Author Archives: Bernard Aris

D66 leader makes waves taking a stand against anti-gay violence

D66, the party that initiated a global wave of legalizing gay marriage, made itself the emblem of a day-long Dutch media craze that even extended to Dutch diplomats in London and at the UN in New York, as the Huffington Post reported.

It all started when two Dutch gay men, walking home hand in hand from their pub over the (in)famous bridge at Arnhem, were accosted by a group of youths (some of them around 14 years old), with one having four front teeth knocked out.

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Brexit could starve the NHS and British arts & culture from European input

I’m pretty sure that British media have carried many interviews with EU citizens living and working in the UK about their thoughts about Brexit (and especially a “hard”, complete Brexit), and about whether they want to stay or leave now that Brexit seems inevitable.

I want to point to one case: the Dutch/Finnish modern musician Juha van’t Zelfde, who from 2014 was artistic director of the multimedia cultural center “Lighthouse” in Brighton. Because the outlooks of him and his girlfriend point to two terrains where the Brexit votes (referendum & parliament), the reactions in British society, …

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Compare the Dutch Government’s attitude to Trump’s travel ban to Theresa May’s

On Wednesday, February 1st, people from D66, myself included, attended   a medium-sized (2.500 people for an event organized in 3 days) demonstration in The Hague about Trumps policies (immigration ban; Muslims; Disabled; Women) and style of politics and government. This being an election campaign season, it was also attended by party leaders of PvdA (Labour), D66 (Dutch LibDems) and the Greens; and NGO’s like Amnesty and Oxfam NOVIB (=Dutch branch Oxfam) sent speakers. So far nothing remarkable.

But it was exceptional that the PvdA party leader, Asscher, is also vice prime minister and minister on Immigrants Integration, and that the PvdA minister on Education and Emancipation (including LGTB and disabled) filled the PvdA speakers slot.

I started following Dutch politics in gymnasium (Dutch type of Grammar school) around 1970; this was the second time in that era that Dutch Cabinet ministers attended demonstrations against policies of foreign governments.

The first time was when PvdA prime minister Joop den Uyl (leading a mostly progressive coalition that included D66) spoke on a demonstration against the garroting of Basque ETA activists by the Spanish Franco (fascist) government in 1974.

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Churchill inspires D66 fightback against Trumpism and Farage’s people-expulsing “Hard Brexit”

This past week, both the Guardian and the Sun  had articles about the deputy ALDE liberal group leader Sophie in’t Veld  in the European Parliament getting involved in the mistreatment of ordinary EU citizens, living and working in the UK and being married to Britons, by the May government and its over-enthusiastic Brexiteer ministers. Both newspapers only failed to mention which party Mrs In’t Veld belongs to: none other than D66, the social-liberal inheritors of the pre-War VDB.

As one of three parties at the origins of Dutch abortion legislation (very similar to David Steel’s brilliant Liberal inheritance on that point in Britain), D66 fully supports the initiative by our Trade & Development minister Mrs Ploumen to try to compensate family planning advice and abortion services in the Third World, scrapped by Mr. Trump and his Christian-fundamentalist Vice President Pence. We’ll support continuing that compensatory policy in the next Dutch coalition government formed in the coming summer.

People who know about the career of Winston Churchill will be outraged by the fact that president Trump, who cosies up to jingoist-Russian, NATO-threatening and EU-subverting president Putin, put up a bust of Churchill in his Oval Office. You only have to look up Churchill’s Wikipedia item to see that from 1934 onwards (Hitler walking out of the League of Nations and abandoning his Versailles restrictions), Churchill sought and got data about German re-armament (Luftwaffe) and harried the appeasing Tory governments to re-arm Britain. An enormous contrast; Trump is behaving more like the self-seeking, protectionist European governments, not paying attention to foreign policy, which proved such easy pickings for Hitler and (in Poland and the Baltic) Stalin.

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Washington Women’s March contributing to the new Liberator song book?

 

In 1969 in the middle of a US countryside pasture they organized a small music festival called Woodstock. The organizers (having lined up the “fine fleur” of the pop music in those days) counted on 200,000 visitors max. As the later song about that legendary festival attests, it were much more: “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong”.

