Do We Still Share the Values or Just the Name?
The Dutch Ambassador to Bulgaria, His Excellency Mr. Tom J.M. van Oorschot, arrived on the AUBG campus on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The Kingdom of The Netherlands is currently presiding over the Council of the European Union, which was the topic that brought Van Oorschot to Panitza Library. The event was organized by the Political Science Club at AUBG and further facilitated by European Studies Associate Professor Jean Crombois and the President of AUBG, Stratsi Kulinski.
The lecture builds on the recently established trend of AUBG to welcome representatives of the countries holding The Council of the EU presidency. The Council is one of the core institutions of the European Union, but unlike other EU bodies, such as the European Parliament, it does not have a permanent president. It is of a rotational character instead. This means that every 6 months, a different Member State (out of the 28) holds the presidency. Throughout the period, ministers from the government of the respective country chair the Council meetings, mediate compromises between the 28 EU Members, and smooth and accelerate dialogue with the remaining EU institutions.
The current one is the 12th presidency for the Netherlands – one of the founding fathers of the EU, and encompasses the period between January and June 2016.
According to the Dutch Ambassador to Bulgaria, the two countries are closely cooperating. The Netherlands, with its substantial experience in the sphere, is aiding Bulgaria with the preparation for its own presidency over the Council in the second half of 2018; provided the severity of such a responsible task.
While Bulgaria is still in its embryo phase of preparation for its mandate, the Netherlands is already performing its duties as a “president.” Apart from the responsibilities mentioned above, the Netherlands is holding informal meetings in the heart of Amsterdam in The National Maritime Museum. The building, situated at the dockyard, “is a symbol of the Dutch struggle with water,” Ambassador Van Oorschot stated.
In his speech, Van Oorschot emphasized the “modest, sober and economic” 2016 agenda of his home country. His Excellency reiterated the role of The Netherlands as “a reliant and efficient mediator, pushing just a bit the legislative agenda of the Commission.”
The Dutch presidency is seated on three guiding principles. First, the imminence of a flourishing Eurosceptic movement across Member States. Second, the connection with the citizens, which according to the Dutch Ambassador has lost impetus in the Netherlands since people have forgotten what “the EU is all about” while in Bulgaria, they are “far more supportive.”
Third and last, is innovation, which is pivotal for a country’s economic growth. The primary challenge in those three areas is their subjectivity to what Ambassador Van Oorschot labels as the “unknown unknowns,” namely, the threats of terrorist attacks. These require the development of cooperation on inter-state services, data protection, cyber security and intelligence on the funding origin of terrorist groups.
Keeping those three core principles in mind, the Dutch agenda is focused on four top priorities in the tough EU context we are faced with as EU citizens. These are the following:
- Innovation and Jobs: Stimulating the start-up and scale-up community, e-commerce, the ever-expanding digital market, VAT rules, fighting the geo blocks, as well as opening new trade agreements and better directed labor mobility which discourages labor exploitation between workers from different Member States, are measures seen by the Dutch elites as a way to connect “the enormous single market of more than 500 million customers” that EU is, and benefit collectively.
“The EU Internal market and a strong EU currency are essential for the survival of the EU,” the Ambassador said.
- Sound Finances and a Robust Eurozone: The most recent Greek crisis, which unveiled in front of our eyes in 2015, is, according to his Excellency, an “example of a country that did not adhere to the rules we all agreed upon. That’s why we try to be supportive of the Commission in their yearly recommendations on the economic reforms in each MS.”
- Climate Change and the Energy Union: The enormous and ambitious agenda on the reduction of climate change, which came as a result of the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris towards the end of 2015, managed to achieve two important goals— agreement from all 196 participants and raising awareness. The Dutch Ambassador stressed on this outcome, as well as promoted a circular economy which happens when natural resources are being reused.
- Migration and International Security: “The EU capacity is not infinite but we should keep our values” is the sentence that summarizes the opinion of his Excellency on the Syrian refugee wave which overwhelms Europe. He believes in the necessity of addressing the root causes of the conflicts worldwide as well as that of the promotion of reception between the countries. Additionally, he stressed on the importance of the values shared by the European community, especially freedom, rule of law and respect for minority rights.
“We should constantly have them in mind, and try to facilitate integration of vulnerable groups and prevent radicalization of entire communities,” he said.
Lastly, the Dutch Ambassador to Bulgaria mentioned a topic “unavoidable for the Dutch”, namely the international legal order, provided by the country’s Constitution. He criticized the deficiency of the rule of law in Bulgaria, blaming it for undermining the economic development (Bulgaria is the poorest EU Member State), and reminded that Bulgaria “should have caught up” with the EU average of 8 to 9 per cent growth since its accession to the Union.
“The Bulgarian population deserves an independent judiciary system, and to be able to trust its own authorities,” Van Oorschot said.
Asked whether the EU has sacrificed some of its values in the EU-Turkish deal, the Ambassador stated that such a deal was necessary. However, he acknowledged that it has constituted a tough negotiation during which the EU compromised on visa-liberation and the re-opening of many chapters of the Turkish accession process, which might have not been discussed under different circumstances.
Dzhovani Chemishanov, a fourth-year student, raised the question of alleged corruption deals with regards to the fence erected on the Bulgarian-Turkish border back in 2013, to which the Dutch Ambassador humorously replied that Bulgarians are much more prone to creating conspiracy theories in every social aspect. He refuted such possibilities and congratulated the Bulgarian border controls and check-points staff for successfully managing the migrant influx through legal means.
In a concluding message to his audience, Van Oorschot pleaded us to remember our community values mentioned above and not to forget the atrocities of the world conflicts, WWII in particular.
“Peace and freedom are not a given and therefore should not be treated as such, although the EU has been the most successful peace project out there,” he said.