The refugee crisis: Dutch EU presidency’s main priority

© European Union, 2016

Handshake between Mark Rutte, on the right, and Jean-Claude Juncker, next to the Dutch National Maritime Museum. 

The Netherlands took over the rotating presidency of the European Union for the next six months


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The Dutch government presented last week the program of the country’s EU presidency: migration and security; innovation and job creation; a strong Eurozone; and environmental sustainability are the main priorities.

The Dutch EU presidency comes at a time of major challenges facing Europe at its borders, as well as internally. The refugee crisis, the difficulties in keeping together the Schengen area of free movement, the risk of a possible Brexit, the referendum on the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, the threat of terrorism in Europe, and the debate on sanctions against Russia are the main issues the Netherlands will have to face.    

Key priorities on the agenda

Migration and security will be high on the agenda. Every month a EU ministerial meeting will take place on these issues. The Dutch authorities are particularly concerned about the migration crisis, after the number of refugees arriving in the EU reached a record of 1 million people in 2015.

Priority will be set on the creation of a common border, asylum and migration policy to improve the reception of refugees in Europe, and to share the burden more fairly between the Member States. With the objective of creating a comprehensive and integrative European approach, the Dutch government fully supports the EU Border and Coast Guard proposition presented by the European Commission the 15th of December.  Member States agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees, but only 272 people have benefited from this measure until now. Addressing this concern, prime minister Mark Rutte made it clear to reluctant Central and Eastern European countries that “promises should be kept”.

Secondly, Europe should not lose sight of its role as an innovator and creator of jobs. The Dutch emphasis will be on promoting growth and creating jobs by making a better use of the internal market. As Europe is only slowly recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Second World War, the Dutch government will take up the EU proposals to deepen the service sector and to create a Digital Single Market. 

The third priority concerns the Dutch government’s focus on sound European finances and a robust eurozone. The presidency will press the EU member states to take on structural reforms and coordinate economic policies to create healthy budgets. Therefore, the Netherlands aims to use its presidency to start a debate on a new and reformed Multiannual Financial Framework.

Finally, the Netherlands will emphasis on closer cohesion on climate change and sustainability with the aim of creating a European Energy Union that will strengthen the energy supply, create an internal energy market, make the EU less energy-dependent and boost innovation in the area of renewable energy.

Other main challenges

The year of 2016 will also be shadowed by the “Brexit” debate. As Great Britain is leaning towards an increasingly anti-EU public opinion, David Cameron, UK’s prime minister, wants to renegotiate its EU membership. He promised a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU. At the next EU summit in February, which will particularly deal with this issue, and during the whole of its presidency, the Netherlands will do its utmost to prove Europe is part of the solution and not the problem.

The EU sanctions against Russia will also have to be debated in the next following months. Originally imposed in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea, the EU has recently prolonged the economic sanctions for six months, until the end of July 2016.  In taking this decision, EU leaders decided to link the duration of the sanctions to the implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, Russia’s new role in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria could change EU’s position on the matter.  At the end of June, the Netherlands will pass the EU presidency to Slovakia, a country negative to the redistribution of asylum seekers among European member states. Consequently, it will be of Dutch responsibility to push cohesion, among EU member states, on the migration policy, as far as possible.

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