Opinion pieces, columns and insights into Dutch news and current affairs from key commentators


Dutch politicians have a key role in protecting the rights of British citizens

Dutch politicians have a key role in protecting the rights of British citizens

This week, the Dutch courts will decide if a court case brought by British nationals in the Netherlands who want to keep their European citizenship should be referred to the EU courts. But, whatever happens, the Netherlands can play an important role in making sure the rights of British citizens in Europe are protected after Brexit, writes Sarah Parkes of the British in the Netherlands group. Some 85,000 British citizens currently live in the Netherlands. Our number has been growing since the early 1930s and we hope, post Brexit, that we will be able to maintain our good relationship with the Dutch, can continue to contribute to the Dutch economy and, of course, to Dutch society. Whilst the UK government has been paying attention to the details of how the three million EU citizens can continue their current lives in Britain, they have given little attention to the estimated 1.3 million British citizens resident in the other 27 EU countries. Indeed, some of us could not even vote in the 2016 referendum to try to protect our EU citizenship. Work permits We have many questions about how our lives will look post Brexit that so far, no-one has answered. Will we have to apply for a Dutch work permit as a non-EU citizen? Will cross-border workers, as non-EU citizens, be able to work in neighbouring countries based on their Dutch residence permit? How will the self-employed manage if they no longer have an automatic right to run a company in the Netherlands? A few British retirees, and those who shall retire in the future, have not lived in the Netherlands for the necessary 50 years to benefit from a full state pension. At the moment, they can top that up to a living income by claiming state financial assistance. But will they still be able to do this when they are no longer EU citizens? And what about the rights of British nationals who lose their jobs or become unable to work through ill health?  Will British citizens, who have made their lives here and no longer have ties in the UK, still have the security of unemployment and invalidity benefits post-‘Brexit’? Divorce Family life is another issue. We are all aware of cases where non-EU citizens who become divorced from a Dutch national have been told to leave the Netherlands because they no longer have the right to remain. But what will happen to British nationals in the future, if they divorce their Dutch partner? And what will happen to British citizens with the right to permanent residence if they have to work abroad for a while or return to Britain to care for a terminally-ill relative? Will British children, resident in the Netherlands have to pay the same fees as people from China or the US if they choose to pursue a university education in the Netherlands? Will they, as non-EU citizens, still have easy access to the Erasmus scheme if studying at a Dutch University? We assume that post-‘Brexit’ British citizens will be required to take the inburgering exams because they will no longer be exempt as EU nationals. But will this apply to people who have lived here for 10 or 15 years? Nationality We understand that by taking Dutch nationality many of our potential problems may be solved, but it is not a uniform solution. The Dutch reluctance to accept dual nationality is also a major stumbling block. Only a few of us qualify to become Dutch by option, without having to hand back their British passports. Most of us would need to become Dutch by naturalisation and rescind our UK nationality. This may have profound consequences when we retire or if we have to return to the UK for a while. Germany allows for dual nationality if the person is a citizen of another EU country or of Switzerland. Surely a similar model could be adopted in the Netherlands which includes British citizens or even just British citizens who formerly held EU citizenship, and were resident in the Netherlands before the official withdrawal of the UK from the EU? The government coalition agreement includes a clause to modernise the rules on dual nationality. We would urge MPs and ministers to act on this. And in Brussels, Dutch MPs and MEPs are in a strong place to represent the views of the British in the Netherlands. Dutch MEPs are, after all, our representatives because as EU citizens, many of us were able to vote for them in the last European elections. Given that Brexit is set to take place in March 2019, we will be without a voice altogether in May 2019. Sarah Parkes has lived in the Netherlands for 18 years. British in the Netherlands is affiliated to the British in Europe organisation who actively campaign for the rights of UK citizens in the EU and supports EU citizens in the UK.  More >