The same thing happened with the Women’s March on Washington, as older demonstrators noted. Dutch television news, in an overview of ‘Women’s March’ -demonstrations in American cities, even showed a massive demonstration in a city (not the capital) in the Mormon state of Utah; that must have shocked some conservative Republicans!

Another fact: this demo in Washington, with around 500,000 demonstrators, was larger than any Vietnam demonstration in the unruly ’60s (1965-1974). Vietnam vet and ex-Foreign Secretary John Kerry attended the Washington March. And while bully orator Donald Trump wriggled out from military service altogether to avoid being sent to Vietnam, John Kerry volunteered…

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May’s “Hard Brexit” causes tensions in previously strong UK-Dutch relationship

Despite all the sugar-coating in her speech, the “Hard Brexit” announced by prime minister May didn’t go down well with Dutch businesses, many of whom have done business with Britain for decades.

The combination of the threats uttered alongside the Hard Brexit option, and a series of recent stories in Dutch newspapers about extradition letters being sent to Dutch housewives by Tory immigration ministers, seriously changed the way many UK-loving Dutch think about being in Britain, and British policy attitudes.

That point was today brought home to me, when I met a friend whose family had been visiting the Lake District every summer for decades. He told me that he didn’t feel as welcome in England as he used to, seeing the way the May government is treating our mixed-married compatriots who also love Britain. He pointed out that May’s “walk away” threat puts British-Dutch couples in complete limbo. 

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I agree with Nick: “EU must fear havoc from both sides now”

I was surprised when the BBC in its TV news bulletins yesterday (Monday 16th of January) interviewed our Nick Clegg by way of reaction to the infamous Trump interview by Gove and Bild Zeitung. Nick said that Britons and Europeans need to realize that from Trumps Inauguration, Europa has two big powers’ presidents who wish the EU to disintegrate; his words were “who wish the EU ill”.

In a previous posting, I enumerated how Socialist parties in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain have withered away; and how leaders of such parties like Corbyn and the Dutch …

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Trying (too hard) to curb EU free movement: A symptom of the EU-wide social democracy meltdown

Just as I was reading Nick Tyrone’s blog about Corbyn betraying the EU freedom of movement but wanting to have the EU cake nonetheless, another recently-elected Labour leader came on Dutch public radio. Note the date: Tuesday, January 10th, 2017.

I’m talking about former Amsterdam alderman and present Dutch minister of Social Affairs, the ambitious lawyer Lodewijk Asscher of the “Partij van de Arbeid”/PvdA, literally: “Labour Party”.

In the 1980s, when Labour under Michael Foot was going through its “Militant Tendency” phase, the then PvdA leaders, ex-prime minister (1973-’77) Den Uyl and coming prime minister (1994-2002) Wim Kok deplored that leftist populism and leftist political correctness gone wild. So both criticised it: British Labour, come to your senses.

Not today.

In the Dutch campaign that just got started for the General Election on 15th March, Mr. Asscher, who just two weeks ago won a party leadership contest, just said that he counted on “European Leftist support” (PvdA jargon: from fellow Labour and social democratic parties) to pursue his top-profile policy: curbing free movement of labour through the EU. When the radio presenter quoted a phrase Gordon Brown grew to regret: “Jobs for our labourers first”, Mr. Asscher readily agreed. And who does he expect to get support from?

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Farage’s legacy and continental populist laws put EU expats in UK in impossible quandary

 

With Farage’s legacy (Britain leaving an EU it never loved) and Trump’s victory in the US (appointing Putin’s friends on key White House and ministerial positions), the world is getting back to the “each for his own, beggar-thy-neighbour”-politics that were such a stunning success in bringing wealth to everybody in the 1930’s.

What the possible success in upcoming European elections of populist parties (many already being sponsored by Putin) will mean to European expats living in the UK (often being married to a British citizen) is becoming clear with the cases of a Dutch engineer/housewife and a German aerospace executive who both received orders from the UK home office to leave the country forthwith, as reported by The Guardian.

In the case of the Dutch woman, who was unjustly rejected in her application for British citizenship, an earlier Dutch political success by convicted racist populist Geert Wilders has aggravated the significance of applying for British citizenship; and will do so in the case of all Dutch inhabitants of the UK. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they are in their thousands).

