Consortium Leader: Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’
Subcontractors: Centre for European Reform (CER), Bruegel, European Policy Centre (EPC), Carnegie Europe, Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)

Beyond the EU enlargement paradox

Submitted by Inge on Thu, 03/14/2024 - 10:48

Optimising opportunities  and minimising risks

This Clingendael report analyses the so-called ‘EU enlargement paradox’, which refers to the notion that EU enlargement is both inevitable and impossible at the same time. It is inevitable for geostrategic reasons, given Putin’s Russian imperial revisionism. But at the same time, EU enlargement is impossible for political institutional reasons. At the moment, neither the eligible candidate countries, nor the EU at large, nor the electorates in key EU Member States are ‘enlargement fit’. How could the Dutch government deal with this paradox? 

This paper aims to set the scene for the forthcoming debate in the Netherlands on the future of EU enlargement. To serve as a basis for risk analysis, it provides a systematic overview of various trade-offs on five policy domains: 1) geopolitics, security and defence; 2) rule of law and democracy; 3) economy and budget; 4) migration and free movement of persons; and 5) EU institutional structure.

The report draws on findings from the latest Clingendael Barometer survey, which analysed Dutch public opinion towards enlargement along these dimensions.


René Cuperus - Senior Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute

Saskia Hollander - Senior Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute 

The walls in Tbilisi speak out / Reuters

De-risking by promoting digital solutions for green tech

Submitted by Inge on Wed, 02/07/2024 - 13:38

Going Dutch? 

Against the backdrop of geopolitical tensions, the growing demand for technologies that will accelerate the green transition exposes European countries to risks. Most attention is devoted to strategic dependencies on China for critical raw materials (CRM) and components that are necessary for such technologies. However, the data-driven digital elements and applications used, for instance, to optimise energy use are also relevant, as they intensify cybersecurity and data privacy-related concerns. To de-risk Europe’s strategic dependencies in this field, adopting a balanced approach between ‘promoting’, ‘protecting’ and ‘partnering’ is essential. This Clingendael Policy Brief focuses on the ‘promote’ angle by exploring the role of the Dutch government and private sector in fostering the Dutch digital green-tech industry. With its track record in innovation within the EU, the Netherlands is well placed to boost the commercialisation of digital green technologies through procurement. Moreover, the Netherlands could lead the discussions on defining cybersecurity standards and interoperability norms at EU and international forums.


Alexandre Ferreira Gomes - Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute 

Giulia Cretti - Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute 

Maaike Okano-Heijmans - Senior Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute 


Cohesion policy: A management audit

Submitted by Inge on Wed, 01/31/2024 - 14:48

This Policy Paper addresses a paradox in cohesion policy. Despite being one of the most evaluated EU policies, a culture of transparent, independent, and effective auditing has not emerged. The question needs to be asked why evaluations do not lead to change in outputs and the required improvements. Evidently there are (national) interests that block reforms. Yet, this does not provide a sufficient explanation as in other EU policy areas comparable difficulties existed before new structures were implemented and the issues were solved.

Competition for EU funds is increasing as new strategic priorities have emerged with enlargement on our doorstep, the war in Ukraine, and the needs to move towards sustainable growth and new energy infrastructures. To remain viable and credible, effectiveness, and legality of EU spending must be properly accounted for. Despite the many adaptations in governance, the EU added value (effectiveness) of cohesion funds (35% of the EU budget) is still hard to establish. These developments trigger further scrutiny of the effectiveness and legality of EU spending. 

Member states need to deliver reliable assurances. Independent national authorities can audit each other in teams comparable to practice in other EU policy areas. The EU Commission can use these transparent assurance reports for its annual statements. ECA produces the Annual Report on the EU’s finances to the Council and EP, and ECA writes Special Reports. In its activities it can involve national auditors to strengthen a European culture of independent auditing. For inspiration, attention should be paid to subsidiarity-based governance of monitoring and enforcement in other EU policy areas.

For the time being there seems to be little sense of urgency nor an appetite for structural reforms of cohesion funds. Few have an incentive to reform nor an appetite for strengthening independent auditing. Yet, when it comes to the assessment of national and EU added value, it is doubtful whether the current system of input and output indicators, and reports from the national authorities and from the EU Commission, offer sufficient and reliable insights.


The Author

Adriaan Schout - Clingendael Institute


The Multiannual Financial Framework

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 05/01/2023 - 13:36

The search for flexibility and recognised effectiveness

The European Union (EU) is currently confronted with developments that could have deep impacts on our societies and policies. Yet the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – which defines the size and aim of the EU budget over a certain period of time – has difficulties in overcoming its inflexibility and ensuring best value in relation to shifting priorities. One important step that could modernise the MFF would be to improve the use of effectiveness assessments in relation to EU spending.