Some chewing gum and a packet of baby killers please

Some chewing gum and a packet of baby killers please

Cigarettes kill. But so do lots of things. What is a shareholder to do? asks economist Mathijs Bouman. I only had a couple of items in my shopping basket which entitled me to pay at the service desk. As my shopping was being scanned I gazed at the display of cigarettes against the wall. There was none of the brightly coloured packaging as in the days when I too thought smoking was cool. In its place had come grisly pictures of trench mouth, puss-oozing abscesses and murky pupils. I even spotted the occasional dead baby. If this stuff is so dangerous why is this shop selling it? I thought. Bankers who sell dodgy financial products are hounded unto the third generation by supervisors shouting ‘consumer interest’ but a supermarket can sell a packet of baby killers with impunity. Why? I admit I’m not the first person to ask the question. In 2016 the Dutch doctors’ organisation KNMG lobbied for a ban on the sale of cigarettes in supermarkets, as well as petrol stations, bookshops and chemists. Smokers would be limited to specialised tobacco shops. In the event politicians said 'no' but the last cabinet did promise a ban on displaying smokes. From 2020 cigarettes will be hidden behind closed doors. Some supermarkets are already doing this. But keeping the stuff out of sight is an entirely different thing from banning its sale altogether. Shouldn’t the big supermarkets themselves simply decide to stop selling cigarettes for the common good? I have my doubts. Before you know it they will feel compelled to ban fatty crisps, salty liquorice of freshly brewed Indian Pale Ale, which, taken in sufficient quantities, will kill you too. Isn’t it up to the consumer to decide how unhealthy he or she wants to be? As I was trying to find my way out of my quandary, behavioural scientist Robert Dur showed me a recent article by Nobel prize winner Oliver Hart (Harvard) and Luigi Zingales (Chigago) questioning Milton Friedman’s 50-year-old adage that the public interest must not stand in the way of maximum profits. The politicians can take care of the public interest and ethics is a matter for the individual, Friedman said. Society would be better off if companies do what their shareholders want them to do, i.e. make money. Hart and Zingales agree that companies must keep their shareholders’ interests in mind but think that these interests cover more than just money. A shareholder is only human after all. He has his own ethics and social interests. It follows that if shareholders of a supermarket are more interested in living babies than dead ones the sale of cigarettes must stop pronto.  Companies should not go for maximum market value but maximum shareholder welfare, they say. Pension fund ABP recently announced it would no longer invest in tobacco companies. I wonder if its portfolio still contains supermarket shares. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad.  More >


Let’s learn from history, both good and bad

Let’s learn from history, both good and bad

History's saints as well as its villains carry lessons for the present, writes historian Tineke Bennema. I could see where Urk city council was coming from when it decided to name some of the town’s new streets after discredited sea heroes such as Michiel de Ruyter and Jan Pieterszoon Coen. I believe Urk didn’t do this to stir up controversy but to show that the history of human beings is not a blank slate but a product of the past. A people that denies its history loses its bearings and flounders like a drowning man in the ocean. The discussion about whose view of the nation’s history is the right one focuses on whether values and actions of the past can be judged by modern society and, consequently, rejected or approved, particularly when the these values and actions refer to harm done to others. First of all we need to ask if the past is something we can or want to learn from. You could say we do learn from the past whether we want to or not otherwise we would still be moving around on all fours. Such is evolution. It could be argued that this is an unconscious development but it is undeniably true that man’s development as a race and as an individual has progressed through trial and error. Man didn’t just learn from his mistakes but from his successes as well. We learn by example. And what makes us human is that we are conscious of this. Robbers and rogues The Urk councillors have a point when they say that Dutch society is based on a successful seafaring tradition. It would be much too simple to classify Coen and De Ruyter as mere robbers and rogues. They did, after all, make this country prosperous and we are all still benefitting from this. It would be more useful to look at their actions. And then it becomes quite inevitable that the pedestals of these so-called national heroes are being shaken. The council is also right when it says that modern critics of our past only bring up a rogue’s gallery of people who show us how not to do things. But fortunately history has also produced many inspiring people, even though paragons like Multatuli and William of Orange had their flaws as well. Events The current discussion seems to be focusing on persons. But events have influenced people as well. The February strike, for instance, at the commemoration of which former participant Max van der Stoel showed how the mechanism of exclusion, then and now, can be combatted. Having an opinion on the past is different from wanting to dismiss it from a moral point of view. Learning does imply judging but if you don’t want to judge you can always choose to be inspired by figures of the past, whether they be Coen, Multatuli, Wilhelmina or even Drees or Fortuyn. If we stop thinking and deny the good and the bad that is in our history we may as well burn the history books, close the Anne Frank museum and sell the national monument on Dam square to the Chinese. All these people, all these event are so many beacons in the sea. The entrenched discussion about our glorious and notorious past would be greatly helped by admitting that our history has produced examples that inspire as well as insights and actions that do not deserve to be emulated. We should know about both. It’s not such a bad idea to develop not just a view of how things should not be done but one that shows how they should be done. Because that distinction is none too clear in the Netherlands. This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Farewell Facebook, you and I are through!

