Nr. 13 – Jadoul, October 2012

In line with our intention to present successful examples of political cooperation in the past, guest author Fernand Jadoul outlines how during World War II (thus some years prior to the Schuman Plan) the Benelux was established, what its communal motives were and how this organization served as an example for the creation of a larger European alliance nowadays called the European Union. Although the European Union has caught up with the original goals of the Benelux, the new Benelux Treaty of 2012 firmly supports a further strengthening of European cooperation. Neither the national Constitutions nor European Treaties (including the Treaty of Lisbon) pose an obstacle to the federalization of the Benelux.

European Federalist Papers © Leo Klinkers & Herbert Tombeur, 2012-2013


The seeds for a united Europe have been dormant for centuries. Here and there these seeds did produce a plant; however, the plant always died. Even though Spinelli and Rossi gave a new impulse to European federalization with their 1941 Ventotene Manifest, we must state the fact that Europe is still no Federation. Apparently, we have to await a change in the political climate that will allow the seeds to grow and blossom throughout Europe. Since we do notice some signs of this change, we must assess whether we can draw energy from the past to make a successful jump to the future.

The aforementioned article by ÉvaBóka, ‘Rethinking the role of the federalist ideas in the construction of Europe’, describes in a nutshell the many federal initiatives and their protagonists. Let us look at some details.

As early as 1713, Abbé de St. Pierre wrote his Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe. In 1814 the French socialist Count de Saint-Simon designed a model for European cooperation, including a European Parliament. Some decades later the French author Victor Hugo introduced the concept of the ‘United States of Europe’.

However, only after the two world wars a European movement for unity emerged; to a certain extent thanks to Spinelli and Rossi, but controlled by Monnet and Schuman. Maybe it should rather be referred to as a movement for European cooperation. Since the Treaty of Rome (1957) two main questions have determined the European Union’s future: the enlargement and the deepening of the Union. Well, the enlargement of the Union is apparent to all, contrary to expectations: the number of Member States has grown four and a half times within half a century. However, the deepening of the Union – in the sense of further European integration – has not yet led to a success. Its cause has been clearly described in previous Papers: the choice, in the beginning of the 1950s, to cast cooperation into the model of an intergovernmental system did work excellently during the first years of the Community, but gradually became counterproductive. Deepening through integration appeared to be an insidious degradation of the Member States’ sovereignty. An erosion of the Nation State as a result of the hierarchical character of the Brussels’ type of vertical decision-making, compelling states into uniformity whereas diversity adds color and flavor to living together. Intuitively, resistance against this type of decision-making has grown. Some Member States – headed by the Netherlands – openly worded this with the slogan “I want my money back”, a slogan of British origin (see the special section at the end of this Paper).

Let us now continue with presenting reasons for leaving this depraved intergovernmental system of governance behind us as soon as possible.

A further deepening of European cooperation seems necessary, but this should be implemented in a different way: through federalization. The need for integration can be satisfied by organizing the integrating communality – with its own sovereignty – on a level above the Member States, leaving the Members’ sovereignty intact. The example that Klinkers has shown in Paper no. 2 regarding the Association of Owners in an apartment building is precisely the model of a federal organization that by definition leaves intact the autonomy of that organization’s members, adding only extra value by making it possible to take care – in a way as agreed upon earlier – of the matters of communal interest in that building.

Thus, in a decent Federation the aspect of ‘integration’ is a matter operating above the ‘owners of the apartments’ – for their shared interests – without interfering in their own environment. To elaborate this metaphor further: the intergovernmental system compels the owners of the apartments to live together as a commune, where the individual’s autonomous freedom disappears. This is the wrong type of ‘integration’, leading to the vaporization of the sovereignty of one’s own residence. That is why it would be good if European politicians – when pleading for more European ‘integration’ – would use the word ‘political integration’ more carefully than they do at present.

Thus it can be useful to learn from the history of the Benelux. The Benelux Union can be used as an excellent example of creating a foundation underneath a federal Europe. For ages the name ‘The Low Lands’ or the ‘Northern and Southern Netherlands’ related to that part of Europe that would cover in later years the territory of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. On April 19th, 1839 the Great Powers of that time signed a treaty in London to execute what had been on the cards since 1830: the definitive separation between the Netherlands and Belgium, including the independence of Luxembourg. The request made in 1841 by Luxembourg, addressed to the Dutch King (at that time also functioning as the Great Duke of Luxembourg) to sign a treaty with Belgium, supplemented with an economic union with the Netherlands, can be considered as a first step in the direction of what would become the Benelux many years later.