In 2003, André Sapir and colleagues famously referred to the MFF as a ‘historic relic’ with expenditures, revenues and procedures being ‘inconsistent with the present and future state of EU integration’. Although the MFF has improved since then, it continues to suffer from discrepancies between stated priorities and actual spending. EU finances risk becoming increasingly reliant on funds and instruments outside the MFF ceiling because existing programmes are hard to change. Moreover, doubts about the effectiveness of the MFF remain. With European integration having moved far beyond the level of technical harmonisation of the internal market, the EU budget, arguably, needs more flexibility to respond to current geopolitical and societal challenges and investment needs. As political discussions on the next MFF – the current MFF runs from 2021 to 2027 – are starting, this report discusses avenues for realigning expenditures to changing EU priorities and to unforeseen challenges and crises.

In order to enhance flexibility suitable procedures are required that would lead to political decisions based on accurate assessments. Furthermore, better methods are needed to communicate potential – and possibly painful – shifts in priorities to the broader public. In order to develop such procedures, thorough analysis and discussion are needed on the effectiveness of EU programmes and the use of effectiveness assessments in redefining political priorities.

This report therefore relates the concept of European added value – defined by the Commission as ‘the value resulting from an EU intervention which is additional to the value that would have been otherwise created by Member State action alone’ – to mechanisms to better respond to new situations. One of the questions this raises is whether the current (multilevel) systems for assessing European added value are able to offer the timely information needed for flexibility. Given the workload involved in performance assessments, and given the importance of national ownership of reforms, further analysis is needed of the role of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) and its interactions with its national counterparts.


  1. Any shortening of the MFF’s duration could improve the EU’s ability to respond to changing priorities. Yet rather than focusing on the length of the budget cycle – a discussion that is ongoing – it is advised to focus instead on the length of programmes under the MFF (some may run for three years, others for ten)
  2. Flexibility can be explored through working with sunset clauses – meaning that programmes cease to be effective after a specific date unless further action is taken. The use of such clauses should be tied to requirements for independent assessments of the European added value before decisions on prolongation are taken. This may help to sharpen political discussions on reprioritisation.
  3. The financing of the MFF via the national contributions, based on a specific percentage of gross national income (GNI), is a fair and efficient foundation for the EU budget. The GNI principle also ensures that money is scarce: priorities have to be matched with the existing contours of the EU budget. This serves the efficiency of the budget and helps to focus attention on EU added value (the effectiveness of the budget).
  4. A fixed percentage of GNI could help to recommit to the scarcity principle in the budget and could help to prioritise expenditure in line with EU objectives. More important than the actual amount of this percentage, however, is whether decisions on the selection of programmes are based on effectiveness assessments. The GNI contribution could possibly be increased if linked to a deeper use of independent effectiveness assessments.
  5. Assessment of the European added value of the EU budget demands a reconsideration of the current audit mechanisms in terms of their timing, lessons learned, and subsidiarity-based ways of working when it comes to pan-European assessments of effectiveness.
  6. Provided that independent assessments and their use are improved, the European perspective in the MFF could be further reinforced through more fundamental reforms such as introducing Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in the Council in revising the MFF and extending the powers of the European Parliament through co-decision in the adoption of the MFF.

These actions would result in a reform package aimed at strengthening European added value (and hence flexibility) combining a fixed percentage of GNI and effectiveness assessments of spending before political decisions are made on prolongation of programmes. Given the starting point that money is scarce, this package will produce considerable political heat over the use of the EU budget. This heat can be considered as part of normal politics regarding budgets.

Such reforms will involve serious discussions and demand considerable time. It is nevertheless worthwhile to put them on the agenda to explore new directions in the move away from the current inflexibility and juste retour. Juste retour – which implies the net budgetary balance that simply compares a member state’s financial contribution to the EU budget with the money that flows back into the country – is a misleading indicator of the benefits of EU spending. Rather, this reform package would support assessments-based budgetary decisions that contribute to the European added value of the budget.