Farewell Facebook, you and I are through!

Economist Mathijs Bouman has said goodbye and good riddance to Facebook and he won't be back (he hopes). I would like to start this column by offering my sincere apologies to all my friends. Bart Stoffels, Rineke Gieske-Mastenbroek: my apologies. A hearfelt sorry is also due to Witdietma Narain from Arnhem, Willem-Aart Hop from Spakenburg and of course Fokke Obbema from Amsterdam. Apologies too to Remco Dijkstra and Annette van Trigt. And even to Thierry Baudet who, to my surprise, is also a friend. Sorry one and all, I really regret to inform you that we are no longer friends and that goes for the friends of friends as well. I hope you have a good life. I’m quitting, pulling the plug. I have deleted my Facebook account. Which is not as easy as it sounds. Facebook doesn’t like final goodbyes and at first it only agrees to deactivate my account. It will only remove the account permanently in two weeks’ time. Unless I log in between now and then, because then it will be reactivated again. That means that for two weeks I am going to have to surpress the impulse to check how my friends are. Hence this public farewell to Facebook: the die is cast, there is no turning back. I hope. Desertion You have guessed the reason for my desertion: it’s the news about the way Facebook data was used to influence the American elections. British company Cambridge Analytica stole the data of fifty million American Facebook users in order to unleash a finely-tuned campaign of misinformation and manipulation. The result is presently in residence at the White House. The company also meddled in the Brexit referendum, the presidential elections in Kenya and the lord knows what else. Badly or wrongly informed voters form the Achilles heel of any democratic system. Universal suffrage is a fantastic achievement but the downside is that ignorant and clueless voters have as much influence as those who make a study of politics. Education Not that I advocate changing the system but it does put the onus on society to keep the number of politically challenged numbskulls to a  minimum. I used to be under the illusion that the problem could be at least partly solved by means of education, transparent political processes and a free quality press. But now there are companies that are using all their programming wizardry and powers of analysis to do exactly the opposite and make voters more clueless and ignorant. Having a Facebook account is helping them do this apparently. We have unwittingly exchanged one of our most important basic rights – the right to free and open elections- for free access to the holiday snaps of our friends and cat videos without end. That is a very, very bad deal. This summer I will send my friends an old-fashioned postcard. I hope. This column first appeared in the Financieele Dagblad.  More >


