Grip on Europe
Europe, is that not that slow and yet thundering juggernaut constantly spewing out new rules from Brussels? Rules that we experience as a fait accompli? Fortunately, we have Mendeltje van Keulen. This new research professor gives us a handle with which we, citizens, policy makers and businesses, can get a grip on Europe. She will hold her inaugural lecture on this on 6 November.
‘Getting a grip on Europe’ is a recurring theme in Mendeltje’s career. After the pro-Europe camp’s less than flourishing referendum about the European constitution (2005), she co-wrote the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) report. “I was spokesperson for that referendum at the Clingendael research institute. The Netherlands voted en masse against the constitution. That was a shock as the constitution was good, wasn’t it? But citizens thought otherwise. After the referendum, there were numerous analyses about the state of democracy. The WRR went further: How can you close the chasm between citizens and European politics?”
“The report’s punchline was that if you want us to have more influence on what is happening in Europe, then you have to consider how you can imbed that in your organisation. How can you as citizen, civil servant or policy staff make a considered choice? Do you know who is in Brussels? Do we know what the MEPs actually do? Can we ask them and find out what the new plans are? For companies and organisations it is important that they can adapt before they are bombarded with all kinds of EU rules.”
After Clingendael, Mendeltje moved to the Lower House. “At Clingendael I wrote critical columns about how politics should handle Europe, but as people rightly said, if you know so well why don’t you give it a go.” At the Lower House she worked for eight years on the question: How do you make the EU visible? “We have, for instance, ensured that journalists clearly know when which European debate is taking place. Journalists receive a weekly e-mail newsletter, stating for example: Next week there is a debate about European labour inspection. Oh! Will there be a European inspection then? No, not yet but there will be in two years. In that way, you can prevent that two years down the line people have the feeling that the legislation is being thrown at them.”
Providing the correct information in time helps people get a grip on what is happening in Brussels. What also helps is a coherent vision of Europe. A topic that Mendeltje will go deeper into during her inaugural lecture. “I often hear from organisations: Oh, yes, Europe, we have Pete for that, he’s in room 6. That is literally a separate view of Europe. I think that the European aspect of the work must be part of an integral policy process. My request is that you look at what Europe means strategically for your organisation. If that isn’t much, then Pete can sit quietly in his office. But if you realise that the EU has funds it can allocate to you, then it is smart to look at how that European dimension can be intertwined with the people on the work floor.
The research group has the title of The Changing Role of Europe. There are changes within as well as outside of Europe. The balance of power is shifting from the West to Asia and the alliance between Europe and the US is under pressure. What does this mean for Europe? Mendeltje: “The EU has been in the shadow of the US for a long time, but must now step out from behind it. Aside from Trump’s rhetoric, many US citizens feel that Europeans should take responsibility for themselves. On the other side: in the 1950s there were already attempts in the EU to clarify EU politics. For those sitting on the fence, Trump is a blessing in disguise. They say for instance, let us now ensure that the weapons systems within European armies are better coordinated and that we improve efficiency.”Mendeltje van Keulen will hold her inaugural lecture on 6 November: ‘Verkeer(d) verbonden: over de praktische inbedding en organisatie van Europese zaken’. Beforehand there is a symposium about the connective role of EU liaisons within the Europeanisation of organisations.