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The Dutch Don’t Love Europe—and Never Did

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Last April, while Dutch and Italian politicians were trading insults on the European COVID recovery package, the Corriere della Sera wrote that in early days of European integration, young Italian diplomats posted to Brussels were told to apply the following principle: “In case of doubt, f… the Dutch.” There was even a diplomatic version in circulation in Rome’s foreign ministry, the Farnesina: “Let the Dutch speak and take the diametrically opposite position’.”

This is not just an amusing anecdote. It is probably as true today as it was at the start of the European communities: In many respects the Dutch are, again, more skeptical about European integration than the Italians.

Yes—again. Nowadays, many who remember the Dutch as engaged, enthusiastic Europeans are puzzled by the harsh positions on eurozone reform or the COVID-19 package coming from The Hague. But this is not new. During the first two decades of European integration, the Dutch behaved the same way. They only softened their stance after the accession of the United Kingdom in 1973.

Taking a closer look at recent history, it is clear the Dutch feel better in Europe with the British on their side. And that the problems they currently have are partly the result of Brexit.

After the Second World War, the Dutch dreamed of a loose, transatlantic alliance focused on trade with the UK, United States and others. Apart from a protestant culture they have much else in common with the British: their love of the sea, a sober outlook on life and a commercial disposition. Both are liberal, seafaring and trading nations that once had overseas empires, used to striking out on their own.

But the transatlantic alliance never materialized. Instead, in 1950 the Dutch heard (on the radio) that France and Germany decided to form the European Coal and Steel Community, run by a supranational authority. The Dutch were not informed of this Schuman plan, which was officially launched on 9 May 1950: Paris and Berlin assumed—correctly—that they would oppose it. Indeed, the Dutch government was unhappy that its two large neighbors, one a recent occupier, planned to join political forces. The small, liberal, pragmatic country always looking west, fearing being smothered by, alternately, the heavy German legalistic culture and French étatisme that the Dutch love to hate.

But the Netherlands had little choice. The post-war economy was weak. Losing its colonies, the country needed to earn its income closer to home. Its first post-war trade agreement with Germany........

© Foreign Policy

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