From 1 January 2016, the Netherlands will be President of the EU for the first time since 2004. Or to be more precise: President of the Council of the European Union. The Councils of Ministers are presided over in rotation, and so are the various Interparliamentary Conferences. This means there is also a parliamentary dimension to the EU Presidency. Both Chambers of the Dutch Parliament will have a role to play in this.
So what can we expect? What is the actual scope of our country’s leading role? And what are our ambitions? Fair questions, requiring a qualifying answer. The President primarily has influence in setting conference agendas and in the proceedings, but not so much in terms of the content being discussed at conferences and even less when it comes to the direction of the debate. After all, debates are held between the representatives of all parliaments present and as such have their own dynamics.
And even the agenda itself will be determined in part by external factors. It would be difficult, for example, to avoid discussing the current refugee crisis. Or the impact of terrorist attacks on our national security and rule of law. During the previous Dutch tenure, the treaty for establishing a full-fledged European constitution was signed in Rome. Also during this presidency, however, the Dutch parliament ruled that the treaty would be subject to a referendum in the Netherlands. Which had an impact that made itself felt. And referendums are bound to have an impact again. Our own referendum on the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine will be followed with more than a passing interest. And a British referendum on the EU membership of the United Kingdom has all the potential of overshadowing every other debate.
When it comes to proceedings, we aim to increase the interaction in the various Interparliamentary Conferences. Shortening substantive introductions, leaving more room for discussions. Less one-way traffic, more exchange. Learning from each other and meeting other parliament members. So we know who to turn to later. With the ongoing process of European unification and more and more policy being determined in Brussels, the power of national parliaments will rely increasingly on the ability and willingness to collaborate with other national parliaments.
I am really looking forward to this collaboration, especially during the period of our Dutch presidency!
Chair of the Senate Committee on European Affairs, and member of the EU Presidency Steering Group