Archive for the 'Society' Category

Idea crisis or leadership crisis?

21 June 2005

Commenting on the French referendum results, I wrote:

As motivating ideas behind European integration, “uniting again what had been separated” and “all men will be brothers” should be equally appealing in 2005 as they were in 1945 and in 1989. What the EU does seem to lack these days, as opposed to its early years, is leaders whose “magic” is able to unite the masses behind those ideas.

After the resounding Dutch ‘no’ to the EU Constitution and last weekend’s EU summit, I still believe this is the case. Here is why:

Polls conducted shortly after the referendum reveal that both French and Dutch voters support the general idea of EU integration. Whatever the right-wing (nation-state oriented) EU-sceptics say, no less than 72% of French voters are in favour of continued integration. Similarly, 84% of Dutch voters support the EU in some form or another, whereas only 16% could be considered EU-sceptics. Other, more extensive polls published only recently (France, Netherlands) confirm these figures. In short, the French and Dutch votes were directed against this EU, not against the EU. This is an important conclusion to begin with. (more…)

Lack of transparency is not the problem, lazy media are

11 March 2005

Nosemonkey has this post on lobbying in the EU institutions. But although I think I am as committed as he is to the principles of transparency and democracy, my analysis would take a slightly different angle.

First of all, I think lobbying is in essence a good thing and in fact essential for the quality of public decision-making. We expect our representatives in various parliaments and in our governments (including the European Commission) to consult widely with civil society before they take any decisions. How else could they do that than by talking to its representatives? (more…)

Bad and good news from Europe

11 March 2005

In the ‘bad news’ category today: the European Parliament’s vote supporting the US inspired line on therapeutical cloning. Does it matter? Not immediately, as the EP has no formal say in this matter which still is a national competence. The real bad news about this, is that it could mean the conservative christian vote (which was supported by the German-dominated greens) is a lot stronger in this parliament than it was during the previous mandate.

On a more positive pre-weekend note (as least in my opinion), there is today’s decision by the EU’s environment ministers to set even more ambitious post-Kyoto targets than the Commission proposed.

Values that shake the world: II – Tolerance in the Netherlands

22 November 2004

When Pim Fortuyn rose to (posthumous) power on an anti-immigrant agenda in 2001, and now again with the assaults on Muslim schools and mosques after the murder of Theo van Gogh, foreign commentators expressed surprise. That this could happen in the Netherlands, of all places – that cool little country where they legalised prostitution, pot and gay marriage – how could they hate foreigners?

The misunderstanding here is that Dutch people have a long tradition of tolerance. This is not true. The way I would put it, is that over the ages, Dutch people have not so much learned to tolerate, as well as to ignore differences.


Greatest kook ever

16 November 2004

After the UK elected Winston Churchill and Germany elected Konrad Adenauer, the country of Erasmus, Spinoza, Rembrandt, Van Oldenbarneveldt and De Witt elected Pim Fortuyn as “The Greatest Dutchman Ever”.

Something is truly rotten in the state of the Netherlands…

A word of advice from Germany

12 November 2004

Gerhart Baum was the German (FDP) Minister of the Interior from 1978 to 1982. He was closely involved in combating the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) which terrorised German society in those years. As a minister, he oversaw a considerable restriction of the rights of RAF suspects and their lawyers, and a widening of the powers of the secret service and the police. Not a sissy, in other words, and someone who knows what he is talking about.

Mr Baum spoke interesting words on Dutch television today. “Do not undermine the state of law in order to catch terrorists”, he said, “we tried in Germany, and it did not work.” Because it widened the number of suspects so much, that the police lost track of the real terrorists. The RAF murders, some of them particularly gruesome, held Germany in a state of fear for many years.

Of course, police and intelligence work was necessary to combat the fifty or so unrepenting terrorists, killers, that were active in Germany at the time. Those fifty were hopeless cases anyway. But they could not do what they did without the help of thousands of sympathisers providing them with shelter, information, and other help – people whose sympathy for the RAF only increased because of the harsh measures. “The number of attacks”, said Baum, “went down only when we started doing something we had not been doing before: to look at the causes of terrorism. Only when we began to address the causes, the number of sympathisers decreased, and with it the number of attacks.”

updated update:
Nosemonkey of Europhobia adds eloquently to the case Baum is making with his account of life in Britain under the IRA threat at the time. He is very right to point out that, unlike the USA, Europe has dealt with terrorism before. Some of the more overheated reactions from the US, even if they come from fellow Europeans, might want to take that experience a bit more seriously.

I also forgot to mention another programme shown on Dutch TV yesterday whose message somehow underpinned Mr Baum’s by explaining that many of the security measures taken to protect ports, airports and other major targets are largely symbolic and will never suffice to “seal off” society from terrorist attacks. They may give the impression that the government does what is necessary to protect us, but seen in this light, their practical effect is that of being a nuisance keeping us in a state of fear.

We may have to start getting used to living with the threat of terrorism for a while. There’s another reason to take Mr Baum’s advice seriously.

Values that shake the world: I – Introduction

11 November 2004

Values, values, values – it is the talk of the day. It is the one thing which the political murders of controversial film maker Theo van Gogh and of populist politician Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, the unease in European societies with the consequences of immigration, but also the controversy surrounding Rocco Buttiglione and the re-election of George W Bush have in common. Our values, say the protagonists, are “under threat”, and the upsetting events show this is true.

An increasingly frightened and insecure population yearns for solutions. And on both sides of the Atlantic, an increasingly confident political right provides them. But which values are under threat? And, most of all, where are the socially progressives in this debate?

Most of the analysis I see does not do justice to the complexity of the situation. I miss things. For instance, I do not think the Netherlands is or ever was a tolerant country. Indifferent: yes, but tolerant: no.

Secondly, I think we should distinguish between the muslim extremism that originated in the dictatorships in the Middle-East (like Bin Laden’s or Palestinian extremism), and the “new” muslim extremism motivating disgruntled youths who grew up in the West (like the murderer of Van Gogh). Their anger seems to be directed not at western policies in the East, but at western policies at home. If that is true, we are dealing with different problems, requiring different solutions.

Thirdly, “values”, in my view, is a dangerous catch-all term obfuscating our view of what they entail. Modern society, in particular its socially progressive part, have lost track of which values really underpin modern society, and have difficulty formulating them. The modern right has fewer inhibitions refering both to ‘values’ in general and to actual values like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, or ‘respect for the individual’ – but, it seems, not always in their modern meaning. This confuses the debate, and risks taking it in a direction most people would not agree with.

I have been trying to combine all the elements I just mentioned in one big, comprehensive, analytical essay. Due to time and other constraints, however, I find it difficult to complete that analysis in the foreseeable future, or at least before the whole debate is over. Therefore I have decided to split up the essay into smaller parts which are easier to handle for me and allow me to develop my thoughts over time. It has the additional advantage that the smaller composite parts fit better into the ordinary ‘blog’ format. I may or may not revise or combine the individual parts later. Keep watching this space.

This is part I in a series on values. Next: Part II, Tolerance in the Netherlands.