2016 FMA Visit to Netherlands
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2016 FMA Visit to Netherlands
The Study day 2016 took place on 30 and 31 May 2016. Meetings were held at the Eurojust, Council of State, House of Representatives and the Mauritshuis Museum. An optional visit to ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre) was organised on the 30th, Monday morning.
Back in the 1994-9 mandate I was privileged to be an MEP and represent the far south west of the UK. I remember well that my electors assumed I was an expert on every aspect of life in the other member states – their political systems, health services, education, everything. Impossible of course. Just understanding all those aspects of your own country is difficult enough. So our visit to the Netherlands, towards the end of its presidency of the EU, with fellow former members was a great refresher as to how politics, parliament (known as the States-General) and power in Holland works. It was also a great bonus to meet with Dutch former colleagues from the European Parliament that I had not seen for many years. They hosted us magnificently. We learnt about a successful Dutch presidency, if hugely distracted by the UK’s Brexit negotiations. Our visit to The Hague included the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the more difficult to understand Council of State. But we were in luck. Ready to explain the Council was one of its senior members, Jan Kees Wiebenga, a former MEP and colleague.
We learnt that the Council – nominally chaired by the monarch – has to be consulted before a bill is presented to Parliament. It doesn’t vote politically but tests its administrative quality and any conflict with existing legislation. It is also the highest court of appeal in administrative matters. Arriving at the Estates-General we were welcomed by the House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Mr Ton Elias. We then walked the short distance to the Senate where we were greeted by the President of the Senate, Ms Broekers-Knol. The Senate chamber was busy that day with a conference of senators and representatives of the wider Dutch nation from the Caribbean. It was a good reminder that the Kingdom of the Netherlands is not just an exclusively European affair, but incorporates the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten. The Senate itself is elected indirectly through Dutch provincial governments.
Our plenary session between former colleagues and serving members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate was a highlight of the visit. We were joined by members from across the Dutch political spectrum. But first, former colleague Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst led an introductory session on the Netherlands and the EU. He made the case that Holland had never been strongly into political union, but far more concerned with economic and business links across Europe. The meeting inevitably wanted to understand the Brexit debate.
Our former Conservative MEP colleague Anthony Simpson tried to reassure us that despite the tone of the debate and opinion polls the ‘bookies’ were offering 5-1 odds on a ‘remain’ victory. The hope was that Brits would vote with the potential economic consequences in mind. Sadly, as we know, this has turned out not to be the case. But there were many other issues debated – the importance of the Benelux grouping in recent times, the Dutch role in the EU both as founder member but also as largest of the smaller member states. We learnt that during the Dutch presidency the Estates General had stressed the important role of national parliaments holding a series of interparliamentary meetings to promote that agenda. Congratulations to the FMA and our Dutch hosts for an excellent visit.
Lord Robin Teverson ELDR, United Kingdom