In between continental Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world (the U.S. and U.K.), the Netherlands tries to occupy a middle ground between these two sociopolitical models. Given its history of free trade and exchange, the Netherlands is able to position itself as a leader of smaller states, together forming a counterweight against Europe’s largest states in their push for European integration
Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have put pressure on the transatlantic alliance. As a result, the European continent is refocusing on itself, while an increasingly assertive Russia and Turkey and a rising East make European member states ever more dependent on each other. Furthermore, after years of sluggish growth in the aftermath of the European sovereign debt crisis, growth is finally rebounding in many European economies. In this play of geopolitical forces, last year’s formation of Macron’s and Merkel’s pro-European governments gives rise to more pro-European momentum in 2018, as a strong Franco-German axis has often been the driver for European reforms and integration. Historically, the U.K. was the counterweight against too much integration-enthusiasm from France and Germany, as they perceived Europe primarily as a means to spur trade and reduce transaction costs. The Netherlands generally sided with the U.K. In its unwillingness to transfer sovereignty from the national to the European level, and its opposition to the idea of forging an “ever closer union”.In the vacuum of Brexit and the reconfiguration of European geopolitics, the Netherlands should moot itself as the leader of small states, as we have written elsewhere. The Netherlands already increasingly partners with the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) and other small states (i.e. the Baltic states) in European issues. Some factors unite these countries. First of all, these countries are sea-based economies, and with their small domestic consumer markets and maritime hubs, they are strongly dependent on global trade in and to Europe. As they rely heavily on free shipping lanes and trade routes, their economic interests often prevail over other large political ambitions. To institutionalize their interests, these countries prefer rule-bound politics so that all members abide by the rules (as they don’t have the resources to enforce larger states), and multilateral free-trade agreements over larger political projects (i.e. establishing a European army). As such, their focus is on prudent monetary policy instead of fiscal intervention, on budgetary discipline instead of European education programs. Aside from this political realism, the Netherlands occupies a middle position between the continent and the Anglo-Saxon world: it is egalitarian and social-democratic (continental) but averse to state intervention and central control (Anglo-Saxon). In this way, the Netherlands resembles Scandinavian states in a whole range of socioeconomic and sociocultural indices that stress a liberal and egalitarian culture, with a focus on secular and humanistic values. See, for example, the Human Development Index, Social Progress Index, Global Innovation Index (socio-economic) and their society’s degree of trust, citizenship and social capital (socio-cultural). On Inglehart and Welzel’s cultural map of the world, the Netherlands is also closely related to Scandinavian countries. As the Netherlands is the largest of these smaller states, and given its history of free trade and exchange, leadership should come naturally to the Netherlands (as it did to the U.K.).Furthermore, as we are moving towards a multipolar world order, there are other countries that risk being absorbed in a regional power’s sphere of influence or the orbit between two large superpowers. The Netherlands might forge an alliance with other small and liberal countries with competitive and open economies that benefit from multilateral free trade agreements and institutions. Considering the conditions mentioned above, the Baltic states come to mind, as do Uruguay, Costa Rica, South Korea, Singapore and Oman.