Rutte backtracks on EU priorities flap; off to Brussels

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Prime Minister Mark Rutte is irritated by the "huffing and puffing" of D66-leader Alexander Pechtold, who he says is shrinking the debate about the focus-points of the European Union to the "small politics" in The Hague, NU.nl reports.

Rutte said this on Tuesday during a debate in connection with an interview of the Prime Minister with the Press service last week.

"It disappoints me that mr. Pechtold limits this debate to a thing in The Hage from last Wednesday", Rutte said. He believes that the debate should focus on the course of the European Union for the coming years.

Pechtold retorted that "the reproaching of huffing and puffing does not suit the Prime Minister." According to the D66-leader, Rutte should be reproached for laying the blame elsewhere on Tuesday.

"This would not have been necessary if the Prime Minister hadn't ducked away, if PvdA-leader Diederik Samsom had not kicked him in the flank and if he had not undermined Parliament", Pechtold insists.

This back-and-forth concerns criticism that Rutte received last week when he said in an interview that the EU should focus on five points for the coming years: internal market, fewer rules, trade, energy and cleaning up the negative aspects of the labour market.

The Dutch government was meant to introduce this idea during a formal dinner between the European governing members on Tuesday evening.

PvdA-leader Diederik Samsom thought the list was too limited, and was missing the priority: 'work'. Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans announced that foreign policy was also missing on the list. The opposition parties demanded clarification.

That same evening, these focal points were expanded upon further in a letter to the Cabinet. The opposition states that instead of five, several focus points are indicated.

VVD-MP Mark Verheijen announced earlier in the debate that there is no difference between the VVD's vision and the Cabinet's vision for the course of the European Union. He claims that the Cabinet letter merely expands the focus points given in the interview.

Almost all opposition parties, however, do not believe this. SP member Harry van Bommel said that Rutte's promises can only be counted on until the ink dries.

GroenLinks MP Jesse Klaver spoke of an "industrial accident" in the coalition. The opposition feels that Rutte has been reprimanded and that there is little left of the Prime Minister's promises to limit the EU's tasks.

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