Dutch gov't : Let European Union have opt-outs

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AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Dutch government says European countries should be allowed to exit important European institutions after joining them, including the European Union, the eurozone and the Schengen free travel zone.

In a letter to parliament Thursday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said achieving that possibility will itself require treaty changes, because the Maastricht Treaty that established the euro and Schengen Agreement don't allow for exits.

The statement echoes remarks that Rutte made at the World Economic Forum earlier in January, when he said the EU shouldn't be like the "Hotel California" described in the song by the rock band The Eagles as a place where "you can check out any time you like — but you can never leave."

Rutte's remarks follow British Prime Minister David Cameron's call for a referendum on the U.K.'s membership in the EU by 2017, and are part of a wider discussion of the future of the regional bloc.

On one side are those who believe Europe should aim to be an "ever closer union," as laid out in the 1957 Treaty of Rome that founded the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union.

On the other are skeptics who say that European politicians have already gone too far with poorly conceived plans. The few times citizens have ever been asked to approve European projects, they have usually voted "no" — notably when France and the Netherlands rejected a proposed European Constitution in 2005.

German and French reactions to Cameron's speech were mostly negative, pointing out that Britain has already opted out of Schengen and the euro.

However, the question of exiting some treaties is not taboo on the continent. German and French politicians acknowledged in November 2011 it is possible Greece may have to leave the eurozone, and French and Dutch politicians in recent years have considered rejecting the Schengen treaty over concerns it cripples their ability to fight illegal immigration.

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