The Benelux: the benefits and necessity of enhanced cooperation

June 12, 2007 - nr.53
Summary

Chapter VI       
The future of the Benelux: conclusions and recommendations

 

In the request for advice, the AIV was asked to give an opinion on the benefits of Benelux cooperation at both practical (BEU) and political (BPC) level. The AIV feels that Benelux cooperation clearly has added value in both areas. As already indicated in the introduction to this report, the AIV is therefore in favour of continued Benelux cooperation and supports the government’s decision to extend it. It notes that in the outside world the Benelux is recognised both as a role model and as a politically influential body. All this would be lost if the treaty were not renewed.[1]

The AIV believes that the added value of the Benelux is mainly to be found in the broader context of European cooperation. The primary – though not the only – aspect of this is Benelux political cooperation. Experience has shown that the three countries can exert influence out of proportion to their size on European decisions and the European agenda, thus strengthening their position within the EU, by coordinating their positions and taking joint initiatives. They have benefited from the fact that, partly owing to their reputation as pioneers and founders of European integration and their history of close cooperation under the BEU Treaty, the outside world sees the Benelux countries as a natural grouping – often more than people in the Benelux countries themselves do, in fact. The Benelux is in practice the only regional partnership within the EU that is considered effective. This is an exceptional position, which was formally acknowledged from the very beginning of the European integration process in the enabling clause. It also means that political cooperation at EU level cannot be seen in isolation from BEU cooperation, which in the AIV’s view clearly serves as a platform for political cooperation.

 

The AIV therefore concludes that BPC, even in its currently rather loose form, has added value in the broader context of the EU. As for its future – and specifically the question of whether it needs to be stepped up – the AIV believes it should mainly be seen in the broader context of the European balance of forces. In this connection, the AIV puts forward the following considerations about the continuation and possible enhancement of BPC:

  1. EU enlargement has inevitably weakened the position of the individual member states. Closer trilateral cooperation and coordination within an expanding Union may help compensate for this. An additional factor here is the increasing need to form coalitions at an early stage of EU decision-making. The three countries can use the tried-and-tested Benelux partnership to gain an advantage in this always complex process.
  2. The AIV also points to the now more openly manifested cooperation between the larger countries. This development as well is forcing the smaller and medium-sized countries to cooperate more actively to defend their interests. As part of this process, closer cooperation between the Benelux countries is a logical step, including when dealing with the other smaller member states.
  3. Finally, in a Union of 27 or more countries, enhanced cooperation is becoming inevitable. The Benelux can play a pioneering role here, as it has in the past.

 

In acknowledging the added value of BPC, the AIV is aware that the course of political cooperation between the Benelux countries has not always run smooth in recent years. Indeed, centripetal tendencies seem to have increased in some areas.[2] Nevertheless, the AIV believes that greater commitment to political cooperation in response to the shifts in the European balance of forces can improve the position of the three Benelux countries.

 

The AIV’s favourable assessment of Benelux cooperation also applies to the BEU. This aspect of cooperation has clearly evolved, with a shift in emphasis towards internal security and cooperation on cross-border issues. The AIV believes the BEU has a valuable role to play in these areas. This is particularly true of the Secretariat-General, which plays a key initiating, supporting and in some cases guiding role here. Especially in the field of cross-border cooperation, it acts as a centre of expertise. In the AIV’s view, these activities should therefore be continued and streamlined, although due account should be taken of the findings of the report by the Public Administration Council (due in late 2007) on obstacles to cross-border cooperation between local authorities and the role of the Secretariat-General in this area.

 

The AIV also wishes to emphasise the BEU’s potential role as a pioneer in cooperation in a broader EU context. In the past, BEU cooperation has served as a laboratory not only for economic cooperation, but also for the Schengen and Senningen agreements. The Benelux-plus arrangements link this function directly to the concept of enhanced cooperation, and the enabling clause in the EC Treaty also provides a justification for it. By taking initiatives in priority areas for BEU cooperation, the Benelux countries can continue in the future to give a major impetus to enhanced cooperation within the EU. The fact that the Benelux countries border on Germany and France means that they can generate considerable political influence in the broader European context, especially through Benelux-plus cooperation. Apart from this function for the EU, Benelux cooperation can also be of practical use in implementing EU legislation.

