The EU needs to "look in the mirror" and work out why it is failing to attract the continent's most prosperous countries to play a full part in the union, the Netherlands' finance minister has warned.
Wopke Hoekstra told the Financial Times it was a "catastrophe" that countries such as Norway did not want to join the EU, others such as Denmark were opting out of projects such as the euro, while Britain was on the verge of leaving.
"Countries like Norway and Switzerland, which are fantastic places to live with great economies and have a lot going for them, have decided not to join the union. Sweden and Denmark have decided not to join the euro. And our British friends, to my dismay, have decided to leave the EU," said Hoekstra.
"If you lack the ability to attract [those countries] and you lose the UK, then it's time to look in the mirror. We haven't inspired these four to join or join in full. It is something we simply cannot ignore."
He said the failure to entice richer nations was putting the EU at "smouldering risk of implosion". In a speech on Tuesday in Berlin, Hoekstra will warn that the EU faces a "bitter reality" where "part of the population, mainly in northwestern Europe, wants to leave".
Hoekstra, one of the EU's fiscal hawks, has drawn criticism from Paris for spearheading a hawkish alliance of smaller eurozone capitals including Dublin and the Baltics, along with the euro-outs of Copenhagen and Stockholm, calling for more national responsibility over debt and deficit levels.
Under pressure at home, the conservative finance minister has led resistance to plans to introduce common spending tools in the eurozone to help faltering economies. With the looming loss of the UK, the Netherlands has sought other allies to fight for a smaller EU budget and a more deregulated single market.
But Hoekstra denied the Netherlands had taken up the UK's role in consistently saying "no" to closer European integration and instead wanted to play a "constructive" role where countries had to abide by previously agreed rules and common values.
"There are specific items over which we are worried and they should be addressed to make the union function better and become more resilient. It is a task for all of [member states] to articulate where we want to go," he said.
Along with France, the Netherlands wants to place tough conditions on countries that receive EU budget funds such as Poland and Hungary, cutting off cash and border-free travel for governments that undermine the rule of law or do not take part in common policies on migration.
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"If Europe is a community of values, we should attach consequences to failures in this area too. We should not accept countries playing fast and loose with everything Europe holds dear," Hoekstra will say in the speech.
EU27 leaders are this week due to discuss the bloc's long term "strategic" agenda ahead of pan-European elections which will restart Brussels' political cycle with a new European Commission.
Dutch priorities include combating climate change, bolstering EU defence co-operation, and fortifying external borders.
Hoekstra said he supported a new EU "flight tax" on aviation but wanted revenues to go to member states' coffers rather than being used for Brussels common budget.
Written by: Mehreen Khan
© Financial Times