As long as there is no solution for the brexit costs, the Netherlands has to keep its rebate

Today the European Commission presents its proposal for the new multi-annual budget. An important moment: it will determine what the European Union will focus on over the next seven years. Much is at stake. The Netherlands wants the budget to be more sustainable, modern and future-oriented and to provide an adequate answer to the challenges of our time. This does not happen automatically.

We have to seize the opportunity to do a number of things differently than before. For example, we must be prepared to build in flexibility for unforeseen circumstances. After all, nobody has a glass ball. But we saw the importance of such flexibility during the migration crisis.

But the main thing is: we really have to be prepared to make sharp choices. We don’t have the luxury to continue in the same old ways but should critically review outdated priorities. We should restore imbalances in expenditures

This is badly needed. Especially at a time when a large Member State - responsible for almost 15% of the EU's income - is leaving us. The departure of the United Kingdom makes my call even more urgent: we will have fewer resources, but we have to achieve more results.

That may seem impossible. But, looking at the current budget, I am convinced that it is possible.
Did you know that currently 39% of the European budget goes to agricultural subsidies, and 34% to the development of regions? That’s 73%! Nearly three-quarters of the budget!

Compare this to the meager 2% that is available for all the major European challenges of the moment: security, border control and migration. Balance and prioritization within the budget must be sharper and better.

The good news is: restructuring the current budget can have a big positive effect. For example, by making cohesion policy supportive to the implementation of economic reforms and focused on increasing European competitiveness, we can have a bigger impact.

At the same time, we have be serious about cutting back on these funds. This gives us room to absorb both the departure of the UK and to finance the new priorities that are important to all European citizens. Such as innovation, climate change, border surveillance and the fight against organized crime and cybercrime.

Choosing for modernization also means that we will cross-link our objectives. Agricultural policy should be more market-oriented. Subsidies should be linked to the contribution of farmers to the sustainability of the European agricultural sector. Cohesion policy should be more innovative.  EU subsidies and the principles of the rule of law are inseparable. One can’t go without the other. Good checks and balances, such as an independent judiciary, prevent scarce public funds from being squandered.

Every euro we decide to spend in Europe has to pay off. This means: modernizing, economizing and holding each other accountable. And last but not least: it means something for the contributions. It means that the burden is shared fairly. Obviously the heaviest burdens should rest on the strongest shoulders, according to their capacity. And that a prosperous country as the Netherlands contributes more than it receives is not illogical. But we plead for fairness. Because there are limits – we cannot pay twice for the costs of brexit. Unless another solution will be found a rebate on our contributions is appropriate.

That is what the Netherlands stands for: a sustainable, future –proof budget on a modern base, which shows the EU is facing the future. Equipped for the challenges of this difficult modern time. With enough flexibility to anticipate unforeseen, urgent circumstances. Which has real added value to citizens. To such an EU the Netherlands will be fully committed. To such an EU the Netherlands is more than willing to contribute – fair and in proportion.

Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs

This op-ed was published in Het Financieel Dagblad on May 2 2018

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