EU panic: Mark Rutte ‘traumatised by Brexit as he fears Nexit could be on cards’

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Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the Netherlands has been accused of going against the principles of solidarity of the EU by southern member states. The country, alongside Austria, Denmark and Sweden, was at the forefront of a campaign not to “give gifts” to other European countries and at first rejected all the emergency financial measures that would lead to “debt mutualisation”. At the end of April, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was also extraordinarily captured on film, as he reassured one worker that money was not going to go to the Italians or the Spanish.

The video sparked fury, particularly in Italy, where anti-EU sentiment was growing stronger than ever.

However, the Netherland’s behaviour should not come as a shock.

According to a recent report by Caroline de Gruyter, a Dutch author, columnist and lecturer, the world should not be surprised by the Netherlands’ growing hardline record in Brussels, as the country has been sceptical of European integration for many decades.

She wrote: “Nowadays, many who remember the Dutch as engaged, enthusiastic Europeans are puzzled by the harsh positions on eurozone reform or the COVID-19 package coming from The Hague. But this is not new.

“During the first two decades of European integration, the Dutch behaved the same way.

“They only softened their stance after the accession of the United Kingdom in 1973.”

Alongside the British, the Dutch finally felt at home in continental Europe, and became more confident, Ms de Gruyter said.

The two countries fought, and won, many liberal battles together— for the single market and several enlargements, for example.

This is when the Dutch became more in favour of political integration, jumping head-on into Schengen, the monetary union and much else.

However, Britain drifted off, and while the Dutch proposed full political union for the Maastricht treaty, London refused to join Schengen, the euro or judicial cooperation.

Ms de Gruyter explained: “This is when Dutch ambivalence in Europe resurfaced, and euroscepticism started to rise. It is partly directed against the EU itself, but mainly against many successive Dutch governments that failed to explain why the country sits in the heart of European integration.

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“Most Dutch love the internal market and are positive about EU membership, but many reject the political aspects of European integration. European defense, a common foreign policy, or European taxes make them jittery.

“Their first reflex is to oppose those things.”

This reflex, she noted, grew stronger because of Brexit and the phantom pain it caused, as the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc “strengthens the power of Germany and France, and of Europe’s south”.

According to Ms de Gruter, Mr Mark Rutte is “traumatised” by Brexit, as he knows it could happen to his country, too.

She continued in her piece for Foreign Policy: “Rutte’s liberal-conservative party, the the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), is the largest in the Netherlands.

“But the far-right eurosceptic Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, is second.

“Another far-right party, Democratic Forum, is also fanning anti-European sentiment.

“Mr Rutte is determined to avoid a Dutch exit.

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“It would devastate a country that participates in every European programme under the sun.

“But the more Rutte wants to avoid the political debate about Europe, the more the opposition presses the point.”

Since Britain left the EU, the Dutch Prime Minister has treated Brexit Britain with contempt.

Mr Rutte called for a form of continued EU membership for the UK, claiming, “I hate Brexit from every angle”.

His comments followed those of other European leaders who had suggested that the door remained open for the UK to stay in the EU if it wanted to change its mind.

Speaking as he arrived for a European Council summit in Brussels three years ago, Mr Rutte said it was “crucially important” that Britain set out what it wanted from any Brexit deal.

He said: “As an anglophile, I hate Brexit from every angle.

“I hope we’ll come to some form of continued [UK] membership or relationship with the internal market.”

Mr Rutte went on to say that he believed the British economy and pound sterling would have been hit very hard by its withdrawal from the EU.

Moreover, in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais in February, 2019, Mr Rutte warned that the UK looked to be sliding off the “precipice” towards a devastating no deal.

He said: “Who will be left weakened by Brexit is the United Kingdom.

“It is already weakening, it is a waning country compared to two or three years ago.

“It is going to become an economy of middling size in the Atlantic Ocean.

“It is neither the US nor the EU. It is too small to appear on the world stage on its own.”

Mr Rutte, who claimed the Dutch would have replaced the UK in the bloc as the pre-eminent voice for free trade, also warned that hundreds of companies had plans to relocate across the North Sea from Britain.

He noted: “We can’t stop them from coming here.

“Every businessman I speak to from the UK is saying they will cut investments, cut their business in the UK.

“It will have an insurmountable impact on the UK.”

Responding to Mr Rutte’s comments, a spokesman for former Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I disagree entirely.

“Employment is at a record high, exports are at a record high, companies are continuing to invest in the UK.

“Deloitte named the UK as Europe’s leading destination for foreign direct investment and London as the world’s top city for investment just last month.”

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