Dutch agriculture is not a beacon of good farming practice to the world

Dutch agriculture is not a beacon of good farming practice to the world

Dutch agriculture has to become a lot less efficient or the environment will suffer even more, say agro-environmental scientists. Greater awareness among consumers and voters may make it happen. In an opinion piece in January, Volkskrant columnist Bert Wagendorp claimed most farmers simply can’t help being fraudsters when it comes to manure: it’s a national sport to hoodwink the authorities. We are not trying to make excuses but isn’t it also true that we are all responsible for the mess agriculture is in today? ‘This tiny country feeds the world’ National Geographic headed one of its articles in November 2017. It’s because of articles like these the Netherlands is seen as a beacon of good agricultural practice around the world. But over the last 50 years that agricultural practice has wiped out over 70% of partridges, godwits and skylarks. Large-scale expansion not only swallowed up small farmers but traditional landscapes as well, all in the name of efficiency. But efficient, high-input agriculture is taking a huge toll on the environment, perhaps best illustrated by the blanket of manure which has been steadily leaching into the soil and adjacent nature. Perverse incentive Efficiency also creates perverse incentives. Farmers are forced to produce as many kilos of food as possible, even though the intensive use of land leads to the intensive use of fertilisers. Meanwhile the less efficient or more contaminating aspects of the production process are left for the next generations to cope with or are out-sourced to farming businesses elsewhere. Consequently, these specialised and partly even landless businesses only appear to be more efficient than the food production system as a whole, or in the long term. Dutch agriculture has come to resemble the classic circus act of keeping as many plates spinning as simultaneously as possible. The price farmers are paying to keep the plates from crashing to the floor includes low margins, expensive expertise, loans and scrutiny by the authorities. It’s an effort doomed to failure, as the fraud, the mass culls, the preventive use of antibiotics, feed contaminated by pesticide residues and the deep frustration expressed by farmers themselves have shown. Environmental economists say that a proper cost and benefits analysis of a cleaner environment in which biodiversity, public health and landscape are taken into account could lead to less intensive agriculture practices. But we are afraid that such an inclusive analysis will not be enough to conquer vested interests, complacency and the tendency to ignore the wider context. Consumers The challenge is to convince consumers and voters that simplicity, godwits, human scale and health matter more than keeping a lot of plates in the air and that they are worth any extra costs. Transition begins with a willingness to at least consider the costs and benefits of a different kind of agriculture. Once these become clear the appropriate actions can be defined. But, wait a minute. Shouldn’t we aim for the highest possible yields so as to feed people beyond our borders and save their pretty landscapes from industrial farming? That argument is grotesque for a number of reasons. Most Dutch grain is not used to make bread, it is used to feed livestock. An important part of our much-praised exports consists of luxury products and has precious little to do with combating world hunger. Feeding a global population in a sustainable manner and preserving nature reserves will not depend on the extra kilos of produce forced out of the soil of this little country. But it will depend on the success of efforts to improve low productivity in agriculture in developing countries. We need to rethink Dutch agricultural practices and stop focusing on kilos and efficiency. Let’s accept that our farmers are not in the same league as their colleagues in New Zealand and Brazil and that we will have to pay for that. Hold up Dutch agriculture as an example to the rest of the world by all means, but make it an example of a patient who changes his lifestyle to cure his illnesses and ditch the medication. Jaap Schröder, Hans van Grinsven, Jules Bos, Hein ten Berge and  Bert Smit are agro-environmental scientists. Jan Willem Erisman is professor of Integrated Nitrogen Issues at the VU University in Amsterdam and director of the Louis Bolk Institute. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