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Dutch “Liberal” VVD cosying up to the Tories and distancing itself from “European” Liberals

vvdIn the past week, attentive British citizens could see a clear divide opening up between the two Dutch ALDE member parties, the EU-enthusiasts and Social Liberals (in Beveridge’s tradition) D66, and the populist (see the enduring stature of prominent ex-leaders like Hans Wiegel) VVD.

On Monday, a short furore erupted in the British tabloid media over conversation notes gleaned from the writing pad of a Tory political assistant coming out of Downing Street 10 (or 9: the Brexit Department). She was the assistant of Tory party vice-chairman (International) Mark Field, and she and Field were accompanying foreign visitors who obviously had had a meeting about Brexit. The notes appeared to suggest that the Tory Brexit strategy is as Boris Johnson sometime brags: “have your cake and eat it”. Nobody asked or mentioned who those foreigners were: the leader, Mr. Halbe Zijlstra, and Foreign Affairs spokesman, Mr. Han ten Broeke, of the VVD parliamentary party.

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The “Ambassador Farage” episode: Brexiteers, be careful what you wish for!

The episode where president-elect Donald Trump twittered that he’d like to get his goodpal Nigel Farage as British ambassador to the US, was a stern lesson to the pro-Brexit-camp in British politics – be careful what you wish for; if you get it, it may turn out to be a nightmare.

The following summary of this episode and the start of Trump’s Transition is mainly based on Dutch newspaper articles: Telegraaf, Financieel Dagblad, Volkskrant, of the past two weeks.

It all started with Mr Farage, being the undisputed first foreign politician to be invited to Trump’s Transition HQ.

Shortly afterwards, in a talkshow on Londons LBC Radio, Mr. Farage said that what president Trump needed was “a good eurosceptic ambassador” in Brussels for the EU and European NATO partners, and he would like to get that job. Another guest on the show, Labour MP Chuka Ummuna, expressed his horror at that idea, to which Farage replied “anything that will diminish or destroy the EU; I don’t care how we do it.”

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Dutch D66 starts fightback against Trumpish Populism

In the aftermath of the Trump victory in the American elections, D66, the direct Dutch equivalent of the Lib Dems, has started a fightback both against the rising, fact-free and people-insulting populism personified by Trump, and against the appeasement-like reaction of the Dutch government on Trumps election.

It started not only with the usual statement on the party website by party leader Alexander Pechtold MP, but with D66 publishing small advertisements (with a large party logo) in national Dutch newspapers, in which we stated that the age of staying passive in the face of rising populism had passed, it was time to join a party willing to fight back like D66.

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The internationalist LibDems should represent the expats in the Brexit debate

“Nieuwsuur”, the Dutch equivalent of BBC Newsnight, on Wednesday October 5th had an item about the situation that the tens of thousands of Britons (43,000, according to estimates) living in the Netherlands landed in because of the Brexit. In the capital Amsterdam alone, there are 15.000 British inhabitants; so it was logical that the local “Expat Center” opened an information desk once the result of the referendum became known. The town mayor, Mr. Van der Laan (PvdA/Labour), organized an information evening at which he recommended not to be too hasty in taking decisions about one’s status and/or position. He …

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Corbyn and NATO

 

That an absolute neophyte at serious politics like Donald Trump becomes the first American presidential nominee (from either the Democratic or Republican Party) to question Washingtons NATO article 5 obligation of “Collective Defense” shouldn’t surprise anybody.

But that a sitting Labour party leader fighting to continue in that job, and hoping to win the next general election, does the same is absolutely incredible. And the fact that he did so only a couple of weeks after flip-flopping over EU membership (from a very conditional “Remain” before, to a “get out now” the day after the Referendum)  creates the impression that he thinks the UK can go it alone, without the support, let alone the trust of European partners, on all foreign policy issues.

At the Birmingham hustings for the leadership elections last week, Corbyn said that when Russia threatens to attack or invade any NATO country, he hoped to avoid that by diplomatic means, and that he “doesn’t want to go to war”. But any historian can tell you that diplomacy can only speak softly if you carry a big stick for people who don’t respect any other kind of argument.  To put it in a Marxist metaphor: without the material fundamentals the political superstructure won’t function.

