EU unity more important than ever, Dutch PM says

Mark Rutte, January 2016
Mark Rutte, January 2016Photo: EU2016 NL / Wikimedia Commons

According to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, unity within the European Union is more important than ever in this time when international relations and alliances can no longer be counted on. The EU countries must remain united and not let themselves be played against each other, was Rutte's main message in his speech in the European Parliament on Wednesday. "Unity is the basis of our strength", Rutte said, reports. 

Rutte was the seventh European head of government to speak about the future of the EU at the invitation of the European Parliament. Other speakers included Emmanuel Macron from France, Antonio Costa from Portugal and Charles Michel from Belgium. 

The Dutch Prime Minister has always approached the European Union from a pragmatic point of view - the EU is good for trade, prosperity and security, but a more political union can never be an end in itself. On Wednesday, Rutte kept to that viewpoint, but due to geopolitical shifts, he stressed the importance of a united Europe. According to Rutte, these geopolitical shifts are visible in the standoffishness of Russia, the war in Syria, and the economic rise of China and India. "Even the relationship with our most important ally is no longer self-evident. The United States has stepped out of the Paris climate agreement, the nuclear deal with Iran, and we have to deal with import duties on steel."

Rutte also spoke about the EU budget for 2021 to 2027, and the financial hole left by the Brexit. But where Rutte pleaded for less money to the EU in March, he now adjusted his standpoint. "It makes sense that the budget will shrink after the Brexit, and within that smaller budget it makes sense that richer countries pay more. But not disproportionately more."

According to Rutte, the EU is an example of how compromises can bring safety and prosperity and of what a free market should look like, but that also means that all members must participate. Without mentioning Poland and Hungary by name, the Dutch PM had a clear message for these countries. "EU membership is not a declaration of intent. It means unconditional press freedom, an independent judiciary, legal certainty and all the other democratic efforts that bind us together as a community of values." Over the past years, the EU has been at odds with Hungary and Poland on these issues multiple times. "If you participate, you must participate fully."

Europe is difficult to define but easy to recognize, Rutte concluded, quoting post-war Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Johan Beyen. Difficult to define because the power lies in the diversity of countries, languages, history and cultures. Easy to recognize because of the shared values in a joint union. "We do not have to agree on everything to recognize the value of unity in a rapidly changing world", Rutte said. "This unity is the future of the European Union."