How Covid-19 poured cold water on Netherlands’ EU romance

Dutch opposition to recovery spending has overtones of British disillusionment

Isolated in a recent European Union council of ministers, with attitudes described by European leaders past and present as “repugnant”.

It sounds like an old script of Britain in the EU. Yet it is the Netherlands that has found itself at the heart of the union’s most bitter row during the coronavirus pandemic. As EU leaders meet on Thursday for their fourth virtual crisis summit in seven weeks, the Dutch will once again be in the vanguard of opposition to plans for big spending on the recovery.

British parallels only go so far. The Netherlands is a founding member of the European club and single currency, and does three-quarters of its trade with the EU. A year ago the prime minister, Mark Rutte, gave a sweeping vision of a savvier, more realpolitik-positioned EU in the world. Surveying “the chaos of Brexit”, Rutte said, “there is no such thing as splendid isolation”. Dutch Eurosceptic parties have quietly shelved visions of “Nexit”.

And yet Dutch political scientist Catherine De Vries sees echoes of the British debate. The Dutch political class, which she notes like to describe their country as “the Netherlands Inc” have a transactional attitude to Europe. The Dutch have benefited tremendously from “the tree of European integration”, she observes. “Now that we have been able to reap the fruits of those developments, we are questioning whether we need the tree anymore or do we actually need to water the tree?

Read also:
‘Feh!’ Top Holocaust scholar pans Netanyahu for warm ties with Poland, Hungary