The Netherlands doesn’t need ‘the G4’ big cities to stay in business

The Netherlands doesn’t need ‘the G4’ big cities to stay in business

There is more to the Netherlands than four big cities with a few fields in between, says economist Mathijs Bouman. Amsterdam stands for Schiphol airport, HQs, and the creative sector. Rotterdam is synonymous with the port, trade, and hard graft. The Hague is the administrative capital and looks after international relations. Utrecht takes care of the business services. The Dutch economy is propelled by a four-cylinder motor: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Without a hint of irony they call themselves the ‘G4’– as if Merkel and Macron could walk in any minute and start negotiations. Last year the G4 went to the Binnenhof to ask for €35bn to finance a comprehensive investment plan aimed at improving the accessibility of the urban regions as well as increasing the number of houses there. The G4 have an office in Brussels so the European decision-making process can be tweaked to follow a course that would be advantageous to the four main Dutch cities. Now I would be the last person to deny that urban networks matter. The economy can only benefit from cooperation and how better to achieve this than to live cheek by jowl. Cities create dynamism and wealth all over the world. Grass, peat and water But there is such a thing as overdoing it. Yes, cities are important but so is land. The Netherlands is not just four powerful cities with a bit of useless grass, peat and water in between. Relevant economic activity is taking place outside central urban belt too. Eindhoven is accommodating first rate innovation, the Achterhoek is a hotbed for modern manufacturing and agricultural high tech is just about everywhere. More often than not, these companies are geared towards exports rather than the Dutch market. Their CEOs only come to Amsterdam to take a plane to meet clients in far-flung destinations. They only think of Rotterdam when a container is delayed. The Hague is remembered only when the blue envelope arrives. The cabinet has earmarked €950m to tackle regional problems. Assorted local authorities will be entering the fray to get their share in the months to come. Eindhoven got in first and demanded €170m to make the region more attractive to international talent. ASML boss Peter Wennink said the amount would be a good start but said Eindhoven region really needs quite a bit more. Rural economics To encourage the regions in their battle for more dosh I did a few sums to measure the importance of the regional economy for the Netherlands. What would the Netherlands Ltd. look like without the G4? Would it be another Jutland? Or would it still hold its own economically? To subtract the G4 economy from the Dutch economy as a whole I took not only the economies of the four cities themselves but each so-called Corop area, the surrounding area which often has close economic ties with the city. In the case of Amsterdam this area would be Greater Amsterdam, including Alkmaar and Haarlemmermeer. Rotterdam would be region Greater Rijnmond, The Hague Agglomeration’s-Gravenhage. And the city of Utrecht would represent the whole province of Utrecht. National GDP Subtract these four regions and you are left with the Dutch country side. The rural areas in the Netherlands are home to 12.2 million inhabitants who live in 5.4 million homes and work in over a million businesses. Employment accounts for 4.7 million work years. Each one of these number exceed those of the G4. The rural GDP is €439bn. That is almost two thirds of the national GDP. Even without the G4, the Netherlands would be a medium size player in Europe. It would be the fifth economy in the euro zone, with a GDP higher than that of Belgium. It would also have a higher GDP than EU member state Poland. The economy of the rural Netherlands would even be bigger than Finland’s and Portugal’s put together. Yes, the big cities would make it even stronger and wealthier. But to think the Netherlands would be nothing without the G4 is simply not true. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Do-it-yourself: the wonderful world of having multiple jobs