 

The AIV therefore concludes that Benelux cooperation has both political and practical added value – added value that should also be viewed in the light of developments at EU level.

 

Criticisms

At the same time, the AIV is critical of the way in which the BEU and BPC currently operate. It therefore believes that not only the BEU and its institutions, but also current BPC practice, must be adapted and streamlined to enjoy the added value of the Benelux in the future.

 

The AIV’s main criticisms, which have been voiced in earlier chapters, are as follows:

  1. BEU cooperation has no clear mission or strategy, and as a result the current range of tasks lacks focus and coherence. This situation has arisen from the process of adaptation that the BEU has undergone following the emergence and development of the EU. Particularly on economic issues, the organisation has been largely overtaken by the EU. Although the current range of tasks is evidence of the BEU’s adaptability, it is still mainly the outcome of disconnected ad hoc decisions. It is by no means always clear why these tasks should be carried out by the BEU, whether the organisation has the necessary powers and capabilities or whether there are alternatives to BEU cooperation. Together with the proliferation of consultative bodies and the fact that some of the bodies established by the treaty are no longer operating (or only partially), the overall picture is that of an organisation with too little direction and vision.
  2. BEU cooperation is not visible enough in the Benelux states. This is particularly regrettable at a time when the BEU is increasingly focusing on areas of direct relevance to the public and politicians. The Board of Secretaries-General and the Secretariat-General have an important part to play here. In the AIV’s view, BEU activities will become more visible if the Board of Secretaries-General has a higher political and public profile, which it can achieve in particular by taking a more active attitude towards the Benelux states. In this connection, the AIV also points to the role of the Interparliamentary Council and national parliaments.
  3. As regards BPC, the AIV feels that insufficient use is being made of its potential. Political cooperation is in practice rather unstructured and too dependent on contingencies and personal connections. In day-to-day practice there is in any case no indication that the Benelux partners consult one another on a priority basis. Given the broader European balance of forces, the AIV is therefore in favour of closer, more systematic political cooperation.
  4. Both the BEU and BPC suffer from a lack of political and official leadership. In the case of the BEU, this is reflected in the fact that the competent political and official bodies meet very irregularly, with the result that their agendas and work programmes are reactive and ad hoc. Another factor is the rather cautious stance of the Board of Secretaries-General.

 

The AIV makes the following recommendations regarding the continuation of the BEU and BPC: 

On the range of tasks for BEU cooperation

  • Step up BEU cooperation, and mention internal security, spatial planning and the market as core tasks in a political declaration appended to the future treaty (but not in the treaty itself).
  • Do not confine BEU cooperation to the three Benelux partner countries, but leave room for bilateral or cooperative projects that only cover certain areas of the Benelux.
  • Make greater use of BEU cooperation as a laboratory for further European integration, and leave room for cooperation in which countries or regions bordering on the Benelux can also participate (Benelux-plus).[3]
  • Where possible, increase BEU cooperation with other regional groupings of countries, such as the Nordic Council, the Baltic Assembly and the Visegrad Group, especially in preparing enhanced cooperation within the EU.
  • Invest in making the organisation more visible by pursuing an effective publicity policy in support of specific projects that appeal to people’s imagination.

 

