Friday, June 04, 2004

The worm turns?

Far more significant than the general media have realised is Wednesday’s speech in Berlin by Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot. Reported only by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Daily Telegraph click here, it has been likened to Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges speech.

Bot has called for a major return of powers from Brussels to the nation states, saying that integration has gone too far and lacks popular consent. It was time to consider taking back control of health, culture, social policy, aid to poor regions and the subsidy regime of the Common Agricultural Policy.

According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, "while Mr Bot endorsed the overall idea of European federalism, he put forward a list of concrete national demands that go further than those suggested by Michael Howard, the Tory leader. Calling on the EU to learn self-restraint, he said it was time to stop shoving fresh treaties down the throats of citizens every couple of years."

Said Bot, "We must realise that there are limits to the degree of integration that Europeans can digest," he said. "People must be given a chance to adjust. There is a widespread sense of unease about Europe, about loss of national identity, and about an EU that increasingly intrudes into their everyday lives. The European Union is, after all, a union of member states. That is something we should never forget."

He said that "patronising" Eurocrats were pushing through idiotic regulations "such as telling window cleaners how to hold ladders". By doing so they were "creating a culture of tolerance for rule-breaking" by forcing local authorities to defy the law. Such meddling reflexes would stretch the European project to snapping point.

A senior Dutch official said the speech was intended to be a warning to a high-handed elite in Brussels that appeared to have lost touch with reality. "There are some very British elements in this speech," he said. "The feeling is that we risk a popular revolt unless the citizens start to feel represented."

Some informed commentators have long believed that the Dutch, not the British, would ultimately pull the plug on the EU superstate. Now, it seems, the worm has turned in The Netherlands.

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