Adriaan Schout, Senior Research Fellow at the EU and Global Affairs Unit of the Clingendael Institute

Saskia Hollander, Senior Research Fellow at the EU and Global Affairs Unit of the Clingendael Institute


The state of economic convergence in the Eurozone

Submitted by Inge on Fri, 01/13/2023 - 16:53

What is the state of economic convergence in the euro area? And will the redefinition of the Stability and Growth Pact result in a more effective policy for achieving convergence? A common currency, together with the four freedoms, was assumed to lead to economic convergence. This Clingendael Report reviews the state of convergence in the euro area by focusing on nominal, real and institutional convergence. Despite a range of policy initiatives and monitoring systems, convergence has not been achieved neither in terms of monetary and economic performance nor of the quality of governance at the national level. Despite some major successes in convergence, welfare has continued to diverge in some countries and differences in debt levels have increased up to the point of threatening the - economic and political - coherence of the euro area. Public spending also varies considerably while higher public spending does not ensure higher growth levels. The paradoxical situation has arisen in which countries that (drastically) reduced debt levels performed better in terms of growth and reduction in unemployment.

Using comparative economic data for the more than 20 years since the introduction of euro, the Report among other things reaches the following conclusions:

  • Upward convergence has been successful in among others Ireland and in East-European member states. These countries witnessed relatively high growth while debts were reduced. Portugal managed to bring down unemployment during the past years. Yet, a limited number of member states continue to struggle with debts, growth, and attracting investments.
  • Trend analysis shows that European investment funds have failed to make a difference. Major benefactors of EU investment funds in Southern and Eastern Europe show diverging growth patterns. Ireland and East-European countries succeeded in terms of catch-up growth whereas Southern countries lagged behind. Further study is required to explain the differences in convergence and its relation to public investment.
  • Contrary to the general impression that fiscal consolidation has hampered growth, we find that the countries that did cut expenditure also achieved relatively high growth levels, were able to attract investments, and managed to reduce unemployment. By implication, the notion of investment deficits in eurozone countries needs to be re-examined.
  • Also in national federations with explicit stabilization mechanisms, such as the US and Germany, convergence is hard to achieve. Hence, it is probably more important to accept divergence while preventing that stability of the monetary union is undermined. Convergence is not a necessary condition for the economic stability of a monetary union as long as public debt levels do not cause negative external effects large enough to jeopardize the stability of the system.

Read the full report.


Adriaan Schout, Senior Researcher, Institute Clingendael & Professor European Public Administration, Radboud University

Arthur van Riel, Senior Research Fellow, Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy


How to ‘open’ Strategic Autonomy

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 10/03/2022 - 16:13

The EU’s open strategic autonomy agenda is quickly gathering pace, especially in the trade and industrial domain. A host of initiatives and autonomous instruments have been introduced to strengthen the EU’s resilience, reduce its strategic dependencies in key sectors, and protect its industries against economic coercion and unfair trade practices. The EU has generally been careful to ensure that its efforts do not undermine the openness of its economy. However, there is an undeniable tension between the ‘open’ and ‘autonomous’ components of the agenda. Guaranteeing compatibility will require a careful balancing act, contingent on a coherent strategy not only for strengthening the EU’s strategic autonomy but also for fostering and preserving its openness. This policy brief offers concrete suggestions for operationalising the ‘open’ component in the EU’s open strategic autonomy agenda. 


Luuk Molthof, Research Fellow at Clingendael’s EU & Global Affairs Unit

Luc Köbben, former intern at Clingendael’s EU & Global Affairs Unit


Unpacking open strategic autonomy

Submitted by Inge on Thu, 11/25/2021 - 13:16

From concept to practice

Amidst the weakening of the multilateral system, the rise of multipolarity, and the Covid-19 pandemic, the concept of European strategic autonomy (ESA) has gained considerable traction. In fact, according to European Council President Charles Michel, the strategic independence of Europe is ‘our new common project for this century’ and ‘goal number one for our generation’. Long seen as a French pipedream, and first applied in 2013 to Europe’s defence and security policy, the ambition of strategic autonomy is now backed by a growing number of member states and is increasingly applied to a broad range of policy areas, including industrial and trade policy.

Open strategic autonomy

The EU’s desire for more autonomy in the trade and industrial domain has been given a boost by the Covid-19 pandemic, which crucially exposed the vulnerabilities in the global production and supply chains. Even the Netherlands, which was long sceptical of previous (French) proposals for strategic autonomy, acknowledges the risks of asymmetric dependencies in strategic sectors and the growing need for the EU to protect its economies against economic coercion and unfair trade practices.

Until recently, the Netherlands, along with some other member states, was concerned that the ambitions for strategic autonomy would lead to an interventionist industrial policy, would fuel protectionism, would provide German and French ‘industry champions’ with an unfair advantage, and would erode the interdependence that has brought Europe so many benefits.

