Climate, defense and border protection must be EU's new priorities: Dutch Finance Minister

Wopke Hoekstra
Wopke Hoekstra. (Photo: Rijksoverheid)

The European Union needs to set different priorities, and Germany must take the lead in this, according to Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra. In his lecture at the Humboldt University in Berlin on Tuesday, he will call for more attention for European defense, for protecting the external borders, for tackling the climate problem, and for making sure that all EU member states adhere to EU rules, NOS reports.

According to Hoekstra, Berlin must take the lead more. Germany currently tends to stick to the sidelines, like a kind of Switzerland that does not get involved in anything. "But your country is simply to big and too important for that. I would therefore welcome it if Germany lets go of its restraint in this area", Hoekstra says. A new world order is being formed and Europe can play a crucial role in this, according to the Dutch Minister. "But then we have to appropriate it."

Own security must become a priority for the EU, according to Hoekstra. "Our continent is unable to defend itself. Even with American support, we will have to go all out." He does not want to step out of NATO, but wants better cooperation between the armies of the EU member states. ​Hoeksta believes that more money should be spent on the surveillance of the EU's external borders. No internal borders only works if we can determine who and what comes in at the external borders. And in order to achieve the climate goals set in Paris, the member states have to work together on a joint CO2 tax and a European flight tax.

Hoekstra's ideal EU is a continent that is resilient, prosperous and reciprocal. But to achieve that, a change of course is needed, he believes. The danger of implosion lurks, with more and more inhabitants, especially in North-West Europe, wanting to leave the EU. "I love Europe. I am a strong supporter of the EU and of more European cooperation. Precisely because I am convinced of the need for European cooperation, I am very concerned about the EU", Hoekstra says.

The EU must act hard against member states who do not abide by EU rules, Hoekstra believes. "Whoever does not reform, who spends European money unwisely, who ignores the budgetary rules, can no longer claim European money." The money tap must also be closed for Eastern European countries that muzzle the free press and undermine the rule of law, Hoekstra believes. And countries who refuse to take in refugees, must be expelled from the Schengen Convention so that their residents can no longer travel freely through Europe. "As far as I'm concerned, this kind of cherry picking is over."

Hoekstra's ideal EU invests in new developments like artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Europe is lagging behind on this front, he believes.

Other priorities also mean a different distribution of money, the Dutch Finance Minister acknowledges. He thinks major cuts can be made on money currently going to agriculture and cohesion projects. "In the last century there was a lot to be said for that. But we are now living in the year 2019. We not only have to choose fundamentally different priorities, but also free up the resources for that, and thus cut back on other posts."