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A D66 gambit puts Wilders at centre of Autumn Brexit barrage

In my LDV contribution in early June I reported that the Dutch CPB (=equivalent of the IFS) warned that every Dutch citizen stood to lose 1.000 euros (by 2030) as a direct consequence of a Brexit.
Now that Brexit has been decided, but article 50 will only be invoked in 2017, a long period of international uncertainty has started. In its “Autumn Estimate”, the same CPB has today (August 9) concluded that Brexit and its uncertainty will hit the Dutch economy and society hard, starting in 2016-7. And we have general elections in March of 2017.

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Post-Farage UKIP and Trump’s Republicans: Populists can derail themselves, too

 

The first seven months of 2016 have seen big, consensus-upsetting scores by populist parties across Europe.

The election in Italy of two women from Beppe Grillo’s “Five Star Movement” to become mayors of Rome and Turin (the present capital and the residence of Italy’s founding Savoy dynasty, respectively) in June; the success of Dutch populists (Wilders’ PVV and the weblog “GeenStijl”) and British populists (UKIP) at two big EU-related national referenda in April and June, and the breakthrough of Germany’s racist “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) in three German regional elections (biggest score: 24,3% in Saxony-Anhalt) in March, all were seen as portents of big electoral upsets, threatening established party-political balances of power.

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Pre-testing Party Drugs: concrete steps avoid concrete pills

In the latest British edition of The Economist (July 30th) , there is a report about a useful initiative in the field of (il)legal highs and party drugs like XTC (as we Dutch spell ecstacy). It appears that there is a non-profit organization called The Loop, with a professor Fiona Measham, criminologist at Durham University, amongst its co-directors; she is their spokesperson in the article.

Medical Drugs for Pharmacy Health Shop of MedicineThey’re this year starting to travel around local summer music festivals, offering festival-goers to test their party drugs before they consume them. The result at the “Secret Garden Party” near Cambridge were sobering: stuff sold as “MDMA crystal” was ordinary brown sugar, and hard grey pills were actually made from concrete, the building material. And where XTC really was XTC, some pills were five times as potent as others being tested.

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The Iraq Fiasco: British & Dutch Social Liberals apply their commitment to Rule of International Law

Ever since Cobden & Bright, British Liberals have been keen supporters of using peaceful means like Arbitration and International Law for the settlements of disputes. When Gladstone brought forward the Ottoman repression of the Bulgarians, criticized the imperialism of Disraeli’s Afghan and Zulu Wars, and launched “6 right principles”, he brought Human Rights and equality of nations into international politics. Many Liberals supported the League of Nations Union and its predecessors.

Dutch Liberalism, especially the Social-Liberal, cosmopolitan kind, has always cherished the International Law tradition of Grotius. Professor Van Vollenhoven in 1910 advocated a World Court …

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Ship-jumping Brexiteers should stay to clear the mess they created

Dutch EU Commissioner Timmermans: For me, the British still belong inside Europe

On the day Nigel Farage abandoned the UKIP ships captaincy, with the UK ship still not negotiating the EU harbour exit to go and “rule the waves” (so all Kippers hope), Dutch top politicians, and official spokesmen from both Dutch liberal parties (The LibDems-like Social Liberals of D66, and the Free Market & automobile-loving Liberals of the VVD) made pronouncements which in effect support what the British Liberal Democrats have said all along since the Brexit Referendum result became clear.

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Johnson and Gove, like Trump, believe in the magical power of the word

 

In a recent analysis  in the Washington Post of why Republican voters keep on supporting Trump and his “macho gone beserk”-rhetoric, the veteran American political analyst E.J. Dionne cited a classic book about Right-Wingers and their rhetoric, what they believe their phrases can accomplish.

The social scientists Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab observed in their classic book from 1970 “The Politics of Unreason/ Right Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970” that:

Right-wing extremists have always highlighted ‘the magical power of the word’ and the faith that just saying the right thing, believing the right thing, is the substance of victory and remedy.

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Official, authoritative Dutch government calculations: “Every Dutch citizen stand to lose 1000 euros through a Brexit”

 

The morning papers in the Netherlands and NOS (our BBC)  all reported last week on a report of the government’s Centraal Plan Bureau (CPB = Central Planning Office, authoritative since its start in the late 1940’s like your IFS; they seldom are far off the mark in their predictions). I base this piece on articles in De Volkskrant (our Guardian) and Financiele Dagblad (equivalent of the Financial Times) and the NOS news website. It makes for worrisome reading.