To assuage such concerns, the European Commission insisted that its goal is ‘open strategic autonomy’, and that strategic autonomy can be achieved without resorting to protectionism and while preserving the open economy and the benefits of interdependence. In a recently published joint non-paper with Spain and another recently published joint statement with France, the Netherlands gave its cautious backing to this new open strategic autonomy agenda.

But what does this agenda look like in practice? What are the implications for the EU’s industrial and trade policy and for some of the EU’s key industrial ecosystems? To what extent are the twin aims of achieving strategic autonomy and preserving an open economy actually compatible with one another? And how can a member state such as the Netherlands both contribute to and benefit from the EU’s open strategic autonomy agenda? This report will address these questions.


Luuk Molthof, Research Fellow at the EU & Global Affairs Unit of the Clingendael Institute
Dick Zandee, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Security Unit of the Clingendael Institute
Giulia Cretti, Junior Researcher at the EU & Global Affairs Unit of the Clingendael Institute


The RRF as administrative subsidiarity

Submitted by Inge on Wed, 10/27/2021 - 14:33

When the corona crisis broke out, it was clear that eurozone economies were ill prepared for new setbacks. Put differently, the SGP had failed to produce convergence. The RRF offers an opportunity to reconsider the effectiveness of economic governance and to strengthen national ownership for sound economic policies. Despite its potential merits, the RRF was not designed to reinforce national institutions to monitor and correct their own economic policies.

Creating the required ownership for sound economic policies would have demanded empowering the independent National Productivity Boards (NPBs) and Independent Fiscal Institutions (IFIs), and integrating them in a redesigned independent network-based European Fiscal Board (EFB). The failure in 2020 to include the NPBs, IFIs and the EFB also implies a major break with the Fiscal Compact, Two Pack and Six Pack that aimed at empowering national institutions.

The RRF concerns a major financial commitment and could thus have been used as bargaining chip to strengthen the long-term reform measures by insisting on a subsidiarity-based European monitoring and enforcement system, including mutual inspections, and build around the nascent macroeconomic independent national and EU agencies. Such decentralized systems have proved their worth in successful European policy areas such as in monitoring the state of the environment in member states. This will have consequences for the organization of the EU Commission.

Using the lessons from the RRF to (forget to) strengthen national institutions is also relevant for redesigning the SGP. Firstly, redesigning the NPBs, IFIs and EFB will offer a suitable model for monitoring national policies as a replacement of the current centralized control under the SGP by the Commission. Secondly, the future development of the RRF and NGEU can be used as bargaining chip in the negotiations on the SGP.

The review of the SGP will involve adaptation of rules, reinstituting the ESM, and deciding on new emergency funds. The negotiations ahead offer opportunities and leverage for steering towards a pro-active and constructive role for the Netherlands in the elaboration of subsidiarity-based economic governance.


Adriaan Schout, Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute


Economic governance from rules to management

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 01/04/2021 - 15:41

The required complementary governance agenda draws on experience in success EU policies areas and is aimed at converging national institutions in the framework of EU networks. When it comes to the SGP, rules are important but they are meaningless without ownership for the intentions behind the rules. This will demand a switch in roles from the European Commission and in particular from DG ECFIN and the European Fiscal Board (EFB). In essence, the proposed new approach is based on the subsidiarity-based distinction between first and second-order control. The member states have to supervise themselves and the Commission has to monitor whether they have the required independent institutions.

Read policy brief. 


Adriaan Schout (Senior Research Fellow, the Clingendael Institute)

Jens Kuitert (Intern, the Clingendael Institute)


Europeanising health policy in times of coronationialism

Submitted by Inge on Tue, 11/10/2020 - 12:01

The future of EU health policy after the COVID-19 pandemic changed conventional thinking

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted the European Union (EU) to rethink its health policy, or rather those of its policies that influence the health policies of member states, as those largely comprise a national competence, and sometimes a subnational one. During the pandemic, EU institutions and EU member states identified issues where more EU coordination was desirable, for instance with regard to stockpiling and joint purchasing of medical products. Much is still unclear, however, about how a broadly supported revised EU health policy should look, particularly as this has traditionally been a field where EU citizens and EU member states saw little added value in the EU becoming involved. A newly proposed EU4Health programme saw a setback right at its inception, with its proposed funding being cut drastically by the European Council, even though EU health expenditure will continue to rise. This policy brief explores the future of EU health policy after the COVID-19 pandemic changed conventional thinking.

Download the policy brief



Louise van Schaik (Head of Unit EU & Global Affairs, the Clingendael Institute)

Remco van der Pas (Senior Research Associate, the Clingendael Institute)

Watch online debate ‘The Covid Crisis: what EU Role in Health?