Monday, January 14, 2013

The Netherlands is "Not dissimilar to the UK" say No. 10 Spin Doctors.Ha!

Having lived in The Netherlands for three years, visited frequently, worked extensively with the Dutch and speaking the language I can say that the claim by No. 10 Spin Doctors that the country is "Not dissimilar to the UK" is preposterous.

Lets start with the most material point. The Dutch, are, always have been and always will be enthusiastic Europeans. The European flag flies alongside the Dutch flag on public buildings and there is no political party of any significance (and they have plenty of political parties!) that would even contemplate a "withdrawal from EU" agenda. The Dutch people as a whole see their nation as integrated in Europe and have no problem with the idea. They do not regard their participation all all of Europe's steps towards integration from 1951 onwards with anything but enthusiasm. 

Unlike the United Kingdom The Netherlands has a strongly homogeneous culture. True there are differences - the Catholic south and the Protestant North. The urban centres of Amsterdam, Rotterdam etc. compared with the more rural parts. But generally the Dutch are united by a common language, culture and history. There are no provinces of The Netherlands seeking independence!

While like the UK The Netherlands has an Imperial past Empire was in the end swiftly discarded and there are few hangovers from or sentimentality about the Imperial past. And there is no Dutch equivalent of the "Commonwealth" with its presumptuous proposition that former colonies should stick together under the maternalistic umbrella of a Head of State (and in some cases bizarrely still their Head of State ).

True The Netherlands is a Monarchy but they ride bicycles rather than drive around in Rolls Royces - and the heir to the throne is married to an ArgentinianImagine that in Britain! (I met Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange at the Olympic Games with his Argentinian wife and children and a very pleasant lot they are indeed. Unpretentious and friendly. Just like Charles and Camilla (not).) 

The Netherlands has had coalition Governments throughout modern times. Their excellent electoral system is strictly proportional which means that there will always be a Coalition  This is unexceptionable and part of the culture and nobody would suggest a better way of running the Country - so they stick with what they have. This includes  of course, a fully elected Upper House (the Eerste Kamer) which represents regional interests and is a logical complement to the 150 seat Lower House. (Tweede Kamer).

The Dutch political spectrum is quite wide but there is no real challenge to a broad social-democratic consensus nor to the welfare state. Dutch self-sufficiency in Energy (Groningen Gas primarily) has been a source of the underpinning of this for forty years or more and provides the economic basis of the State.  Private enterprise is encouraged and Holland is the home of great international companies like Shell and Philips. But this is not ideological and where it is better for the people for an activity to be publicly owned it is. The excellent Dutch Railways, for example, are a private company wholly owned by the State.

Education is of course free at all levels and a consistently high standard is maintained in all schools. There are a few private schools (just as there are a few private hospitals) but the public services are sufficiently good in both cases for there to be no strong reason to choose them.  

The Netherlands was occupied during the Second World war. Dutch Jews were sent by the Nazis to the gas chambers - and the population was starved in the "Hunger Winter  of 1944/5. There is every reason for the Dutch to hate the Germans - and the Spanish and the French for that matter if you go further back. But that is not the Dutch way and they above all nations have been leaders in European integration and their Borders have no gates on them at all. You drive into Belgium or Germany on the Motorway at 100km an hour and you don't need to show any identification  And that was already the case when I lived there 30 years. Like the UK? Don't make me laugh! 



At 11:32 pm , Blogger Paddy Briggs said...

From Paul de Krom. Minister in the last Dutch Government and senior member of Dutch Conservative Party the VVD

" I read your column, well done! View on Europe is more complicated: firm support for single market, NOT for federal Europe."


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