The immediate effect of a Brexit is, according to the report, that it will cost 1.2% of GDP by 2030, that is, 575 euro per Dutch citizen. Indirect consequences like loss of innovation because of lower trade can increase that by 65%, to 1000 euro each. The damage will be sector specific; the most seriously affected (around 5% loss) will be

  • the chemical sector (that is for example DSM, and our petrochemical sector near Rotterdam);
  • electronics (Philips, just now specializing in expensive medical technologies);
  • food processing (our emblematic dairy industry: Friesland Foods and our extensive chicken and pork breeding industry; in Brabant province there are more pigs than humans).
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Some consequences of Brexit that we haven’t considered enough

Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), has said many times that the ECB has scenarios prepared for any eventuality which might occur after a Brexit.

This week, at a financial summit in Italy, ECB executive member (he’s the Governor of the Bank of France, trained at ENA, France’s elite government luminaries school) Francois Villeroy de Galhau spelled out some more what Draghi meant: if a Brexit causes serious disruption in financial markets (and an overwhelming majority of experts predict just that), the ECB and EMU governments will do all they can to fend off and stop such disruption in its tracks. Mind you: that means EMU will dig in hard, without consideration towards non-members, not to mention people walking out of the EU in a huff. The UK will within days feel what “splendid isolation” from EMU does to the London City, even before the JP Morgan mass transfer of jobs has started. It is not for nothing that Draghi is insisting it would be wiser for Britain to remain in the EU.

Top executives like the CEO of Emirates Airlines, Tim Clark, who has to deal with exchange rates on a daily basis, predicts economic insecurity and a “free-falling Euro” all over Europe in case of a Brexit, which will affect air travel (at the start of the summer holiday season: scarcity of seats; price hikes for tourists). That’s what he told an IATA summit in Ireland on Friday. Such a steep lowering of the Euro will result in ECB hitting the brakes blindly: “Save the EMU/Euro first, and worry about ‘collateral damage’ later”.  No easing out of Europe gradually, like the Brexiteers are dreaming about.

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Dutch King in European Parliament: UK belongs inside the EU

In Dutch government and politics, it is a rare occasion indeed when the reigning monarch makes a clear political pronouncement. He only can do that with full political backing by the prime minister and his Cabinet, and that implies that the pronouncement reflects a very broad national consensus. Usually, speeches by the Dutch monarch contain diplomatic and political platitudes; when it gets more specific the Dutch nation sits up and takes notice.

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What next Mr. Gove? Martians flooding your A&E departments?

 

It is always useful to know what you’re talking about when invoking possible EU expansions in any debate about Europe and European membership.

  • The Dutch army and society were traumatized when poor UN organization and a British/French/American No Bombing deal forced our DutchBat soldiers to witness helplessly how a Serbian massacre got underway at Srebrenica in 1994. The Dutch have been taking extra attention of Balkan goings on ever since.
  • Inside the past year, Erdogan has first interned and then expelled (or: allowed to slip away) two critical Dutch journalists working from Turkey. The first was Mrs. Geerdink, an expert on Turkish-Kurdish relations working from Diarbakir (Turkish Kurdistan); the second was the Dutch & Turkish columnist Ebru Umar staying with her Turkish parents in a sea resort. The Dutch governments have been closely involved in all kinds of talks about Turkey joining the EU since the formal EU procedure for that was started around 2005; that is because like Germany, we have a substantial segment of Dutch citizens from Turkish descent (holding obligatory Turkish passports as well, and voting in Turkish elections).
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Some Dutch Remarks on English relations with the Continent

 

Just a couple of remarks as an indication of the Dutch perspective on English/British relations with the European continent.