Do-it-yourself: the wonderful world of having multiple jobs

Journalist may be her main profession, but bank clerk, travel agent, postman and bin woman could easily be included on her cv, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe Not so long ago, the national statistics office CBS announced that the official Dutch unemployment rate had dipped under 5% - one of the lowest rates in Europe. The economic recovery is racing along, gross domestic product is forecast to hit 3.3% this year and the declining jobless total is one of the side effects. At the same time, however, there are still 1.3 million people who would like a job or who would like to work longer hours but are not officially classed as unemployed. There is, the CBS says, a lot of ‘unused potential’ in the Dutch jobs market. Still more CBS figures – they’ve got a lot of people writing about jobs over there – show that the Dutch work fewer hours than everyone else in Europe. Three quarters of women and a quarter of men work part-time. Dutch women who have a job, work an average of 26 hours a week. Even young women starting out in their careers with no children to use as an excuse are opting for a four or a three-day week. What is a job? After all, the definition of jobs and work is becoming more blurred. We are fast becoming jacks and jills of all trade. We no longer work 9-5, we are expected to answer emails from the boss on holiday and it is assumed that we are both willing, able and have the time to take on all sorts of work that used to be done by someone else. When we changed our internet provider at home, the technician who came to install the new router assured me that it would be terribly simple to set up the boosters upstairs. There was this blind agreement on my part and off he went, leaving me with two little boxes to plug in and get talking to the router. I have no idea why I did not run after him shouting ‘no, it’s your job, we’re paying you to do it’, but to this day the boosters lie unloved in the corner of the rooms they are supposed to be installed in and I continue to curse the crap internet in the DutchNews.nl office. Travel agent Being a journalist might be my main job, but I seem to have picked up a lot of others on the way, aside from being an internet technician. When I fly anywhere I act as my own travel agent and check in desk operator. I spend hours online looking for the best deals, I compare flights, I fill in my details, I check myself in and print out my own boarding card – or nowadays, download it to my phone. We take our own rubbish down the street to giant underground containers and if we really keen on being good citizens, we can officially ‘adopt’ our container as well. That would give us the right open the lid and try to unclog the disposal shoot when it gets blocked up. We would also be given a dustpan and brush to keep the pavement clean of everyone else’s cat litter and potato peelings. All part of the council’s efficiency drive of course. Gardening Our street is being done up at the moment and the council has even asked us if we would like to take charge of the area earmarked for planting and greenery, adding city council gardener to the list of jobs it would like us to take on. I also run a minor package distribution centre in our front hall thanks to the online shopping trend. The biggest parcel we’ve ever had to deal with was a sofa. My doctor even recently asked me what I would like her to do about my ailment, guessing I had been checking out the options online. The banking sector is slashing jobs left, right and centre with the excuse that online banking is revolutionising the way they operate. Monthly fee It’s pretty easy to cut jobs when you’ve managed to persuade the rest of the population that they are all part-time bank clerks as well. I do my own payments online, I print out bank statements, I set up my standing orders, and if I make a mistake and pay money into the wrong bank account, it is up to me to try and get it back. I’m not actually sure what the bank does for me anymore, apart from charge me a monthly fee. Perhaps all those young women working part time have got the right idea after all… with all the other jobs everyone is expected to do, there is little time left over to go to the office. This column was first published in the Xpat Journal  More >


The arrival of the PVV and FvD in the cities is alarming, say D66 local leaders

The arrival of the PVV and FvD in the cities is alarming, say D66 local leaders

The PVV and Forum voor Democratie are making a bid for local power and that is a worrying development, say Reinier van Dantzig and Klaas Verschuure, who are leading the local election campaigns in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Terms like ‘head rag tax’, ‘arranging’ for ‘fewer, fewer, fewer Moroccans’ and ‘homeopathic dilution’ have so far largely come from the mouths of national politicians. But it was local Amsterdam FvD leader Annabel Nanninga who came up with the term ‘bobbing negroes’ for boat refugees. PVV or FvD politicians often eat their words. They come out with some ugly abusive term, then they retract it - it simply came out wrong, they say. The statement, they argue, is much more nuanced than the hostile media and established parties want people to believe. We are not buying it. The ugly face of hatred, exclusion and division is never more clearly seen than during those carefully managed media moments. The people the populist parties are reaching out to are getting the message loud and clear. Following the chant for fewer Moroccans in The Hague and in the Netherlands as a whole, Wilders' ‘more nuanced’ explanation became a limit on immigration, promoting the return of immigrants and the deportation of criminals with dual nationality. But if a politician uses words like 'arranging fewer, fewer, fewer Moroccans' you have to believe he will act on them as soon as he gets the chance. Second-class citizens That ‘nuance’ does nothing to alter the fact that people have been labelled second-class citizens. Take the proposal from Leefbaar Rotterdam’s Joost Eerdmans and FvD’s Thierry Baudet who have joined forces for the Rotterdam local elections. They want the law to be changed to limit the number of halal butchers and Turkish greengrocers - to stop Turkish and Moroccan shopkeepers from setting up shop. When the time came to discuss the proposal in parliament, Baudet never showed up. But the message had been put out there - replace Turkish shops with Dutch ones. These are Rotterdam shops, each and every one of them. That is and will remain our message. If the xenophobes turn up the volume, so will we. We need to voice our support for that Turkish greengrocer who is told by politicians that he is obsolete and that people prefer a Dutch greengrocer and for the child in the playground who is told there should be fewer of her. There is no need to air this kind of abuse. That is the other side of freedom of expression. You don’t need to say things that hurt or exclude people. Disgust Everyone has the right to use their freedom of expression. We will too. We will counter every threat made to our fellow citizens. We will express our disgust at empty ideas aimed at feeding society’s xenophobic underbelly. We are proud of our cities and their inhabitants, regardless of who they fall in love with or where they are from. Every message that brands them second-class citizens will be interpreted by us as a message of hate, including those hidden behind big words and pseudo-scientific quotes. None of these messages will go unchallenged. We are fighting for cities in which every citizen can feel at home, regardless of background, creed, and sexual orientation. Diversity makes us stronger. It makes the Netherlands stronger. This article appeared earlier in Trouw The local elections take place on March 21. EU citizens and people who have lived in the Netherlands for more than three years are eligible to vote.  More >


