for a more modest, more sober but more effective EU, starting from the principle: ‘at European level only when necessary, at national level whenever possible’,” he said.
The proposals will be discussed in parliament and then put to the European Commission and to the other 26 European Union members. Rutte is one of Cameron’s main allies in the bloc.
“We look forward to following up the Dutch recommendations,” said David Lidington, Britain’s Europe minister, said in a statement, adding that his country shared the “goal of creating an EU that is more modest and more effective”.
Rutte’s coalition of centre-right liberals and the centre-left Labour party was elected on a broadly pro-European agenda last September.
But politicians and the public have grown wary of ceding more powers to Brussels and are increasingly frustrated by the perceived high cost of the euro-zone crisis. EU governments fear a big vote for “Eurosceptic” parties of the far left and nationalist right in next year’s European Parliament elections.
The Dutch government has said it will seize the opportunities offered by the appointment next year of a new European Commission and of the Netherlands’ assumption of the EU’s rotating presidency in 2016 to press for a changed agenda within the EU.
Reporting by Sara Webb and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Paul Taylor and Michael Roddy