A contract not worth the paper it is written on

Lodewijk Asscher has done his cause no favours by introducing the idea of a ‘participation contract’ for all foreigners, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe.

Social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher has come up with a rounded and reasoned analysis of the current situation in the Netherlands with regard to integration.

He outlined the government’s position – the Netherlands should have a ‘warm and caring’ integration policy but also one that is ‘clear and tough’.


He discussed the problems surrounding the over-representation of youths with a Moroccan and Antillean background in the crime figures and talked about social inequality and access to education.

He ‘understood’ the fears of some people about Islam but wrote about the need to eradicate discrimination in all its forms.

He was concerned to head off problems when the expected new wave of Romanians and Bulgarians arrive but also keen to ensure they are not exploited. All well and good and sensible stuff.


And then he came up with the ‘participation contract’ – which, he said, would apply to all foreigners in the Netherlands and would help us become better aware of the norms and values of the country in which we live.

You only have to look at the comments elsewhere on this website to understand the tremendous resentment that Asscher’s well-meaning idea has generated – and how much he has undone the good in the rest of the document.

For a start, there are practicalities. The idea will probably contravene European legislation and massively increase local council red tape. Will it, for example, apply to foreign students who have to officially write themselves in for a six-month course?

Bike thieves

Then there are the moral objections. Asking everyone to sign a document stating we will uphold the Dutch constitution and rule of law seems to suggest that we were all planning to run around the Netherlands insulting gay men and stealing bikes.

In addition, it implies these norms and values are universally upheld by everyone with Dutch nationality – a fact which is patently not true.  Let us not forget, for example, that we have a party with three seats in parliament which thinks women should not have the right to vote and that homosexuality is a sin.

Signing a contract will not make the bad eggs among us good citizens. It just emphasises the gulf between us and them – the very problem that Asscher is hoping to eradicate.


You could also conclude that Dutch norms and values are somehow different to those that most of us hold dear. But most people are honest, we want to work, we want peace, we want our children to do well, we believe in freedom and equality.

There are racists, anti-semites, gay-bashers, thieves, murderers, religious nut-cases and social parasites in every society, including this one.

To put it simply, using well-integrated Dutch bluntness, we don’t have to like boerenkool and Sinterklaas to be decent human beings.



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