Thursday, June 08, 2006

‘It is ridiculous to keep the borders closed’

“ ‘Het is belachelijk de grenzen dicht te houden’ ” [‘It is ridiculous to keep the borders closed’]

Thijs Broer en Marcel ten Hooven, 17-18 Vrij Nederland, 10 juni 2006

In an interview with Bernard Wientjes, the chairman of the employers organization VNO-NCW (Verbond van Nederlandse Ondernemingen (VNO) en Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, The Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers), expressed concern at the current Dutch administration’s reluctance towards immigration. It is hurting business, and thereby also the traditional Dutch character of being an open and international trade partner.

“Openness has always been the strength of the Netherlands. That runs in our blood, already since the 17th Century. That is the reason why Dutch entrepreneurs are often very successful abroad: they have a feel for other cultures. That is the strength of this country, that makes us unique. For foreign companies is that openness one of the most important reasons to establish [themselves] here. That image is beginning to change now, and I am very concerned about that.”

He mentions how on a recent trade delegation to India many potential investors were stunned by the bureaucracy their employers have to undergo to come to the Netherlands. And even the fact that many further measures are being taken to restrict East Europeans from entering the job market after the current temporary freeze on freedom of movement of labour [one of the core foundations of the European Union] is lifted in 2007. What is the rationale behind this recalcitrance and fear of open borders?

“[the Cabinet] has forgotten that the future of the Netherlands is dependent on exactly our ability to think beyond the borders. In the meantime the integrationprobelm has long not been solved. There is still a big group of Netherlanders who let themselves be lead by the ‘underbelly feeling’ of [Pim] Fortuyn. Ik trust that Verdonk did not willingly and knowingly want to mobilise these forces. But these forces can easiliy be summoned."

He mentions that there is a lot of fear at the moment in the country, related to the obvious terrorist threats, watching the attacks in the US, London and Madrid, and the series of threatened and actual assassinations of prominent public figures. And this fear has been dealt with by turning against all things and ideas foreign, as manifested in nationalistic attempts to integrate and comb over all segments of population with a universal set of values, norms and culture, grounded on equality. Such intolerance is unacceptable:

“In a democracy you must in principle treat everyone equally. But with that idea of equally sometimes the individual comes under suppression. In the interest of the country, of culture, sometimes you must be able to make an exception.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s case is an obvious one in which an exception should be made. But there are many other cases, of isolated communities of immigrants or even asylum seekers, for which no exceptions are being considered. And how do you deal with the situation?

”We must rid ourselves of [withdrawnness] and the provincialism that is now dominating debate. Because that is especially damaging for the image of the Netherlands in the world. If we want to improve our social-economic position, we necessarily must restore our old tradition of openness, tolerance and international orientation.”

That’s all? Anything else?

“Participation is the key word […] A large part of the Netherlands is now of foreign origin. You can like it or not, but it is a fact. If you want to help this country progress, you must ensure that these people also get good chances, that they must also seize. In this also businesses have a responsibility, for example by organising internship positions and in-job training for school drop-outs”

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