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Going Dutch: Netherlands has 'frugal' approach to the EU coronavirus recovery package

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Cees van der Sloot waits for customers for his fish and snacks on a near-empty beach in the resort of Zandvoort, Netherlands, Saturday, April 4, 2020
Cees van der Sloot waits for customers for his fish and snacks on a near-empty beach in the resort of Zandvoort, Netherlands, Saturday, April 4, 2020   -   Copyright  Peter Dejong/AP
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As EU leaders gather in Brussels for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started, they all agree that they need to reach a decision on the trillion-euro EU recovery package.

What they cannot agree on, though, is how big that recovery fund should be and whether it should come with strings attached.

For the so-called "frugal four" (Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands) and indeed for all leaders, domestic matters weigh heavily.

The Dutch case

Dutch flowers are not just a national symbol but big business too.

Like elsewhere in Europe, production and sales have been badly hit by the pandemic and there are fears about how quickly the economy might recover.

"When there will be a second wave that will be a problem because probably countries will go in lockdown again and that will affect the export of flowers and plants. So, that would be very bad for our industry," said Michel Van Schie, spokesperson Royal Flora Holland, a Dutch conglomerate of florists.

Dutch flowers are sold all over the single market.

At Rotterdam Port, the largest in Europe, trade continues to move but at a much slower pace. It's a sign of the worst economic decline for generations, which has resulted in a Europe desperate for a deal to help spur growth.

For the Dutch, there are mixed feelings towards the EU's proposed recovery fund.

"There have been very visible cuts on healthcare, on education, on culture and I think after having these cuts it's a very difficult message to sell for politicians to send money abroad without any conditions or any strings attached," said Sjoerd van Bekkum, Professor of Finance and Economics at the Erasmus University.

The Dutch economy is predicted to contract by 6.8 per cent by the end of 2020, along with 10.9 per cent in Spain and 11.2 per cent in Italy.

For the Dutch conservative, eurosceptic party Forum for Democracy (FvD), asking for shared debt at an EU level is a step too far.

"Italy and Spain have a problem, they really have a COVID problem but Spain is now giving a base income to all the people in Spain and that is free money, and why is it that the Dutch taxpayer has to pay for this free money in Spain," said Dutch MEP Robert Roos from the FvD party.

What do Dutch citizens think?

"I think we have to help other people who have less than we have," one resident from Kinderdijk told Euronews.

But others remain sceptical, with another person from the village asking where the money will go.

"History has taught us that normally the money disappears very fast in these countries. So, it is better with conditions," said another resident.

Agreeing on how to get Europe’s economy moving again will require compromise.

But even here in the "frugal" Netherlands, few believe the EU could afford not to have any deal at all.