On 1 January 2016 the Netherlands embarked on what will probably turn out to be the rockiest of its twelve EU Council Presidencies. Among its four guiding principles the intention to ‘create a Union that connects with civil society’, seems to be if not the most ambitious certainly the most essential and the hardest to put into practice. Since: how do you (re)connect the EU institutions with the European citizens amidst the overwhelming problems which seem to pull the Union more apart every day? Due to the terrorist threat and the migration crisis the Schengen system is as good as dead whereas European governments are still vehemently disagreeing on a common solution of the migration issue. Poland is following Hungary on its road to ‘Putinisation’ with Croatia almost unnoticed in its slipstream. The euro crisis, though not much talked about these days, is far from being solved and the BREXIT-referendum forecasts its shadow .And, as if this wasn’t bad enough, the Dutch government will have to wrestle with all these difficulties with one hand tied behind its back as on the domestic front it has to fight for its political survival against the spectacular growth of Geert Wilder’s right-wing populist and Europhobic PVV. Half-way through its presidency, on 6 April, it will also have to win an advisory referendum on the approval of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine which in case it’s a ‘no’ will create another problem for the Dutch government, its EU Presidency and the progress of the Eastern Partnership. Whereas one used to say about former EU Presidencies that they were ‘at the helm of the Union’, the Dutch Presidency looks more like a battered crew on a leaky rubber boat desperately trying to avoid the fatal impact of merciless waves which could make it sink any time. What is clear is that the Dutch cannot succeed in their mission to ‘create a Union that connects’ without the undivided political will of the other EU governments to support their aims, but seen the current state of the Union this seems unlikely. And what about the citizens ─ how much do they want to be (re)connected with a Union which many have come to see as a threat rather than as the promise it was meant to be? Time to find answers to this existential question is running out quickly – not only for the Dutch Presidency.
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Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union
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