Rob de Wijk: Decadence and societal rot

The Netherlands needs to ask itself how it intends to hang on to prosperity, writes Rob de Wijk

 

‘This cabinet lacks long-term vision’. It’s all I hear these days. The government accord is a collection of unrelated policy intentions. Even hardcore optimists are not convinced politicians have what it takes to solve complex problems.

What is the Netherlands going to do for money? Who will be our trading partners? The market has to do its job, the politicians say. But the market is imperfect. The German economy is doing better because the government has chosen to intensify its trade contacts with China.

The Netherlands doesn’t want to influence the market and effectively misses out on the opportunities offered by countries like China. Contacts on government level between the Netherlands and China have been few and far between in the last few years. And in a country with state controlled capitalism, trade relations are government relations. Governments open the doors for businesses. But do we want such a facilitating government?

Gas hub

By 20125 the Netherlands will have to import gas. The cabinet wants to compensate for this by stimulating the transit, storage, trade and knowledge development of gas in this country.

The Netherlands as the gas hub for Europe is a good plan but at the same time the biggest energy revolution, shale gas, is passing us by. Countries which do have the courage to access unconventional gas sources are not going to need the Netherlands.

In the Eighties the Netherlands was at the forefront of the search for sustainable energy. But precious few of the wonderful goals that were formulated then ever became reality. Now this country is last in line when it comes to sustainability. The debate on the relationship between a sustainable economic development, raw material and climate change is practically non-existent even though our prosperity and safety depend on it.

Expats

So how are we going to hang on to our prosperity? A third of all private research and development by foreign businesses takes place in the Netherlands. At the moment it looks as if half of these companies may relocate.

The pharmaceutical companies are leaving already. The Netherlands is no longer a manufacturing country. What is the government vision on the Netherlands as a host for international companies? Apart from some fiscal measures, I don’t see any evidence of one.

It’s not easy to base yourself in the Netherlands. Could the lack of investment in the arts play a role? Expats base their decision to relocate partly on the cultural climate of a country. What is the Netherlands going to do about it?

And what about the major changes that are taking place around us? Economic and political power is shifting toward the Far East. This will have big consequences for Dutch foreign policy. The traditional transatlantic alliance will weaken but what will take its place? The likely answer is closer ties with the other European countries although Europe is increasingly seen not as a help but a hindrance. Or is the Netherlands going to go it alone in this turbulent world?

It’s small comfort perhaps but at least the lack of vision isn’t limited to this country. It looks as if the economic crisis, the lack of leadership and knowledge of fundamental issues, decadence and societal rot is making it difficult for all European countries to change course.

 Rob de Wijk is a professor of International Relations at Leiden University and director of the Centre of Strategic Studies HCSS in the Hague

This article was published earlier in Trouw


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