Dutch case over Britons’ EU rights could have profound consequences

Dutch case over Britons’ EU rights could have profound consequences

Next week, five British nationals living in the Netherlands will hear if their bid to keep European citizenship after Brexit will be referred to the European court. London barrister Jolyon Maugham QC, who is funding the legal action, says if they win, it will have profound consequences. The Conservative manifesto of 2015 promised to scrap the rules barring those who had lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting. Still, long-term British expats were denied the chance to vote in the EU referendum the following year. And their concerns about what Brexit would mean for their lives went unheard. Matt Elliott, Vote Leave’s chief executive, promised that 'the EU’s freedom of movement rights would be honoured for all those citizens who reside in other EEA [European Economic Area] nations prior to any treaty changes. But the joint report of the EU and UK on phase one of the withdrawal negotiations does not deliver on that promise. Dance teacher Take, for example, Susan, who lives in Amsterdam with her husband, who uses a wheelchair. She keeps the two of them on the modest earnings of a dance teacher. Half of her income comes from working abroad. Before Brexit, her free movement rights meant she could give workshops throughout the EU. But there is no guarantee she will be able to travel and work freely and cheaply throughout Europe after Brexit. She cannot know if she will earn enough to stay in the Netherlands. Or James and Jessica, currently studying in Manchester. As things stand they have no automatic right to return to live with their family in Spain when they’ve finished their degrees. Not democratic They are why the case heard in the district court in Amsterdam on Wednesday is so important. Long-term EU resident UK citizens experience Brexit not as a democratic process in which they’ve participated but as a thing that has been done unto them. And done in ignorance. And with a profound effect on where, and how, and with whom they live. The court was asked to refer a question on article 20 of the Lisbon treaty to the court of justice in Luxembourg. And that question was this. EU citizenship gives each of us the right, in particular, to live and move freely within the territory of the member states. And article 20 says that if you are a national of a member state, you are also a citizen of the EU. In other words, your national citizenship is your gateway to your EU citizenship. And it also says that EU citizenship is a separate thing, over and above, your national citizenship. A series of cases in the court of justice suggest that EU citizenship might – the cases don’t get to this point but they approach it – survive the loss of that gateway. Yes, you need member state nationality to become an EU citizen – but you don’t necessarily lose that EU citizenship if you cease to be a member state national. Consequences So if you stop being a national of a member state because your state ceases to be a member of the EU – Brexit, in other words – might you still retain your EU citizenship? This would have profound consequences. Profound for that group of 1 million UK citizens living in Europe to whom Brexit was a thing done. Profound for the dynamics of our negotiations with the EU: EU law in its generosity might give rights to UK citizens living in Europe that UK law would not reciprocate for EU nationals living here. And maybe even profound for the rest of us, us 60-odd million UK nationals living in the UK on Brexit day who might retain our EU citizenship rights after Brexit. Could it happen? Might these hurdles be overcome? When I was younger I worked briefly in the cabinet of the Belgian advocate general, the hugely influential Walter Van Gerven, at the court of justice in Luxembourg. I remember sitting down with him for lunch one day and discussing why it was that the European project did not enjoy the same place in the hearts and the minds of citizens of its – then 12 – states as the United States did in the residents of its 50 states. Emotions It was, I suggested, because Europe felt a long way from the lives its people lived. So, whatever the community’s accomplishments, they had no emotional resonance for its people. For them, Europe was a purely technical project: algebra and not poetry. I believe this remains true now. But I also believe that the court knows of this gap between perception and reality. And I know that, if the question goes to Luxembourg, the court of justice, as it grapples with the legal and political calculus, will want to fill this chasm. It will want to invest in the idea of EU citizenship. It will want to bring Europe to life for its people. This article was first published in the Guardian and is reprinted here with kind permission of Jolyon Maugham.  More >


