Letter: How British attitudes have disappointed the Dutch

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The Independent Online
Sir: Could I get off my bike for a moment to react to Lord Bethell's warning? ('Beware polyglot MEPs on bikes', 11 April). While pleading guilty to some of his charges (with the notable exception of the alleged widespread sympathy among the Dutch population for the murderous activities of the IRA), I think it is fair to point out that it is British attitudes, rather than ours, which explain the Dutch position on some of the issues he raises.

No country fought so stubbornly for British membership of the EC as we did. Apart from recognising that Europe is incomplete without Britain, we had high hopes that her political experience, moderation and strong parliamentary tradition would make Britain a leading champion in the struggle to develop the Community into a stable, effective and democratic pillar of the Atlantic Alliance.

Alas, it was not to be. Since joining in 1973, the British role inside the EC has been ambivalent and inconsistent. The British ideal still appears to be a loose free-trade area, a 19th-century concept which does not meet the needs of today's and tomorrow's European populations - as the rapid demise of Efta amply illustrates.

It is not correct to say that the Dutch want a centralised federal Europe; this is, in any case, a contradiction in terms. We see the great premise of the Union in the establishment of the rule of law over a wider territory than the traditional sovereign nation-state in Europe. The areas in which this pooling of sovereignties occurs must be clearly defined and strictly limited to what the member states have agreed is necessary in order to achieve the objectives they have jointly set out.

When powers have been transferred to the European level, they must be properly exercised and democratically controlled. That is why we oppose British attempts to weaken the position of the Commission and the Court of Justice, to strengthen even further the already predominant role of national governments and to resist strengthening the Parliament. For the same reasons, we opposed similar efforts by the French during the Sixties. We fear that giving in to these trends would destroy the Community and take us back to the old European anarchy of national sovereignties which has caused such immeasurable misery during this century.

Being natural optimists, we continue to hope that the British will find their proper role in the Europe of the 21st century. In the meantime, let us remain as alike as Lord Bethell rightly says we are. Above all, let us go on laughing at the same jokes - even when the joke is on us.

Yours faithfully,


The Hague, Netherlands

12 April

The writer is the former vice-president of the European Parliament.