World War I brought Belgium and Luxembourg further together: they established the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU), which also became a monetary union. Two small countries, but not a small case if one considers that this was happening in the period that the American President Woodrow Wilson was engaged in establishing the League of Nations. In the words of Dirk Rochtus and Ward Kennes: “This monetary union created already long before the introduction of the euro an intimate feeling of togetherness.”

The economic depression in the 1920s led to broader cooperation: the three countries of the Benelux and three Scandinavian countries signed – through an initiative of the Norwegian Foreign Minister – the first treaty relating to economic cooperation: the Convention of Oslo (1930). The main goal of that Convention was the elimination of trade barriers. Soon after, in 1932, the Benelux countries signed the Lausanne-Ouchy treaty with the same goal. The Oslo-countries were also striving for more political cooperation, but they were unable to stand up against the bigger countries.

I quote here some words from the introduction of Ger van Roon’s book: “The discussion about the Belgian-Dutch proposal of June 1932 to introduce a toll union revived the multilateral Oslo-contacts. The failure of the Economic and Monetary World Conference in 1933 in London pushed the Oslo-countries even closer together. Moreover, Finland was accepted in this bond. (...) Since 1935 and 1936, the years of the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy, and the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the political aspects started to dominate within this Oslo-partnership. Even some bilateral military contacts were established. It would have been a favorable moment to engage in political-military cooperation. Belgium and Sweden had favored from the beginning of the Oslo-cooperation the political aspect of this alliance.”

The development of effective cooperation in North-West Europe has been constant. World War II pushed the three countries of the Benelux even closer together: on October 21st 1943 their Governments signed, during their London exile, a monetary agreement. Barely one year later, on September 5th 1944, while still in exile, they signed the Netherlands-Belgium-Luxembourg customs agreement. In addition to agreements to cooperate in economic affairs where that could be fruitful with respect to their geographical locations. This customs agreement subsequently led to the treaty to install the Benelux Economic Union being signed on February 3rd 1958.

Ger van Roon states in his epilogue: “The establishing of the Benelux was the result and crowning of thirty years of increased rapprochement between the three countries. The Belgian Government in London had taken the initiative to further cooperation. This was considered as a continuation of the Oslo-cooperation. One of the threads in this book is the process from autonomy to dependency. The history of the Oslo-countries is a warning against exaggerated expectations about the influence of a small country in international affairs. On the other hand this period points at the ability of small countries – especially in mutual cooperation – to execute a more flexible foreign policy, able to respond more quickly to new situations. (...) Because the Oslo-cooperation has been, despite its weaknesses, an indication of post-war integration, this book is also a plea for more international cooperation, especially in times of economic depression.”

The Benelux Union created two elements: a) the coordination of economic, financial and social policy, and b) the acceptance and conducting of a common policy with respect to economic relations with other countries. This economic and financial dimension was gradually supplemented in the areas of transport, physical planning, environment, policing and justice. The success of the Benelux is evident: with respect to economic potential it occupies the fourth position in the European Union, as well as worldwide as far as import and export are concerned.

In the context of the federalization of Europe it is important to look at the three national Constitutions and the treaty-based relationship between the Benelux and the European Union.

With respect to this element the Belgian Constitution states: “The execution of certain powers can be transferred to international institutions by treaty or agreement” (article 34). The Dutch Constitution mentions the same: “Taking into account – if necessary – article 91, section 3, legislative, executive and judicial powers can be transferred by treaty to international organizations”(article 92). The Luxembourg Constitution states: “The execution of legislative, executive and judicial powers may temporarily be transferred to international institutions” (article 49bis). Thus, the Constitutions of the Benelux countries allow them to create a Federation because the transfer of stately powers, in other words sovereignty, is constitutionally possible.

The Treaty of Rome (1957) contained in article 306 the so-called ‘enabling clause’. In the following words: “The provisions of this treaty do not prevent the existence and the completion of the regional unions between Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as between Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, as far as the goals of these regional unions have not been met with this treaty.” The fact that the countries of the Benelux stood at the cradle of European unification may explain the introduction of this article in the Treaty of Rome.

