The Netherlands should recognise the major benefits which Dutch people living in other countries bring to the economy and work to improve links with their mother country, according to a new book.
Expat rights campaigner Eelco Keij says in Fortunate Connections, which is published in Dutch and English, that Dutch nationals abroad bring tremendous economic added value. The Netherlands, he says, is lagging behind many other countries in recognising this worth.
‘Years ago, when people would leave for a new country, family and friends would line up on the docks to wave them goodbye,’ Keij told a meeting last week. ‘Today there is a new sort of emigrant, who keeps close ties with the Netherlands using modern communication methods.’
Research shows some 45% of the Dutch who move abroad return to the Netherlands within seven years.
‘We live in global times. The Netherlands is no longer confined to the Dutch borders,’ he said. ‘Emigration has lost its original meaning.’
At the same time, the Netherlands is reducing opportunities for Dutch nationals to remain involved in their home country, Keij argues.
Currently Dutch nationals who take a second nationality have to hand back their Dutch passports. The government has also withdrawn funding for Dutch education abroad and Dutch expats face hurdles in ensuring they keep their pension and inheritance rights.
Keij argues Dutch political parties should do more to mobilise Dutch nationals abroad. At the last election, 35,000 out of the estimated 500,000 Dutch nationals living abroad with voting rights actually voted.
France, Croatia, Italy and Portugal even have special forms of political representation for their expatriate population, Keij, who ran for parliament on behalf of the Liberal democratic party D66 in 2012, points out.
The key to utilising the power of Dutch citizens abroad for the Netherlands itself is to ‘include them in the political power system,’ he says.
Former Dutch defence minister Joris Voorhoeve told the meeting the Netherlands had a reputation for its international orientation. ‘But an anti-internationalisation feeling is spreading,’ he said. ‘Angst has changed the political agenda.’
Without mentioning anyone by name, Voorhoeve said one and a half political parties are responsible for this. Voorhoeve left the right-wing VVD for D66 in 2010.
D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma told the meeting his party has already agreed that one MP would act as a sounding-board for Dutch expats’ concerns.
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