On BPC

  • Although the AIV is not in favour of making specific reference to BPC in the new treaty, it does believe that the extension of the treaty should be used to emphasise the significance of BPC in a political declaration. This should mention the special solidarity that exists between the three countries as a result of their common history and close ties. It should also indicate that the three countries see each other as natural partners in the broader EU context and the international community, and that they will endeavour to coordinate their positions and actions as much as possible. Such a text will not only emphasise the Benelux states’ political commitment to BPC – which the AIV considers desirable – but will also confirm to the outside world its enduring importance.
  • Step up BPC at both political and civil service level. Continue regular consultations between the prime ministers and foreign ministers as well as the ministers responsible for EU affairs, and prepare these well by drawing up clear, timely agendas. This means that there must be more regular consultations between the Permanent Representations to the EU and, depending on the topic, the Directorates-General (DGs) and policy departments. A standard question here should be what scope there is for coordinated positions (the priority consultation mentioned above). Line ministries should be involved wherever necessary, particularly in areas in which BEU cooperation has been or is being developed. In this connection it seems self-evident to the AIV that the Benelux countries should consult each other in cases where cooperation goes further than at EU level.
  • Responsibility for coordination should lie with the Permanent Representation to the EU and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as is already the case with BEU cooperation. Examine whether the existing ministerial and interministerial coordination structure needs strengthening.
  • Make more extensive use of Benelux memoranda as a means of strategic agenda-setting and influencing EU decision-making. Systematically pose the question of whether use of this instrument is appropriate. This should be part of regular consultations, particularly in the run-up to major European policy developments such as treaty amendments or enlargements.
  • Increase the Benelux states’ knowledge of one other’s positions and policies through more regular exchange of officials between the Permanent Representations to the EU and the relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Such secondment is distinct from the secondment of national officials to the Secretariat-General, which the AIV has called for to help make it more flexible.)
  • Do not give the Secretariat-General a role of its own in BPC, but raise the question in the Secretariat-General’s annual work programme of whether the Benelux can play a pioneering role as referred to in Article 306 of the EC Treaty in specific policy areas.
  • Also step up BPC with a view to cooperation outside the EU framework. Increase cooperation within other international bodies, involving bilateral missions and consulates where necessary. Examine whether joint consulates and other forms of cooperation between bilateral missions are a possibility, for example when it comes to accommodation.

 

On the role of the institutions

  • Simplify the Benelux’s institutional structure, above all by abolishing institutions and bodies that no longer serve any purpose or are no longer operating.
  • Make the Benelux more flexible by turning it into a more project-oriented organisation which can also obtain expertise from outside, for example by having national officials seconded to the Secretariat-General. Do not specify a list of tasks in the future treaty, but identify core tasks in a political declaration and indicate priority areas of work in an annexe. The same can be done with the committees and working parties.
  • Grant the Committee of Ministers powers to make changes to the administrative consultative structure in accordance with the agreed range of tasks, and regularly evaluate the range of tasks and the consultative structure.

 

The Committee of Ministers

  • Ensure political commitment and strategic guidance for Benelux cooperation on the part of the three Benelux states through a greater role for the Committee of Ministers. Ensure more frequent, regular consultations between the foreign ministers, who bear primary responsibility for Benelux cooperation. One purpose of these consultations should be to arrive at a common view of the Benelux as a practical and political partnership. There should also be a clear political and official commitment, reflected in clear, substantive leadership.
  • Enhance the continuity of Benelux cooperation by adapting the chairing arrangements for the Committee of Ministers and the bodies responsible to it as follows:
    1. fill the chair for a period of one calendar year;
    2. have the chair draw up an annual work programme in consultation with the Secretary-General;
      submit this to the Committee of Ministers for approval;
    3. evaluate its implementation with reference to the annual report drawn up in cooperation with the Secretary-General;
    4. discuss the work programme and the annual report in the Interparliamentary Council.

This means that the BEU Committee of Ministers must meet twice a year to make decisions on tasks and consultative structures.

  • Grant the Committee of Ministers express powers to adapt the Benelux’s core tasks (to be set out in the political declaration) where necessary. Also grant it powers to adapt the priority areas for work (to be set out in an annexe to the political declaration) that specify these tasks in more detail.

The Ministerial Committees

  • Arrange for the Ministerial Committees to be made up of representatives of the governments of the Benelux states, including Belgium’s regions and linguistic communities. The Ministerial Committees should report to the Committee of Ministers and operate within the priorities set out in the work programme.

 

The Council of the Economic Union

  • Allow the Council of the Economic Union to play a major guiding and coordinating role in preparing meetings of the Committee of Ministers.
  • To create the desired links between BPC and the BEU, arrange for the Council to be made up of Directors-General for European cooperation, rather than Secretaries-General as at present.
  • Use the Coordinating Committee (consisting of the national Benelux coordinators) to support the Council, and strengthen the Committee where necessary.

 

The Administrative Committees and the Working Parties

  • Replace the existing complex structure of administrative committees, special committees and working parties with a smaller number of committees. Existing relevant consultative bodies can be given a place within this new structure. (See also the section on the Committee of Ministers, which must be granted powers to set up and abolish committees and working parties in line with the stated core tasks and the annual work programme.)

 

The Secretary-General

  • Limit the Secretary-General’s appointment to a maximum of two five-year terms.
  • Raise the Secretary-General’s profile in keeping with the recommendation to strengthen his/her position. The Secretary-General should use his/her right of initiative more often, and should draw up an annual work programme in consultation with the chair of the Committee of Ministers, to be adopted by the Committee of Ministers. The Secretary-General should implement the work programme and report on it annually.
  • The division of tasks between the Secretary-General and the two Deputy Secretaries-General (regarding the topics identified in the work programme) should be mutually agreed on the basis of expertise.

 

The Benelux Interparliamentary Consultative Council

  • Maintain the Interparliamentary Council’s advisory task, which should focus on drawing up and implementing the Secretariat-General’s work programme.
  • Hold plenary meetings of the Council on specific topics based on the work programme, and ensure systematic feedback to the national parliaments of the three Benelux states.
  • Where necessary, set up committees and working parties for limited periods to carry out the work programme.
  • Increase transparency. The Committee of Ministers is required to report on activities and respond to earlier Council recommendations.
  • Discuss politically sensitive issues in the presence of the politically responsible ministers.
  • Enhance the Council’s function as a forum by involving relevant national spokespersons in discussions on specific topics (where appropriate including ones from other countries in the case of Benelux-plus).

  • Regularly evaluate the number of committees and prevent their proliferation.

 

The Benelux Office for Intellectual Property

  • Especially as the Benelux Convention on Intellectual Property has only recently (1 September 2006) entered into force, there seems no reason to propose substantial changes in the work of this Benelux organisation.

 

The Benelux Court of Justice

  • Limit the number of areas in which the Court of Justice has to make preliminary rulings, for example by critically assessing the various Benelux provisions on which the Court is competent. This should also apply to new agreements.
  • Be circumspect in conferring competence in Court on disputes between the Benelux states and other regional authorities (such as those created by the federalisation of Belgium).
  • Make the Benelux Court the court of appeal against decisions by the Director-General of the BOIP to register trademarks or designs. Such cases can be heard in smaller chambers with fewer judges to reduce the length of the procedure.
  • Do not make the Court the court of cassation in respect of decisions by national courts of appeal.
  • Allow the Court to retain its present task in respect of disputes involving Benelux civil servants, with the proviso that appeal is only possible at one further instance.

 

The Economic and Social Consultative Council and the College of Arbitrators

  • Abolish the dormant Economic and Social Consultative Council.
  • Keep the College of Arbitrators in existence, so that there is a body where the Benelux states can lodge any disputes that may arise between them in the future.

On the Benelux’s international legal status

  • Raise the issue of the Benelux’s international legal status in the negotiations on the new Benelux treaty. This should include the question of whether the Benelux Secretariat-General can be granted the status of an international institution and whether the Board of Secretaries-General can be granted diplomatic status. One purpose of this measure, which has implications for salaries and pensions, is to ensure a more balanced distribution of staff among the three countries and to make the organisation more flexible. In the interests of comparability between the Benelux organisations, the BOIP’s Privileges and Immunities Protocol could be used as a model.[4]

 

On names

  • The future treaty should simply be called the Benelux Treaty and, by analogy with the EU, the institutions should be known as the Benelux Parliament, the Benelux Council and so forth. In this connection, subsidiary legislation should remain in force, as should Article 306 of the EC Treaty.

 

On the legal design of the future treaty

  • There are four legal options when the current treaty expires:

1.      it can lapse (in accordance with Article 99 of the BEU Treaty);
2.      it can be tacitly extended (in accordance with Article 99 of the BEU Treaty);
3.      it can be adapted/supplemented;
4.      a completely new treaty can be drawn up.

  • Although the three countries have spoken in favour of extending the treaty, the decision to adapt the existing treaty to the Benelux’s new activities and consultative structures and to Belgium’s new governmental structure rules out tacit extension. Drawing up a completely new treaty to replace the existing one would take by far the most time. Furthermore, this is a path that is by no means free of legal pitfalls, as rescinding certain articles of the existing treaty could have unexpected legal implications for subsidiary law (protocols and/or ministerial orders based on specific articles of the treaty).
  • The AIV is therefore in favour of adapting/supplementing the existing treaty by means of an amendment protocol, in combination with a political declaration, in order to make the proposed changes to the treaty.
 

[1] For more on this, see I.G.C. Janssen, Benelux: closer cooperation within the European Union?, Shaker Publishing, Maastricht, 2006.

 

[2] Examples include Iraq, the European Security and Defence Policy and views on the future of Europe and the constitutional treaty.

 

[3] The AIV is aware that in certain cases there is more extensive cooperation between the Netherlands and Germany than within the Benelux. Border checks in the Meuse-Rhine Euregio are a case in point.

 

[4] This protocol is annexed to an amendment to the Benelux Convention on Intellectual Property, which entered into force on 1 February 2007.

 

Advice request
Mr. F. Korthals AltesMinistry of Foreign Affairs
Chairman of the Advisory CouncilWestern and Central European Department
on International AffairsBezuidenhoutseweg 67
Postbus 200612594 AC Den Haag
2500 EB Den Haag 
  
Date:10 October 2006 
Our ref.: DWM-805/06 
Re: Request for advice on the Benelux 
  
  
  
 

 
Dear Mr Korthals Altes,

 
The founding treaty of the Benelux Economic Union (BEU) comes up for renewal for the first time in 2010. The government has decided to extend this partnership in view of its practical added value and because it provides a basis for political cooperation (BPC). Negotiations on a new treaty with Belgium and Luxemburg are likely to begin in spring 2007.
 
To identify the most effective form of future cooperation among the Benelux countries, the government requests the AIV to investigate what tasks will be suitable for Benelux in future and what sort of organisational support is most appropriate. Benelux’s added value will also be evaluated in Belgium, specifically in Flanders.

Because the government attaches importance to cooperation in the Benelux context, it would like the Council to draw up an advisory report on this matter. The report should focus on what added value Benelux can provide, within the BEU and BPC frameworks, in the current European playing field. Once the AIV has determined the partnership’s added value, it can consider the support to be given by BEU institutions like the General Secretariat, the Benelux Parliament and the Court of Justice.

In order to gain insight into the added value of the Benelux partnership for the Netherlands, I would like to put the following questions to the advisory council:
 
  1. Benelux countries work together on both practical (BEU) and political (BPC) grounds. What, in the AIV’s opinion, is the added value of the Benelux partnership in each of these areas?
  2. Which fields of activity and subjects would lend themselves to prioritisation in the Benelux partnership?
  3. What changes would the Benelux Economic Union, as an organisation, need to undergo to be able to function effectively once substantive prioritisation has taken place?
  4. What role does the AIV see Benelux organisations such as the Benelux Interparliamentary    Consultative Council and the Benelux Court of Justice fulfilling?
  5. Based on its response to questions 1 to 4, can the AIV advise on the most suitable international framework within which to continue the Benelux partnership?

As research is already being conducted into the areas they cover, brief answers to questions 2, 3 and 5 will suffice. However, I would welcome more detail in your answers to questions 1 to 4.

The first term of the Benelux treaty expires in 2010. Given that national ratification procedures may need to take place before changes can be implemented, negotiations will need to be completed by the end of 2007. Negotiations with member states are expected to begin in spring of the same year. I would therefore appreciate your advice by 1 February 2007.

A copy of this letter will be forwarded to the President of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.

Yours sincerely,

Bernard Bot
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Government reactions

 

Mr F. Korthals Altes                                                  Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Chairman of the Advisory Council                                Western and Central Europe Department
on International Affairs                                             Postbus 20061
Postbus 20061                                                        2500 EB Den Haag
2500 EB Den Haag

Date                4 July 2007                                      Contact           Bas Bruijn
Our ref.            DWM-452/2007                                 Email              DWM@minbuza.nl

 

Re                    Response to the AIV advisory report 
                      
The Benelux: the Benefits and Necessity of Enhanced Cooperation
Cc                    Presidents of the House of Representatives and Senate

Dear Mr Korthals Altes,

Let me begin by thanking you for the report The Benelux: the Benefits and Necessity of Enhanced Cooperation, which you presented to me on 9 March. The report could not be more timely: the Benelux Economic Union (BEU) is due to expire in 2010. The three member states have expressed their interest in continuing the Benelux partnership after that date, though at the same time they have also indicated their desire to update and enhance it. The report is thus a welcome contribution to the development of a Dutch position on the issue of what form the Benelux partnership should take in the future. Talks with our two partner countries are scheduled to begin this summer.

