Closing the borders to stop refugees coming to the Netherlands might be slightly more complicated than Geert Wilders thinks, writes economist Mathijs Bouman.
Just in case nobody heard him, Geert Wilders said it again in parliament last month: the Dutch need to close their borders. Wilders has been saying this for some time and last month the PVV even started a flyer campaign to bring home the point.
Bits of paper headed ‘Close the borders’ were handed out to the good people of Purmerend and Almere. The flyer sports a Dutch flag blowing in the wind, a typically Dutch windmill in a typically Dutch landscape and Geert Wilders leaning on a red-and-white barrier. We only see his upper half but we can be fairly sure he is wearing clogs and possibly a pair of typical Urker fisherman’s trousers.
But not only the PVV dreams of closing the borders. The cabinet is thinking about a ‘mini Schengen’, comprised of Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany. A nifty solution because the Netherlands would continue to be free of outside borders. Let the Belgians and the Germans order the barriers and train the border guards, the cabinet thinks. That, too, is typically Dutch.
At least Wilders is prepared to face the consequences of his actions. In an interview with the Algemeen Dagblad last month, the PVV leader when asked about the practical implication of these closed borders said: ‘Even if there are hundreds of border crossings, they can all be manned, by soldiers or military police.’
Hundreds of border crossings, Wilders says. That is a rough estimate indeed. It is to be hoped that any proposal to close ‘the borders’ is preceded by an analysis of exactly how much border we actually have. To close half of the border crossings would make little sense.
It would create a lot of bother for ordinary citizens while the baddies can still sneak in undetected. Closing borders costs money. There are direct costs such as barriers and border police but also indirect costs for citizens and companies when people and goods are prevented from moving freely from country to country.
How many border crossings does the Netherlands have then? I asked the customs office which resides under the finance ministry. It couldn’t tell me and I was directed to the transport ministry which didn’t know either. I was told to ask the infrastructure ministry but it hasn’t come back to me yet.
DIY border crossing counting
I decided to count them myself. I used Google maps to make a detailed search for border crossing roads and minor roads, Google Earth in case of doubt and Google Street View to see what the border crossing looked like from up close. I’m sure I missed quite a few shortcuts and smuggling routes. And I may have included some that locals would tell me are no longer passable. But I still think my count is not too far off the mark.
People who want to enter the Netherlands have a choice of 354 roads, of which 11 are motorways. A fair number are main roads. But most are country paths, village roads or glorified tracks. The border with Belgium is hardly recognisable as such. All roads traverse it as if it weren’t there at all – which is, in fact, the case. A few lone white markers remind the traveller that there was once a border.
The German border is much clearer: roads come to an end at both sides of the border. That is why the eastern side of the country has fewer border crossings than the southern side. The province of Limburg is the undisputed champion: I counted no fewer than 145 roads entering the country via this province.
There’s the A4 or the A7 for instance. But you can also choose to come in via the Joys of Nature campsite near Offenbeel. Or the Koeweg near Boertange, although it’s no more than a track on the German side. You can also make your way through the maize fields, then cross the Retranchementstraat into Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. That is the westernmost border crossing.
But whatever you do, don’t take the Wildersdijk (I’m not making it up) near Rekken in Gelderland. That path stops at the border. A typically Dutch farmer has closed off the Wildersdijk with a typically Dutch gate.
This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad