- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

BRUSSELS — The Dutch government has called for a major return of powers from the European Union to the nation states, saying that European integration has gone too far and lacks popular consent. It said 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.

Foreign Minister Bernard Bot laid out the new Dutch-first aims in a Berlin speech on Wednesday night. The next day, the Dutch press compared the proposal to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech in 1988. The proposal marks a dramatic departure for a founding member of the European Union that once could be counted on to support every push for closer union.

Though 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 British Conservative Party leader.

Calling on the European Union to learn self-restraint, he said it was time to stop shoving fresh treaties down the throats of citizens every couple of years.

“We must realize 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 “patronizing” Eurocrats were pushing through ludicrous regulations “such as telling window cleaners how to hold ladders.” By doing so, they are “creating a culture of tolerance for rule-breaking” by forcing local authorities to defy the law.

Mr. Bot is no firebrand populist. He has been toiling in the EU vineyards for almost 40 years, serving as head of the Dutch delegation in Brussels for a decade before becoming foreign minister for the Christian Democrats — the most pro-European party in the Netherlands.

Answering questions in Berlin, he said it was “ludicrous” that the European Union is deciding how many beds there should be in a hospital room. He said such meddling would stretch the European project to a snapping point.

“Is Europe really the best level at which to regulate landscape gardening?” he asked.

A senior Dutch official said the speech was intended to be a warning to a high-handed elite in Brussels that appears to have lost touch with reality.

“The feeling is that we risk a popular revolt unless the citizens start to feel represented,” he said.

Mr. Bot said he supports the new European constitution, believing it makes “the locus of power more visible” in the system and gives EU citizens more say over the institutions. At the same time, the Netherlands has imposed its own red line by threatening to block the treaty this month unless member states retain their veto over the budget.

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