Acknowledging the value of this partnership, in both practical and political terms, the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) endorses the government’s position that renewing the partnership is the right choice. Yet the AIV also uses its report to point out a number of shortcomings in the current arrangement. Whereas the Benelux used to have a clear mission, the AIV says, it is now unsure of its own place and role. To make optimal use of the partnership, the Benelux is in need of clear, substantive political leadership. The government shares this view, and the question of how best to overcome this problem will be a prime topic of discussion in the talks between the Benelux partners on the partnership’s future. The government does however feel that the treaty should confine itself to the BEU, and is thus opposed to suggestions to incorporate Benelux Political Cooperation (BPC) into the document or to tack on a ‘political annexe’.

What follows is a more detailed response to your report. A task force comprising officials from several ministries is currently working out the Dutch position for the negotiations with Belgium and Luxembourg. The AIV’s specific recommendations are a welcome contribution to that discussion. At the same time the Netherlands is also involved in informal talks with its two partner countries. Although neither one has a complete vision of the Benelux’s future, there seems to be a large measure of agreement about the general direction that it should take.

Benelux Economic Union
The AIV speaks in positive terms about the BEU, observing that over the past several years the emphasis has shifted from the economic sphere to internal security policy and various cross-border issues. The AIV believes that the BEU plays a valuable initiating, supporting and in some cases guiding role in these areas. The AIV also stresses the BEU’s function as a ‘laboratory’ for cooperation in a broader EU context. More than once, the successful BEU partnership has been a model for the European project.

At the same time, the AIV notes that the BEU lacks a clear mission and strategy. The organisation has no clear direction, a fact that undercuts its effectiveness and visibility. This is the result of the process of adaptation that the BEU has undergone. After many of its original duties were taken over by the EU, the BEU ventured into new territory, broadening its range of tasks on an ad hoc basis. The AIV questions whether all these tasks are relevant to the BEU. In this spirit the AIV urges the partnership to define its core tasks, which the AIV identifies as internal security, spatial planning and the market. The AIV proposes including these tasks in a political declaration that could be appended to the future treaty, without being part of the treaty itself.

The government shares the AIV analysis and acknowledges the desirability of more political guidance and a clearer focus on the substance of policy. In preparing for the negotiations with Belgium and Luxembourg, an interministerial task force is considering which tasks are suitable for the BEU in the initial phase after 2010. The task force is chiefly concerned with how the member states can best adapt the BEU’s range of tasks to the new reality. The most drastic option would be to reduce the BEU’s core tasks from three to two, bearing in mind (as the report argues) that the organisation’s economic component in particular has been largely overtaken by the EU. A less drastic option would be to abolish ‘dormant’ working groups and commissions and look into what other specific activities could be pruned back. The debate on this issue is ongoing.

In any event, the government intends to make clarifying the BEU’s mission and strategy and improving its overall focus a major point on the agenda for the talks with Belgium and Luxembourg. The government will also take up the suggestion that this focus on substantive policy be enshrined in a separate political declaration (so it can easily be updated at regular intervals).

A number of the AIV’s recommendations on the functioning of the BEU can be put into practice by the member states before 2010. For example, the Secretary-General of the BEU has been asked to begin enhancing the organisation’s visibility in the member states. The government takes the position that matters like visibility and PR are the responsibility of the body itself – that is, the Secretariat-General (SG).

Benelux Political Cooperation
In line with the initial request, the AIV focuses largely on Benelux Political Cooperation (BPC), which involves the informal coordination of positions and joint initiatives in the EU. Well-known examples of this are the joint Benelux memoranda and the talks held prior to European Councils and other Councils. Although BPC is not laid out in the BEU treaty, it cannot be understood apart from the BEU partnership. A reduced BEU will almost certainly have repercussions for BPC. Thanks to its successful past initiatives and its reputation as a pioneer of European integration, the Benelux carries more weight within the EU than its constituent parts. With respect to this point, the AIV observes that the Benelux countries have failed to take full advantage of the potential significance of BPC and that the partnership is too dependent on ad hoc incidents. The AIV therefore argues in favour of strengthening and deepening the partnership and makes a number of recommendations to that end.