This text is also found in article 350 of the Treaty of Lisbon (2007/2009). The significance of this is essential for the question as to whether the Treaty of Lisbon may resist federalization of the three Benelux countries. Due to this article there is no such obstacle. Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are free to engage in a federal union. Due to the fact that Article 50, section 1 of the Treaty relating to the European Union (which is one of the two treaties within the Treaty of Lisbon), allows Member States to leave the European Union, it will be no problem if Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands leave the intergovernmental system individually, in order to enter that system again as one Federation of three countries – as long as this intergovernmental system is still alive.

Back to the past. The 1958 Benelux Treaty came into force on November 1st 1960, for a period of fifty years. Thus until 2010. During this period some important international, European and economic changes occurred, including the establishment of the European Union, gradually substituting the Benelux’ goals with respect to economic and monetary domains. Political cooperation within the Benelux appeared to become weaker too, growing even more difficult due to existing differences in attitude; for instance due to the more ‘Atlantic-oriented’ Netherlands, as would become manifest in the Iraq affair. Problems and differing opinions with respect to the execution of a part of the Scheldt-treaties and the reinstatement of the old railway track Iron-Rhine did not contribute to intensifying cooperation between Belgium and the Netherlands. Several years ago these controversies resulted in ministerial meetings to be postponed or annulled, or to have ministers represented in those meetings by civil servants.

Nevertheless, this has not led to the disappearance of the Benelux. In good time before the ending of the Benelux-period in 2010, large-scale consultations and preparations on many political levels resulted in a ‘Treaty to Revise the Treaty signed on February 13th 1958 to establish the Benelux Economic Union’ signed on June 17th 2008 in The Hague. This revised treaty came into force on January 1st 2012. Due to the fact that the working of the Union was broadened to include non-economic matters, the official name became the Benelux Union.

The goal of the new treaty is the deepening and elaboration of cooperation between the three countries in order to a) maintain the Benelux’ pioneering role within the European Union and b) expand transboundary cooperation in each domain. It will aim specifically at furthering the economic union’s development, at sustainable development and at cooperation with respect to justice and internal affairs.

With the signing of this new treaty the three countries intend to give a new stimulus to their cooperation. This may be concluded when reading the Political Declaration of the three national Governments at the moment of signing the treaty in June 2008. However, this has not yet been executed in the form of a more structural Benelux Political Cooperation. In this Declaration the three Governments pledge among others:

  • “Our cooperation … has produced much for our countries and has been a source of inspiration for many other countries.”
  • “Our organization has been an example to the European Communities.”
  • “The new treaty opens the way to provide our cooperation with a more dynamic content in a changing international and social context.”
  • “Our Governments are determined to steer this political process.”
  • “To adjust the cooperation regularly in order to play a permanent pioneering role within the European Union and to enlarge the effectiveness of transboundary cooperation between our states on all levels.”
  • In an enlarged European Union of 27 countries it is imperative for the Benelux to speak with one voice on a broad spectrum of matters … and thus … next to traditional meetings before the European Council’s meetings – also gathering together at the start of each EU-chairmanship – putting our mark on EU decision-making.”
  • “The Benelux will fulfill new tasks, develop a new strategy and will receive a new political steering … in order to deliver innovative solutions for all Europeans.”

It would not be proper to assume that the three Benelux Governments would restrain themselves to merely expressing these words without having the will and the guts to put the élan and enthusiasm of the Political Declaration into concrete actions. Noblesse oblige. Thus the Benelux should see its catalyst function towards a more cooperative Europe as a challenge and an obligation. To substantiate this I refer to the following.

Some important treaties and agreements have already been signed. For instance the Schengen-agreement and the Senningen-consultation. A more robust Benelux alliance produces an enormous economic potential, especially in cooperation with the German Member State (Land) Nord-Rhine-Westfalen (NRW) and other German Member States. Together, the Benelux and Nord-Rhine-Westfalen cover about 46 million citizens who may exert a large influence in a federal Europe.

Even though the new treaty of the Benelux Union does not state among its goals a cultural rapprochement, the treaty nevertheless mentions that a Common Work Program may include cooperation in several fields, if this should be necessary to realize one of its main goals. Especially within the countries of the Benelux, projects and activities in the field of culture and arts may bring citizens closer – they often understand each other’s history, culture and habits better than other Europeans do – and would further European consciousness. Many projects have already been successfully realized, although on a small scale. That is why Rochtus and Kennes asked the right question: “Is it by definition unthinkable that Letzeburgers, Frisians, Flemish, Dutch, Limburgers, Walons, Picardians, Brabandians, et cetera could embrace a state-bearing construction enabling them to conserve and fertilize their diversity?” To me this is a rhetorical question.

The Benelux alliance is exclusive. This is recognized in European treaties and is therefore accepted as a unique partnership within the EU, also by other regional cooperation forms such as the Nordic Union, the Baltic States and the Visegrad countries.

On the level of Europe a Benelux initiative towards its own federalization will likely be received with sympathy and enthusiasm: some countries wait until the first sheep will have crossed the bridge. It would be the first but also decisive step towards a closer, federally organized cooperation with the other European countries. In all of this, let us not forget the political significance of a federal Benelux: together 53 seats of the 736 in the European Parliament – three more than the Polish or the Spanish representatives (each 50). And together they have 29 votes within the Council of Ministers of the European Union, the same number as the four largest Member States Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy.

A final remark. The three Benelux countries have an increasing interest in a further political closing of the ranks in the face of continuing EU expansion. This expansion pushes these three (of the six) founding fathers of the European Community to the margin of the system. The Benelux should not lose its historical value so easily. More than once it has played a pioneering role in the creation of structures and procedures that were accepted and integrated within the European Community. The free flow of people, goods, capital and services, and the creation of one big zone without inner borders (the Schengen Agreement) are important achievements to be attributed to the Benelux. The explicit goal – as stated in the Political Declaration – to keep playing the pioneering role under the flag of the new treaty would really be fulfilled if the Benelux as a whole would embark on a federal Europe. Only then the wish of the Benelux Governments to speak with one voice on the decision-making level of the European Union would be realized.

Its necessity is emphasized by the report ‘Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World’ (April 2012) by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) that, based on the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS), provides a revealing view of the ‘Global Trends 2030’: by 2030 Asia and Africa determine the political, economic and social developments in the world. America and Europe will be pushed to a secondary place.

In his book ‘The End of the West. The Once and Future Europe’ David Marquand states the same, albeit in harsher words: “Can Europe recover the élan and political creativity that healed the wounds of the two great European civil wars of the last century and then extended the scope of democratic rule to the former Soviet satellites in East Central Europe? Can it overcome its internal contradictions – between European elites and their people, between democratic promise and technocratic reality? Can it develop institutions with the legitimacy, will, and capacity to enable it to join the United States, China and India as a global power? Or is it doomed to remain an economic giant and a political pygmy – rich, fat, vulnerable, and increasingly irrelevant to the new world that is taking shape beyond its frontiers?” In this respect Marquand finds himself in the company of Mark Eyskens, former Prime Minister and former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Belgium, who in 1991 called Europe ‘an economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm’.

Only few will be surprised that Marquand concludes that for good answers to these questions, Europe is compelled to change its governing system drastically: from an intergovernmental system to a federal system.

Special Section
To remind ourselves who was the first to use this slogan, and to clarify again to which perfidious procedures the intergovernmental system has led, I quote a short article from the Flemish newspaper De Tijd of November 23rd, 2012.

“Belgians pay through the nose for the Britons

De Tijd, 23/11/2012, by Koen Dedobbeleer
177 Million euro. This lump sum has last year been paid by Belgium to contribute to the British discount at the European budget. In total the United Kingdom assured itself a discount of 3,6 billion euro in 2011, to be paid by the other Member States.

The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pulled this notorious ‘rebate’. “I want my money back” she exclaimed in 1984. Thatcher meant that the UK got less European money back than France, that was eagerly tapping into the agricultural subsidies.

In the French city of Fontainebleau Thatcher acquired the green light for a ‘juste retour’. Since then the discount is an acquired right, though it creates resentment at each budget duel. Contrary to the Britons, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Germany have to negotiate again and again their discount. And the list of countries that claim a discount is increasing. This time Denmark is also fighting for a correction.

Indeed the British, for who the ‘rebate’ is a state case, are sitting in a more than comfortable chair. Even if there will not be a multi-year budget they will get their discount. This is estimated for the next year to be approximately 3,8 billion euro.

Besides the 177 million to compensate for the British discount Belgium also paid 24 million for the discount of the Netherlands and Sweden. France paid the major part of the British compensation: 965 million.”