The Benelux as a laboratory for the European Union
Through its groundbreaking projects, the Benelux serves as a laboratory for the European Union (EU). The EU Treaty expressly states that Benelux is the only region that has the right to initiate cooperation that goes beyond what the EU is doing (Article 350 TFEU).
The free movement of people serves as a good example; something the three member countries realised early on. Together with France and Germany, the Benelux countries spearheaded the Schengen Agreement in 1985. If initiatives work within the Benelux, they can be gradually expanded and applied at the wider EU level.
More recent examples
Automatic recognition of degrees
Higher education degrees (graduate, bachelor, master, associate degrees, doctorate) from one Benelux country are automatically recognised in the other two countries. This makes it much easier for, say, a Belgian economist to work in the Netherlands or Luxembourg. In the past, having a degree officially recognised took months and cost hundreds of euros. The project is based on trust in the quality of the education systems in each of the countries.
A treaty on automatic mutual recognition of degrees is now also in force between the Benelux countries and the Baltic states.
Within the EU, such a development is not yet feasible, although it remains an objective.
Cross-border police cooperation
The police forces in the three countries are working closely together to make the Benelux a safer place to live for citizens. For example, Belgian police are allowed to follow a criminal into the Netherlands and Luxembourg and carry out checks there. Joint police initiatives are launched on a regular basis, to counter residential burglaries in the border region, for example.
A renewed Benelux police treaty will come into force in 2023, providing for even closer cooperation. Joint interventions on international trains or sharing data from traffic cameras will become possible under the new treaty, for instance.
As a result, it serves as a genuine model for other European countries looking to work together more closely.
Joint road traffic inspections
Three times a year, comprehensive road traffic inspections are carried out across the countries. As part of these initiatives, Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg inspectors jointly check HGVs and coaches on motorways and in car parks. They do so to make sure that driving and rest times are respected, that everything is technically in order, that no hazardous materials are being transported, that HGVs are not overloaded and so on.
Conducting these inspections jointly not only reduces their cost, but also makes our roads safer. The regulatory framework for inspections is set by the EU, but only the Benelux countries carry out joint inspections (under the Liège Convention).