He remained silent for the past few months, when the Netherlands painted itself internationally in the discussion about European solidarity and CDA minister Wopke Hoekstra (Finance) became the face of ‘Dutch stinginess’ in many EU countries.
But MEP Malik Azmani finds that there is indeed some of it. It was, according to the VVD member, all very clumsy: the high tone in which coalition colleague Hoekstra lectured the southern European countries about their budgets, just when bushes killed people in Italy and Spain. “It wouldn’t be my style,” said Azmani.
Also read: how the Netherlands is international made enemies in de coronacrisis
On Monday, Azmani (44) will briefly return to the House of Representatives, his old habitat where he spoke for years about immigration, asylum and Europe. For the annual debate on the ‘state of the European Union’, in which, in addition to MPs, members of the European Parliament may also participate. He says he comes with a message. A plea for a ‘more constructive approach’. More understanding for each other. Away from the ‘polarization’ and ‘false contradictions’ that are too often created around the EU: north-south, miserly solidarity, economical, pivotal.
Looking for a party
That is remarkable: because does his own VVD not participate very hard? Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently called the EU a “party committee looking for a party”. Member of Parliament Anne Mulder recently expressed deep mistrust of the EU in a debate. Member States are only concerned with themselves. And the Commission is only trying to steal money and power from Member States, based on questionable calculation models.
Azmani is in a tricky political context. After his switch to European politics a year ago, he quickly became the second man of Renew, the group of liberals in the European Parliament. A club dominated by En Marche, the party of French President Emmanuel Macron and Rutte’s main protagonist in the negotiations for the EU’s € 750 billion recovery fund to help the EU fight the economic aftermath of the corona crisis. The Netherlands is on the brakes, but France is demanding a clear signal that EU countries will not drop each other in the heat of the recession.
Also read: about it French diplomatic offensive towards the Netherlands in the discussion about European solidarity
Emotions have been running high in recent months. Where have you been?
“I said what I thought of Hoekstra behind the scenes. If you do that before, you will only give Southern European countries an extra stick to hit the Netherlands with. What Hoekstra did – asking for an investigation to see how it is possible that we have built up reserves, and others have not – made no sense. Because you already know the answer. But also because there was enormous uncertainty about health and economy at the time. To immediately say: research report – that is not pleasant. You should not always create those contradictions. You sharpen things, and only help smiling third countries such as Russia and China, and also the United States. ”
In the Netherlands there is still a deep suspicion towards the European Commission. Do you agree with that?
“Well, the Commission has not got off the starting blocks in the Covid crisis very quickly in recent months. And it is also late and hesitant in foreign policy. I would like the EU to act much more firmly as a bloc, including economically. ”
There is now a very ambitious package to strengthen that economy. The cabinet does not want to provide aid in the form of subsidies, but through loans, which therefore also have to be repaid. What did you say?
“The recovery fund is necessary. At the same time, I agree that there is discussion. Some things are also difficult to explain. When holiday vouchers are simply issued to the Italians in Italy. We don’t do that in the Netherlands, do we? In Spain they have a whole discussion about basic income. Well, aside from that: what do you think it costs? ”
You argue for less contradictions. Now you start talking about spindly countries in Southern Europe.
“No, I don’t. I just say: if you look from a Dutch perspective, it is difficult to explain. ”
In Brussels, the Netherlands is sometimes seen as the new UK. The country that always says ‘no’.
“That means we have to invest even more in cultivating mutual understanding. You don’t blame each other for anything. Take, for example, the statements by Jeroen Dijsselbloem from the past – that in southern countries it is all about drink and women. ”
The people you mention are not part of your party. Surely that kind of language can also be heard at the VVD?
“If there are any concrete statements, I would like to hear them. But I won’t say things like this. I have also been strong in the national debate in the past, but in the end you have to come up with 27 countries and then polarization is not very sensible. This also happened back and forth: in Portugal they suggested continuing with 26 countries, without the Netherlands. Others said: we no longer buy tulips. ”
But the Netherlands in particular is entrenched in the counter block? Rutte likes to talk about his ‘frugals’ [vrekkigen, red.].
“It is always the case in European politics that like-minded countries come together. In this case I think it went wrong because the word ‘frugal’ has been placed on this coalition. I don’t like the term ‘miser’, I rather see it as: responsible. ”
Does Rutte explain well what the Dutch interest is in Europe?
“We can really be pleased with a prime minister who has been on the European stage for many years and has a lot of prestige. He invests a lot in relationships. Macron was still in the Netherlands last week. It’s just what you want to see. I see a prime minister manifesting himself much more on the European stage. I hope it will stay that way in the coming years, because that is also in the interest of the Netherlands. ”
The VVD is very critical of the EU in parliamentary debates.
“I just see a shift taking place. Eight years ago, the EU was mainly seen as something economic. But now it appears in all kinds of files – migration, climate, defense – that we cannot do this alone. I do not follow everything that is said in The Hague, but when I speak with fellow party members I see the sense of reality coming back. Some are more angular, especially if they are less familiar with the European terrain. But what you sometimes had in the past – that everything from Europe was not okay – I do not feel and see it at all. At the same time, we remain critical. It is not: you ask, we turn. ”