The bloc was able to unite during Brexit negotiations, unanimously backing negotiator Michel Barnier before Brussels and London reached a deal. But with Brexit complete and economic turbulence as a result of the pandemic plunging Europe into crisis, relations between member states and Brussels have been tested. This was seen during negotiations for the budget and recovery fund last year, as the Netherlands looked to protect its interests. At one stage during the talks last February, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “I cannot sign up to this proposal. The proposal is simply not good.”
His country is one of four net contributors to the EU, and Mr Rutte wanted to limit the overall size of the budget to one percent of gross national income.
He argued he could not sign up to a budget that allocated one-third for “cohesion funds” to develop poorer regions and another third on support for farmers.
The bloc was eventually able to reach an agreement, but the budget debate epitomised Dutch frustrations with the EU.
The Netherlands is one of the “frugal” nations, which tends to argue for conservative spending.
Senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, Rem Korteweg, warned in 2017 that the Dutch were “falling out of love” with the EU amid disputes over fiscal and political policy.
The perception that the Dutch were left paying the bill while other countries flouted the rules became fertile ground for eurosceptic politicians, the expert added.
Hans Vollaard, an expert in Dutch and European Politics at Utrecht University wrote for the London School of Economics that there are no countries in the UK likely to follow in Britain’s footsteps in the near future.
In his March 2020 article, he added, however, that the EU could “disintegrate” by countries “partially” leaving the bloc.
He said: “These partial exits involve member states not complying with the EU rules, for instance with respect to public finances in the eurozone (Italy), or the Schengen rules, many member states have introduced “temporary” national border surveillance since the migration crisis of 2015.
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Mr Vollaard added: “However, such a gradual process of dissolution also provides the EU with time to address causes of dissatisfaction, such as the democratic deficit, and lukewarm feelings for the integration project.
“As long as there is no good alternative outside the EU, dissatisfied member states will continue to participate, even if half-heartedly. The European Union will muddle through.”
The Netherlands remains a vocal advocate for the frugal nations’ interests as the countries demanded a rebate as part of the recovery fund.