Running the EU Presidency: Opportunity Does Knock Twice for the Netherlands

by Ilona Aberl

Although busy with the day-to-day business of participating in a second EU Presidency, Mr. Roger Kleinenberg, Attaché for Science and Technology at the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C., took some time out to meet with bridges. Mr. Kleinenberg discussed the recently concluded Netherlands EU Presidency (July 1 - December 31, 2004) and commented on the current Luxembourg EU Presidency (January 1 - June 30, 2005) in which the Dutch are now marginally participating. It is the first time that a government has had the opportunity to be involved in two EU Presidencies, and consecutively at that. In addition, the Dutch EU Presidency was the first that included all 25 full-fledged Member States.

 

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest}There is a certain tranquility for Mr. Kleinenberg now that one Presidency is behind him, and the experience of the first will benefit the second.  "We have, in fact, extended our [Dutch] Presidency for another half-year by providing manpower to Luxembourg," notes Mr. Kleinenberg. In areas that overwhelm the capacities of the Luxembourg Presidency, such as science and technology, agriculture and transport, an agreement was reached to have the Dutch focus on those areas and arrange meetings on behalf of the Luxembourg Presidency. This arrangement leaves the Dutch free to organize the meetings and decide which topics in science and technology they want to highlight, while Luxembourg devotes its energies to political and financial affairs.

The Dutch S&T Office in Washington felt it necessary to focus on issues of common interest to Europe and the U.S., and attempted to limit topics that were very Eurocentric such as innovation policy and the mobility of researchers. "You have to find a topic that has a certain added value to a Presidency and where the U.S. not only shares a common interest, but would like to have a clear discussion with Europeans," said Mr. Kleinenberg. In light of this approach, preparations began almost one year beforehand to ensure that everything ran smoothly between the Hague and the Dutch offices in Washington, D.C.. "In the end, we had to come up with our own topics because there was no match between what our home offices suggested we focus on and the real interests of the Americans."

The Dutch S&T team has maintained a policy of organizing fewer but, therefore, more productive meetings. Mr. Kleinenberg said he disagrees with organizing meetings just for the sake of organizing meetings. "We are not in favor of … meetings every month that do not have any added value for Europe or the U.S.," he said, "especially since I noticed it was very complicated for new Member States that have only one representative to attend all EU Counselors' meetings. The intention has always been to hold purposeful meetings."

With their participation in the Luxembourg Presidency, the Dutch are able to continue emphasizing their own priorities which, during their Presidency, included three main topics: the ERA-Link initiative, innovation in healthcare, and innovation and growth in medium-sized enterprises. The ERA-Link initiative was furthered by D.C.-based Dutch efforts to establish the statistics necessary to support the creation of a database of European researchers in the U.S., while innovation in healthcare played an even more prominent role in Dutch EU activities in the second half of 2004. Mr. Kleinenberg asks, "Is the cost of healthcare frustrating innovation or is innovation in technology a means to do something about the cost of healthcare?" On this topic, and in the common interest of lowering the high cost of healthcare, a research-based questionnaire was distributed to EU colleagues for completion and discussion at a EU Counselors' meeting in workshop format. A high-return rate (76%) of completed questionnaires indicated that the Dutch had tuned into the right frequency in discerning the interests of their EU colleagues.

With the third topic focusing on medium-sized enterprises, Mr. Kleinenberg set out to answer some questions he felt were very important such as: How can you stimulate innovation and growth from medium-sized and small companies? How does the U.S. deal with this kind of economic activity and how do they stimulate it? What is their policy with respect to start-up companies? The Dutch S&T office organized a visit from an NIH representative who discussed with the EU colleagues how the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), an initiative meant to stimulate new start-up activities, was being applied at the National Institutes of Health. Their discussion dealt with the overall value of the program and how it might be applied elsewhere.

Having two opportunities to set the tone for future EU Presidencies, the Dutch S&T offices hope that other EU S&T offices will stick with their approach in running S&T sections. However, they realize that they have a rare opportunity available to them. The three key areas on which they focused are, in part, being brought into the EU S&T agenda of the Luxembourg Presidency. "Most of the topics that a Presidency deals with are things that you can oversee in the six-month time period. When you are talking about S&T, however, it is never going to be achieved in a period of six months. We have the luxury now to choose which topics we would like to cover." Hence, in reference to the ERA-Link initiative, a February meeting addressed the 7th Framework Program while an upcoming meeting will address innovation in healthcare, specifically priority medicines and neglected diseases. Mr. Kleinenberg seems very pleased with how things have turned out for the Dutch and the leeway he has been given in organizing S&T sections for the Luxembourg Presidency when he adds, "It's a good situation."


For more information, please visit:

Official website of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C.
http://www.netherlands-embassy.org

Official website of the Embassy of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in Washington, D.C.
http://www.luxembourg-usa.org

Official website of the Dutch EU Presidency
http://www.eu2004.nl/

Official website of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union
http://www.eu2005.lu/fr/presidence/index.html{/access}