‘Europeans are too chicken to enter into a free trade agreement with the US’

‘Europeans are too chicken to enter into a free trade agreement with the US’

Here’s an historic opportunity to create the world’s biggest free trade zone in the world. So why is Europe chickening out? asks economist Mathijs Bouman.The Americans are coming and they are going to poison you. They want you to eat chlorine-sprayed chicken. They also want to stick hormone-ridden cow meat in your sandwich. You will sprout horns within a week. They will force their Frankenstein food on you, made from plants whose dna is manipulated in sinister labs so our tortured earth can be exploited even more.Should we want this? No, but there’s really not much we can do about it. The new trade agreement with the United States will open the door to every biological aberration the Americans can think of for putting on the market.Pure chickenEurope doesn’t want chlorinated chickens. Europeans only want to eat certified unchlorinated European chickens. Give us pure chicken meat with all its living bacteria, we say. The thriving colonies of salmonella and campylobacter on our European chicken breast prove it hasn’t been anywhere near a disinfecting chlorine bath.Do remember to wash your hands after you handle this meat. Use separate cutting boards and knives and heat the meat thoroughly (use a meat thermometer; it needs to be at least 75 degrees). These preventative measures are quite important. Forget and your stomach and your intestines will remind you. Oh, and if you do get infected, make sure those pesky bacteria don’t enter your blood stream. They will do unpleasant things to your organs and joints. You could become dehydrated, your kidneys could pack in and you could die.But at least your European chicken will not have been doused in diluted chlorine – you know, the stuff we let out children swim in every summer. Americans eh?DaredevilsThey eat genetically modified corn and soy as well, solely on the basis that there is no scientific proof of their harmfulness. They’re such daredevils! Fortunately here in Europe we are strictly led by fear-mongering about the unproven dangers of GM foods. It’s called the precautionary principle.Even if Europe were to enter into a free trade agreement, countries would still be able to apply their own food safety rules. But opponents prefer to play the poisoned chicken card and frighten European consumers into a full-blown chlorine phobia.And thus Europe – not for the first time – spoils its own chances. Here’s an historic opportunity to create the world’s biggest free trade zone. But we don’t want free trade. We prefer chickens with bacteria.Mathijs Bouman is a macro-economist.This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad.   More >

Bonuses for bankers

Bonuses for bankers? Sure but only for those with a working moral compass Good bankers aren’t paid nearly enough, says Errol Keyner.Top Dutch bankers are fobbed off with a pittance these days. Yes, that’s right, a pittance. And no, I’m not looking for a job at a bank nor do I have any sympathy for top bankers.All I’m saying is that competent bankers whose moral compass is not permanently out of whack are few and far between.We want banks to develop a sustainable business model and a manageable risk profile. In order to do that we need clever people, preferably clever people who are more honest than the average citizen. They also need a thick skin. Bankers will not be popular for a while yet.The pay rise, from €600,000 to €700,000 a year, for ABN Amro executives caused a storm the other day. €700,000 is a lot of money. So is €600,000. But a truly competent executive at ABN Amro would be worth many times that amount. Everybody is looking for top talent, as the owner of ABN Amro (i.e. the state) should know.The executives at ABN...  More >

10 places where Van Gogh lived

Following in Van Gogh’s footsteps: 10 places where he lived On July 29 it will be 125 years since Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh shot himself in France. A whole host of events are being organised to coincide with the commemorations, from exhibitions to bike tours. Here's a list of 10 places associated with the Dutch master, who was unappreciated in his lifetime but is now considered one of the greatest painters who ever lived.1 Zundert (1853)Vincent was born in Zundert, in the province of Noord-Brabant. His father, Theodorus van Gogh, was a protestant minister who although well-liked was not considered a very inspirational preacher. Vincent was to follow briefly and disastrously in his father’s footsteps. The bleak Noord-Brabant scenery appeared in much of his work.2 Tilburg (1866)The Rijks-HBS was situated in the former palace of King Willem II in Tilburg. This is where the 13-year-old Vincent had his first drawing lessons. One of his earliest drawings was of two farmers leaning on their spades and it’s a theme he would repeat...  More >

Humiliated into finding a job

Local councils are getting creative: work participation through humiliation Councils are becoming creative when it comes to work participation and using methods such as humilation to make people find jobs, says economist Marcel Canoy.There is quite a creative buzz going on among local councillors in the Netherlands. Now that budgets for sheltered workplaces have been cut, lots of local councils are coming up with bright new schemes to revive them.Local councillors in Apeldoorn thought it would be a waste to let all the knowledge and skills of sheltered workplace staff go to waste.The thinking in Apeldoorn is that people on unemployment benefits are basically a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic so why not make them tighten nuts and bolts for a couple of weeks? With a bit of luck they will feel humiliated enough to go out and find a job. Hey presto: the sheltered workplaces are humming and the number of benefit pay-outs go down.StickersI wonder what the next step will be. Putting stickers on the foreheads of people on benefits and showing...  More >