The government concurs with the AIV’s assessment of BPC and thus acknowledges the added value it provides. The consultations between the prime ministers held prior to European Council meetings are an established tradition. The Benelux memoranda make a constructive contribution to the decision-making process on a number of major European issues, as witness the appreciation expressed for the memoranda issued at the time of the last IGC and those on the subjects of EU enlargement and energy security. For the record it should be noted that consultation and coordination also take place outside the context of the EU: the three Benelux countries confer with one another and regularly act in concert in other international forums. Like the AIV, the government acknowledges the necessity and usefulness of BPC and intends to continue it in the future wherever possible.

At the same time, the government would observe that even though BPC and the BEU are part of the same ‘brand’, the nature of the two forms of partnership is different. The strength of BPC in its current configuration lies in its informal character. The Benelux countries regularly confer on European matters. There is thus already a de facto ‘right of first consultation’ in place, and the Benelux countries are well aware of the potential benefits of their partnership. The government rejects the recommendation that a right of first consultation be included in a political annexe to the treaty. In the duties attendant on the formalisation of this right, there is a danger that the partnership could become more oriented towards forging compromises than towards pursuing genuine interests. Such a move is more likely to cripple the organisation than benefit it. For this same reason the SG of the BEU should not play a role in BPC, as the AIV rightly argues.

The government also disagrees with a number of other recommendations the AIV makes regarding BPC, including instituting a coordinating structure to deepen cooperation at civil service level and ‘systematising’ the instrument of Benelux memoranda.

Advisory and judiciary institutions
The AIV also makes a number of recommendations regarding the BEU’s advisory and judiciary institutions, including the Benelux Interparliamentary Consultative Council and the Benelux Court of Justice. The government will forward the AIV’s report to both bodies, though in the end it is up to the institutions themselves to decide whether to follow these recommendations. The government notes that it particularly respects the independence of the Interparliamentary Council.

The government shares the positive assessment of the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP). Recently (on 1 September 2006) a new Benelux convention on intellectual property entered into force. Like the AIV the government sees no reasons to propose substantial changes to the duties of the BOIP.

Over the past 50 years, the Committee of Ministers has not assigned a single task to the Economic and Social Consultative Council, rendering the body effectively dormant. The government concurs with the AIV that this BEU institution should be abolished. The Board of Secretaries-General of the BEU expressed the same sentiment in a recent advisory report issued to the member states.

The government will follow your recommendation on naming the treaty and the associated institutions (namely that ‘Benelux’ should precede all the names) and intends to raise the matter at the talks with Belgium and Luxembourg.

Consultative structures of the BEU and the role of the SG
The AIV makes a number of recommendations that highlight the need for more political leadership in the consultative structure of the BEU. The extension of the BEU treaty is, in the opinion of the AIV, a fitting time to pare down the current, complex network of consultative bodies and transform what remains into a more flexible consultative structure. The government endorses the proposal to conduct a critical evaluation of the current consultative structures. The government shares the philosophy that structure should follow from strategy. If the three countries can agree on a structure for the Benelux partnership, it will be necessary to examine, in consultation with the SG, how the organisation can be adapted to new realities.

The government intends to follows the AIV’s recommendations to raise the subject of the SG’s international legal status in the negotiations with Belgium and Luxembourg. As the AIV remarks, one of the aims of this measure, which has implications for the salaries and pensions of the Dutch and Luxembourg staff in particular, is to restore the balance between the three nationalities in the organisation. The current underrepresentation of Dutch and Luxembourg nationals undermines the SG’s status as a neutral party in talks between the member states.

Legal structure of the future treaty
Drafting an entirely new treaty could have unexpected legal consequences for secondary legislation. For that reason the AIV recommends modifying the treaty via an amendment protocol that would leave untouched the treaty’s core, in which the institutional basis of the BEU is enshrined. The member states can then periodically set down the essential domains of the BEU partnership in political annexes to the treaty, so that BEU activities are regularly amended in accordance with the wishes of the three member states. The government also supports such an amendment protocol to facilitate the necessary changes to the Benelux partnership from a legal standpoint, without running the risk of losing the legal basis for secondary legislation.

For a revised Benelux treaty to enter into force by 2010, the Netherlands will have to submit the signed document to the Council of State no later than the summer of 2008. Negotiations with Belgium and Luxembourg are expected to be opened in the summer of 2007.

Thank you again for your report. A copy of this letter will be sent to the Presidents of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

 

 

Maxime Verhagen                                        
Minister of Foreign Affairs

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