First compare when the English were successful, and when not, in a struggle against France and French Hegemonism, and later against Nazism:

  • When the English kings (without Scottish support) tried to get the upper hand over weak French kings, you ended up with a 100 Years War, without succeeding in the end.
  • When the United Kingdom joined the Dutch Republic (from 1688 up to 1702 with a Orange “Stadhouder”, federal president, and from 1702 with the support of the “regenten” of Holland), their joint armies under Marlborough were stunningly successful in withstanding Louis XIV’s attempt to gain hegemony over Europe.
  • In the Battle of Britain, the RAF was already using French, Polish and Dutch squadrons (322 Spitfire Squadron) to combat the Luftwaffe’s bombers, fighters and rockets (V1, V2); without the Dutch, Poles and French, Churchills “so few” would have been even fewer. Without the Poles, there would have been no Enigma decoding at Bletchley Park.
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They can’t keep us social liberals down – congratulations from D66

Dear fellow Liberal Democrats,

My most sincere congratulations with your encouraging results at the local & regional elections last week.

A special “congratulations” to the batch of young Liberal Democrats, who became party members and activists after your/our meltdown in 2015, and got elected within the year. I enjoyed seeing one of them, Caroline Warner, making it to the BBC online liveblog of results with her tweet, after “waking up [being} a councillor” in Tandridge.

The BBC clearly was aware of this important aspect of this Lib Dem revival…

I attended your Autumn Conference last year, and was impressed with the quality of that new generation of “post-meltdown members” who had already been chosen as constituency representatives and mounted the rostrum delivering impressive, passionate speeches on all kinds of subjects. A promise for the future indeed!

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Put a Dutchman in the Environment Agency

 

The Dutch people has been commiserating with the British people being flooded, yet again, this past year.

Apart from the many times the North Sea inundated the Netherlands (the last time, 1953, inspired the Delta Works – a massive reconstruction and improvement program of our coastal defences, completed in the 1980s), we suffered massive river floodings in the 1990s from the Rhine (and its branch the Waal past the big city of Nijmegen) and Meuse rivers after heavy rainfall in the Ardennes, Alps and other highlands. In 1995 these forced a big evacuation in the heart of the Netherlands. These floodings were the reason for another massive, nationwide programme of restructuring and improving works, including taking account of Climate Change, under the Second Delta Plan commission and a national Delta Commissioner, who is an influential government advisor.

But being a Dutchman who pays attention to floodings elsewhere, I was struck in the past ten years by the frequency that people in Britain involved in, and victims of, those floods complained about two things:

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Dutch economists & ex-ministers: Brexit so disastrous that Dutch government should campaign against it

Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte discusses the UK’s negotiations over EU membership with David Cameron

Two prominent economists who also were Dutch ministers and still are influential “public thinkers” about macro-economic, budgetary and fiscal affairs, have come out in their weekly column for a strong Dutch government involvement in the campaign against Brexit.

write in their Sunday column (15th November 2015) in the biggest Dutch newspaper The Telegraaf, that the OECD may predict a sunny future for the Netherlands, but that uncertainties like the slump of China and others Emerging Economies (see: The Economist) can scupper those rosy predictions.

But a second danger looms on the horizon: a Brexit can also harm the economic and political interests of the Netherlands. Vermeend and Van der Ploeg point out that with a Brexit

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Opinion: The LibDems will bring consistency in an unstable British political landscape

A view from the Dutch Social Liberals (D66)

Before I dive into my analysis of the present British political instability, my commiserations with all the LibDem activists (& dogs), cadres, councillors and parliamentary candidates who got caught in the pincer of

  • Labour seeking revenge for their well-deserved ousting in 2010, and
  • the Tories repeating the betrayal of their coalition partners of the Electoral System referendum.

We in D66 got clobbered in the same way when we participated in our first government coalition (1973-’77; D66 was founded in 1966), but that was because we simultaneously attempted a realignment of Dutch progressive politics via a merger …

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The View from the Dutch Social Liberals: Lib Dem Phoenix rises above Tory Ashes!

“Men of Harleigh, ye whose action
Put to rout the Tory faction
In their ranks spread wild distraction
Vanquished all their bands.
(…)
Shoulder press to shoulder
Onwards march and bolder
Triumphs more we yet shall see
Before we get much older.
“Peace, Reform and Liberation”
Be our triune aspiration
Till we win them for the nation
And our land be free!”

That was the hymn I hummed all day on Friday when I heard the news from Eastleigh!

We, the Dutch Social-Liberals from D66, know that (in Dutch coalition government politics) “Regeren is halveren”: every time D66 joins a government coalition, we risk getting halved (or worse) in our proportional electoral system …

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