Don’t fear the robots or the foreigners, they will make us richer

Don’t fear the robots or the foreigners, they will make us richer

Robots and foreigners have been taking over Dutch jobs for 50 years - but more people than ever are working, says economist Mathijs Bouman. And the bottom line is, we are all getting richer because of it. In 1969 Jan Wolkers wrote Turkish Delight, the Beatles recorded Abbey Road and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Piet de Jong was our prime minister, ruling a country with a flourishing manufacturing industry. Of a working population of around 5.3 million, 1.3 million people worked in manufacturing or industry (including energy and water) - around 25% of the total Now, almost half a century later, in the year of De Wereld volgens Gijp and Marco Borsato and exactly zero men on the moon, industry has stopped generating jobs. The working population has grown to nine million of whom only 9% works in industry. In absolute terms this means that of the 1.3 million industrial jobs in 1969 only 800,000 are left. Meanwhile industrial production has doubled. GDP Labour intensive factories became largely automated. But there is another reason why there are fewer factory workers compared to 1969: the relative importance of industry nose-dived. As industrial production doubled, GDP tripled. The Netherlands was de-industrialising because mass production was moving to low wage countries. To all who are worried about the present trends of globalisation, robotisation and what they mean for employment I say: your worst fears have been coming true for the last 50 years. Machines and foreigners have been stealing our jobs for years. Jobs not only evaporated in manufacturing. In construction the jobs total went down from over 550,000 in 1969 to 460,000 in 2017. Agriculture gave work to 275,000 people then and 195,000 now. Industry, construction and agriculture accounted for 40% of employment when Abbey Road hit the charts. In the Borsato era it’s 17%. And yet structural mass unemployment did not happen. On the contrary, more people than ever are working. Civil service So where did all these people go? They went to work for the government, in care, or opted for the business services industry. (Local) government jobs and the care sector accounted for 20% of the jobs total in 1969. That has been going up, slowly but surely, to 27%. In business services (comprising lawyers, architects, consultants, designers, researchers but also cleaners and security personnel) job growth was even more impressive. It went from 9% in 1969 to 21% in 2017. Automation and robotisation and cheaper foreign production mean jobs are lost. But it also means lower prices and more spending power. The new prosperity create a demand for new products and services and hence a higher demand for labour from companies that provide these products and services. In the end labour market equilibrium is restored. Change of profession Yes, it’s textbook economics. But in times of robot fear and foreigner anxiety I’m happy to repeat it. According to recent research by McKinsey, robotisation and automation will swallow up between 75 million and 375 million jobs worldwide between now and 2030. Or, in the kindly words of McKinsey, that is the number of people that will have consider a change of profession. Some 3% to 14% of all working people will be affected. China will have to absorb the biggest shock but in the West too the labour market will feel some hefty tremors. People will need help to face the transition. The need for re-training and additional training is evident but in some cases income support will be necessary, as McKinsey says. It will be a major transition, no doubt about it. But as the last 50 years show, coping with transition is something we are good at. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >