Mark Rutte and Martin Schulz clashed over ever closer union
In a highly-charged intervention Dutch PM Mark Rutte said the troubled bloc cannot go on as it is and accused eurocrats who still hope to morph the continent into one United States of Europe of “accelerating its dismantling”.
Instead he called for a new “pragmatic” settlement between member states and Brussels with more respect for national sovereignty, whilst also suggesting that some of the EU’s most previous principles need rapidly overhauling.
But his proposals were met with a robust response from former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who mounted a passionate defence of “the biggest cultural achievement” the continent has achieved in centuries and said more Europe is needed to solve its problems.
The pair clashed in a frantic debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier today, where they were part of a panel discussion how the European Union can survive the challenges posed by Brexit, Donald Trump, the migrant crisis and eurozone stagnation.
Mr Rutte hinted that EU free movement rules may need reform
The pair clashed at a debate about the future of the EU in Davos
Mr Rutte, who is facing an election battle with populist leader Geert Wilders in March, insisted that committing to and even accelerating the idea of ever-closer union is the “fastest way to dismantling” the entire Brussels project.
He said that the world has changed since the days when German chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president Francois Mitterrand cooked up the process of pooling sovereignty to avoid a repeat of the Second World War.
And the Dutch leader hinted that Brussels will need to compromise on its cherished freedom of movement rules in light of the Brexit vote if it wants to stem a growing populist movement sweeping the continent.
He said: “There has been a huge shift in thinking because this whole idea of an ever closer union is now really buried. It’s gone.
“What you now have is a Europe which has to be relevant and not the sort of project which has a momentum of its own.”
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This whole idea of an ever closer union is now really buried. It’s gone.
Dutch PM Mark Rutte
Mr Rutte said it was “absolutely fantastic” that the EU Commission has significantly slashed the amount of needless legislation it pumps out in recent years, adding that the Brussels bloc will fail if leaders do not “make it relevant” to ordinary voters.
He said: “We need to show to the people that Europe is adding and it is possible to control immigration, to create more jobs, to control our outer borders.
“If we continue about talking that we are step by step moving towards some sort of European superstate, that is the fastest way to dismantling the European Union.”
The fact that Mr Rutte deliberately separated the issues of migration and external border control suggests that he is planning to argue that internal movement of people within the EU also needs to be brought under “control”.
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But he was firmly rebuked by Mr Schulz, who is returning to national politics in Germany after five years as EU Parliament president, who accused national governments of betraying the EU by trying to blame their own shortcomings on Brussels.
He raged: “Mark said this idea of ever closer union, that’s done now. That’s wrong. What is the message of Europe an ever less closer union of countries and citizens?
“More than ever we need in the 21st century an ever closer union of citizens in the European Union.
“What I expect from leaders in Europe, is that they don’t say ‘this is now over, an ever closer union’ – no, in the 21st century I expect from the leaders that they say more than ever we have to stick together.
“If the leaders will not think that way then we are really at risk. If the heads of states of government – Angela Merkel, Mark Rutte, Francois Hollande – will not publicly say this ‘this is our union based on that idea’ then the European Union has no chance for the future.”