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UK and Netherlands face common challenges

by Ruud Lubbers in Rotterdam

Mon 20 Jun 2016

The British and Dutch have a lot in common. The UK and the Netherlands both had to struggle after the second world war with the challenge of how to be truly European while remaining authentically British or Dutch.

There are plenty of tasks ahead, which is why I hope the UK stays in the European Union after the 23 June referendum. The poll comes at a peculiarly delicate time, coinciding with the threat from Isis, the rise of Donald Trump in the US, political turbulence in Germany, and the challenge the business world faces in formulating a response to the need for lower-carbon economies.

Britain and the Netherlands have to steer the right path regarding Nato and the 'special relationship' with the US. We need joint policies to back the campaign from the United Nations and others on sustainable development. We must implement the Paris climate accord, in which the US and China took the lead.

Around the time of German unification in 1990 and the Maastricht treaty of 1991-92, I believe I can claim that I was Margaret Thatcher’s closest European friend and ally. The same was true for John Major, her successor as prime minister.

As a European neighbour, I had to explain to Thatcher the concept of 'subsidiarity'. With Major, I had to agree an opt-out over the common currency, though he still declared himself committed to 'ever-closer union'.

A quarter of a century later, just as it was then, interdependence not independence must be the watchword for governments and policy-makers. A new chapter in history has to be given shape and substance.

Young people are a source of hope. They refuse to give in to growing nationalism and materialism, and aspire to a future marked by the 'joyful celebration of life'. The international political and business community is aware of the need to eradicate poverty and address climate change.

The British and Dutch have too much in common to end their precious European relationship. I hope it continues and is even enhanced after 23 June.

Ruud Lubbers is a former Prime Minister of the Netherlands. 


Spirit of common responsibility

Harald Benink and Paul van Seters in Tilburg

This idea of European countries’ common responsibility – highlighted by our King Willem-Alexander in a speech to the European Parliament on 25 May – is a cornerstone of the European Union. All the EU’s building blocks – a common market, freedom of movement, a common agricultural policy, a not entirely common monetary union – rely on a spirit of common responsibility. In the arguments of British people who wish to leave the EU, this is one notion that is glaringly absent.

The case for 'Brexit' frequently boils down to irresponsibility, for example regarding the migrant crisis and the potential repercussions for a Europe already facing the forces of disintegration.

As the King said, Europe’s position in the world has changed drastically since 1989. Europe is no longer the centre of the world, economically, geopolitically or culturally. The values Europeans consider universal are no longer self-evident everywhere, and are even highly contested in many places.

These new circumstances make it all the more urgent for EU countries to join forces and engage in concerted action. Whenever the EU is challenged, one can hear the call for more effective co-operation. To control the masses of refugees. To fight against people-trafficking, terrorism, and criminality. To combat climate change. To improve and secure energy resources. To stimulate economic growth and new jobs for the more than 22m Europeans out of work.

The position of those calling for Brexit is the very opposite. They prefer self-centeredness, if not selfishness. They seem to believe the answers to these challenges can be found in splendid isolation. They are reluctant to accept Britain’s clear interest in playing an important role in dealing with the many challenges Europe faces in the 21st century. But there is still hope that reason will prevail.

Harald Benink is Professor of Banking and Finance and Fellow of the Centre for Economic Research at Tilburg University. Paul van Seters is Professor of Globalisation and Sustainable Development at TIAS Business School, Tilburg University.

This is No.97 in the series – the 100th article will appear on 23 June.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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