Dutch Minister of Finance Wopke Hoekstra.
HE HAGUE–The Dutch Parliament on Wednesday passed a motion urging the government never to agree to any European Union (EU) proposal that would make the Netherlands responsible for the national debt of another country, in a clear support of the government’s tough stance on so-called “corona bonds.”
The motion, tabled by the populist, anti-EU Forum for Democracy FvD party is not binding but will make it politically difficult, if not impossible, for the Netherlands to support Italy’s requests for euro bonds. The motion notes recent support of EU Commissioners for the corona bonds or “euro bonds.”
EU Ministers of Finance failed to agree on measures to support badly hit countries in overnight talks that ran into the early hours of Wednesday. Talks stumbled on topics including how to finance a recovery fund because that discussion involved the joint bond issue, which is a “red line” for the Netherlands.
Video talks between EU finance ministers on finding a solution to fund the corona crisis resumed on Thursday, after divisions between the Netherlands and Italy wrecked earlier efforts to reach a deal.
In particular Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra was criticized for refusing to budge on his opposition to corona bonds and insistence that there are strict conditions for accessing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM)
The NRC Handelsblad newspaper said Hoekstra’s “inflexibility” should not surprise seasoned diplomats in the EU-headquarters in the Belgian capital Brussels because the Christian Democrat has taken a hard line since he first took part in EU talks in November 2017. And his image, and therefore his influence, has further declined in this, possibly the greatest crisis since World War II, the paper said.
In particular, his position has weakened because Germany too is running out of patience, leading Finance Minister Olaf Scholz to describe Hoekstra’s position as “not targeted and inappropriate.”
The Dutch demand that any use of the ESM be linked to domestic spending cuts ignores the fact this is not an “ordinary” financial crisis, and behind the scenes German diplomats have been surprised by the Dutch lack of flexibility. “The Netherlands has to ask if it really wants to stop a compromise in this difficult period,” one diplomat told the paper.
Hoekstra told Dutch public broadcaster NOS on Thursday that there are plenty of opportunities for agreement in the talks, but again emphasized Dutch opposition to euro or corona bonds, a position supported by a majority of Members of Parliament (MPs). “That is important in the Netherlands, because MPs are ultimately in charge,” the minister said.
However, de Volkskrant newspaper pointed out that Hoekstra did nothing to try and win more negotiating room from MPs during the debate. “Hope now rests on one of the big ‘sharks,’ as a civil servant put it, which means, according to the paper, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel might call upon Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte or the Dutch government to show more flexibility. Hoekstra, “can always claim he got euro bonds off the table, which Berlin has no liking for either,” de Volkskrant stated.