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Results — Evaluation of the Dutch EU coordination

More and more European rules are directly affecting Dutch citizens and businesses, which is why it is important for the Dutch position to be put forward when these rules are being made. So, like the other 26 Member States of the European Union, the Netherlands negotiates in Brussels on European policy proposals. The government defines its position on each proposal as the basis for the instructions with which the Dutch negotiators enter the European negotiations. IOB has evaluated the position-taking process and, in particular, the role played in it by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Rationale

The coordination of the Dutch formulation of a national position is coming under increasing pressure for various reasons. The amount of European legislation is growing, and it is increasingly complicated. And because of the consensus-oriented 'polder culture' in the Netherlands, more and more coordination is needed between ministries and other authorities.

The increased role of the European Council also means more – early – consultation is needed. With the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the Netherlands has lost an important ally and the force field in the EU has changed. And because there are more political parties in the House of Representatives, there are also more parliamentary questions and answering them means more work for civil servants.

All this raises questions of how well Dutch EU coordination can function in these times and how well prepared for the future this coordination is. The evaluation addresses the following key questions:

To what extent does the Netherlands succeed in formulating timely, flexible and coherent positions with the involvement of the relevant players such as ministries, municipalities, provinces and water boards?

What factors explain this?

What recommendations can be made to improve the coordination of the formulation of a national position?

Main conclusions

The day-to-day process of determining a national position is a well-oiled machine that generally runs smoothly:

  • The Dutch position is usually arrived at in time for the EU negotiations.
  • The position is arrived at by consulting a diverse group of stakeholders, which helps ensure coherence between the different positions the Netherlands adopts.
  • The formal consultation structure of the coordination bodies provides little room for flexibility to adjust the positions. But informally, wiggle room can be found.

At the same time, pressure is high (including in terms of workload). And this means that aspects such as reflection and strategy formation do not get optimal attention. Improvements are needed, especially if the Netherlands is to achieve the ambition expressed in the coalition agreement of the Rutte IV Cabinet to play a more prominent role in the European Union.

Main recommendations

The evaluation’s recommendations can be summarised as ‘EU coordination must be more strategic, more selective and more competent’. Some recommendations are addressed to the Prime Minister, others to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to other ministries, or to the consultative bodies in which Dutch positions are determined. This is further elaborated in the report. The most important recommendations are summarised below.

Explanation of EU coordination

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for coordinating the process by which the Netherlands achieves a consensual position on EU proposals. Under the Ministry's direction, all ministries and other public authorities (municipalities, provinces and water boards) formulate an initial government position on an EU proposal (the 'BNC document'). This then serves as the basis for the instructions the ministries issue to the staff of the Netherlands' Permanent Representation to the European Union who negotiate on behalf of the Netherlands about European proposals in Brussels.

Figure 1 shows the ways the Netherlands follows to determine its position on EU policy proposals.

Infographic illustrating the process is of the Dutch EU policy coordination
Image: ©IOB
Figure 1. The Dutch coordination process and input into Brussels decision-making

Substudy

As part of this evaluation, IOB has commissioned four EU specialists to examine the functioning of the EU coordination mechanisms in Denmark, Germany and France. The report Shaping National Voices presents their findings.