Food banks revive charity

Food banks are helping to make support for the poor a matter for charity again. The government is no longer seen as a protector of the vulnerable. Are initiatives like food banks turning the poor into charity cases again? asks Socialist Party council official Peter Verschuren.The economy is growing but the number of people depending on food banks has risen by 11%. It’s not really surprising. The next few years will see an increase in people who need a food handout, even if the economy grows faster than expected.In 13 years food banks in the Netherlands have developed into a well-organised business with almost 10,000 (unpaid) staff, 157 branches, eight distribution centres and an impressive fleet of cars.And although food banks profess their goal is to become superfluous to requirements as soon as possible, it is likely that, like any organisation, they will want to survive. Apart from this there are other, concrete developments which will lead to a more permanent presence of food banks.EasyIt is becoming increasingly easy to go to a food bank:...  More >

Don't panic, the robots are coming

Don’t panic, the robots are coming Robotisation is not as bad as it is made out to be, writes economist Mathijs Bouman.Against all established rules of column writing, I’m starting this one with a lengthy quote. Here it comes: ‘A new era of production has begun. Its principles of organization are as different from those of the industrial era as those of the industrial era were different from the agricultural. The cybernation revolution has been brought about by the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine. This results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor. Cybernation is already reorganizing the economic and social system to meet its own need.’It’s an extremely creepy view of the future, and long-winded to boot. Here’s a slightly less ponderous version.‘A future of almost unlimited production by a handful, for consumption by whoever can afford it, is a recipe for economic and social collapse.’Taking jobsYou...  More >

Video: TV pranksters show experts Ikea art

Video: Dutch pranksters show Ikea art to art experts The bright sparks at Dutch viral video company LifeHunters placed a painting from Swedish furniture chain Ikea in a museum in Arnhem and told art experts it was by the famous IKE Andrews.The reactions varied from ‘an artist who can put all his emotions in the painting’ til ‘I think it’s worth €2.5m.’Most of those who had waxed lyrical about the art were good humoured when told about the painting's real origins. But not all.  More >

Organ donor without registration

Not registering as an organ donor will make you one, says D66 People who do not register as an organ donor will automatically become one if D66 have their way.  MP Pia Dijkstra says this system will make people master of their own bodies.D66 wants an organ donation system in which the choice of every citizen is clear, not just because we value autonomy but also because we think it is up to each of us to decide what happens to our organs after death.In the present system not registering your choice means it is up to your relatives to make the choice. Not choosing effectively means burdening your relatives with the decision to donate or not. This is exactly what D66 wants to avoid. We want people to choose for themselves.LetterThe active donor registration system proposed by D66 comes down to this: each Dutch citizen of 18 years and over will receive a letter in which they will be asked to register their choice to become a donor or not. Those who do not react will receive a follow-up letter. The letter states clearly that those who...  More >

'Amsterdam is fantastic for kids'

‘Amsterdam is fantastic for kids and there is a strong family culture’ Amsterdam Mamas founder Emmy McCarthy, 39, is British and surprised by how family-orientated the Netherlands is. For example Amsterdam, she says, has over 400 playgrounds.How did you end up in the Netherlands? True story: my husband accepted a job at head office, and then told me it was head office Amsterdam, not London where we lived at the time. We shuttled between the two countries for a while before settling in Amsterdam after the birth of our son.How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc - and why? I’m definitely an international, more accurately a European. The Netherlands is the fifth country I have lived in so I feel very European.How long do you plan to stay? We have no plans to leave.  We love Amsterdam, we love the life we have built here and being actively involved with a large local community. It would be very tough to leave.Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I speak a little Dutch, more than I usually let...  More >

Vote for something that matters

Can we please vote for something that really matters? Peter Paul de Vries thinks water boards are important but he would prefer to vote for a new mayor, or the head of the national bank. And against deals with criminals.Justice ministers Ivo Opstelten and Fred Teeven have stepped down. Proof of the payment of 4.7 million guilders to drugs dealer Cees H. surfaced and both politicians were caught fibbing.Whether they meant to or not is irrelevant. All this fuss about a receipt is obscuring what really matters: should the Dutch state hand over huge amounts of money to known criminals? What sort of example is that? Are we telling our children that criminality is a viable career choice? After all, the money’s great and if you play your cards right the government will give you a couple of million to boot.Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people are filling in their tax returns: mind you do it honestly! Sure.Health minister Edith Schippers thinks the appearance of the receipt just before an election is a little too convenient....  More >

Video: House of Cards The Hague x 2

Video: House of Cards The Hague x 2 The start of the third season of popular US drama series House of Cards has inspired video makers in cities all over the world to make their own versions of the show’s introduction.The Hague has two House of Cards intros, so far.The first was made by the youth wing of the VVD Liberal party, with Mark Rutte as prime minister and co-staring a host of political names and commentators.The second is the real introduction for a new series of interviews with politicians about how The Hague works.  More >