Rob de Wijk: The Netherlands keeps its shutters closed at its peril

The Netherlands must look to others or it will become invisible itself, warns Rob de Wijk

I have said it many times and the facts confirm it: the Dutch tendency to isolate itself is a threat to prosperity.
The Netherlands has become inward-looking and populist and the consequences are there for all to see. An important business deal between the port of Rotterdam and Constanza, in Rumania, may fall through. The two ports want to form a logistical East-West axis but because of the international furore over the PVV website and the Dutch demand to block a Bulgarian and Rumanian entry to Schengen, Constanza is now considering a deal with Hamburg.
It also seems that the endless bickering over the Hedwigepolder has affected the cooperation between the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The Netherlands is treaty-bound to flood the polder and while it is understandably reluctant to do so, a treaty is a treaty and not honouring it would constitute a breach of the international rule of law.
The Dutch refusal to honour the treaty is all the more remarkable when you consider that Netherlands is holding up The Hague as ‘a city of Peace and Justice’ in order to become a world centre for international legal institutions. For the sake of the reputation of The Hague alone you would expect any Dutch handling of international legal issues to be exemplary.
Triple A
Meanwhile, rumours in the corridors of power are that it is not so much a question of if the Netherlands will relinquish its triple A status, but when. Why? It’s simply a combination of what is internationally regarded as an instable political situation and a failure to get the budget on the rails. France did not get into trouble after it lost its triple A status but the Netherlands probably would.
If we were to end up with a Belgian level of interest for public loans, the price we would have to pay would quickly rise to €4bn. Add this to the very slight chance of a European yes vote to a €1bn discount on our EU contribution and the fact that we’ve left the European lobby to support our pension system a little late and the bill will come to many billions.
Slowly the realisation that the Netherlands is risking its reputation and that this will turn out to be extremely expensive is beginning to catch hold. Former politicians, like Ruud Lubbers, Hans Bot and Hans van den Broek are saying that a disproportionate cutback on development aid would be counterproductive.
Our strong international position is largely due to our image, they told the cabinet. Emerging economies are going to have a key role in the supply of raw materials and food and a shortage would seriously endanger our economy, they pointed out.
Bottom of the table
If such a shortage were to occur and the Netherlands were to cut back on defence and turn its back on international missions as well, we would drop even further to the bottom of the European league table.
Opening the shutters is no more than looking after our own interests. But some populist politicians haven’t gotten the message yet.
Rob de Wijk is a professor of International Relations at Leiden University and director of the Centre for Strategic Studies HCSS in The Hague
This column was first published in Trouw.

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