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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Employees should have the right to be just very good in their job, without having to show further ambitions and they should get a better payment for it too.

My youngest son Roger is a 9-year old powerhouse at chess: he is extremely ambitious, a genuine fighter from the trenches of the game and always hungry for more training and more information about the noble game of chess. And perhaps most important: he somewhat lacks the power of self-relativization.

This capacity for self-relativization is a capacity which would make him a more easy human being to live with, but would probably hamper him in his possibilities to become a professional sportsman in chess. Although a world or even European championship in chess will probably not be achieveable for him, he is nevertheless definitely striving for it and he is very much willing to walk the extra mile for his goals regarding chess. No limits, no boundaries…

His older brother Edmond, a very adorable person who is perhaps somewhat softer and more empathic than his little brother, also likes to play chess and in his own right he is very good at it. However, in comparison with his younger brother his own achievements pale.  

As this is amateur sports and not real life in which both would have to live from their hobby, this is not a very big problem. “As long as they have fun while doing it”, is in our family (and in many other families) the creed guiding us in the way that we look at the sportive achievements of our children.

However, when it comes to common labour and especially the middle-class jobs for higher educated and trained personnel, it seems that this way of thinking is not viable anymore. Many companies in challenging fields of labour, like the financial and commercial services industry or the manufacturing industry and the government demand nothing less than absolutely first class achievements from their personnel: all day every day!

Job vacancy descriptions – even for the simplest jobs – nowadays show lines like:
  • Ample ambition to grow both as a worker and a person;
  • A genuine passion for their work;
  • An agile attitude, enabling applicants to adapt to constant change and to achieve continuous improvement;
  • No ‘nine to five mentality’, but a ‘getting the job done’ attitude: during working time and when the situation requires it beyond;
  • Ambitions for life long learning to stay ahead of the game;
  • To be up or be out; 

And to make things worse for the modern-day workers, there is always Damocles’ sword, represented by at one hand the still enormous influx of cheap labour from Eastern and Southern Europe or India and on the other hand the ubiquitously mounting automation and robotization of their daily work and jobs. These circumstances combined put their job and in fact their sheer future on the line.

If such workers are not good enough or cannot live with the pace of modern businesses, they are doomed to lose their job and sole source of income to either the cheaper workers from abroad or to the computers and robots of modern day life. This circumstance turns a normal daily job in a kind of top sports achievement with fierce competition, a lot of pressure and enormous challenges on a daily basis.

And as professional sports require a “killer” mentality to become the best in the game at the expense of the competition, it goes without saying that for every “winner” there are countless losers who simply aren’t good enough to fix the job and win the medals.

However, in normal jobs it is often much better when people cooperate intensively and when they trust and help each other fully in order to make the company as a whole benefit from the fruits of their labour. Where the topsports mentality leads to successes for a few persons, the rest feels victimized by it and loses confidence in their own abilities and in their mutual goals and dreams that drive the company as a whole. This could be devastating for the success of this company.

And there is more. Where the winners of the company – the executive board and the upper management levels of the company – celebrate their own achievements with extremely high and ever rising remunerations in a so-called remuneration race with other CEO’s and leading managers all around the globe, the salaries and wages of the normal workers remain at a very stable level. As a matter of fact, in many cases their annual payment rises are close to nought [when adjusted for inflation – EL].

For older workers (i.e. well above fifty) there is nowadays even the looming danger of ‘demotion’, in which they get an easier job (i.e. less requiring), but against a lower annual payment. It is not really a pretty prospect when you have three children in high school or at the university, when a substantial part of your paycheck may vanish in thin air, due to a lower remuneration.

The future for lower and middle class workers became more and more uncertain in general, as fixed jobs with lay off-protection became a luxury good, exclusively reserved for the higher echelons within the company. And former ‘lifetime’ jobs have been replaced for the uncertainty of an existence as either freelancer (i.e. ZZP’er in The Netherlands) or as a worker with only temporary contracts or zero hour contracts for a substantial number of  years in a row. The latter is now especially true for younger workers below their mid thirties, but also older workers, who were so unfortunate to lose their fixed job, have to deal with this situation more and more often.

And the labour unions – earlier strongholds of workers’ rights, fair remuneration and labour protection – are standing more and more offside in the labour negotiations as a consequence of the changing mentality among workers and employers. This is mainly caused by the union’s excessive focus on their ageing, 50+ member base and – on top of that – the changing labour contracts leaving less room for union membership. This led to a perfect catch 22-situation in which the youngsters didn’t feel represented by the unions anymore and as a consequence refused to become members of these labour unions.

You could say that the labour unions managed to squander their worker’s confidence and goodwill, as many younger workers now think that they don’t need them anymore and the unions are useless for their own labour situation. These workers are probably wrong, but it is quite understandable why they think so.

The waning popularity of the unions is exploited by the employers’ organizations, who seemingly take their chances to humiliate the unions during the (typical Dutch) general negotiations (i.e. ‘the polderoverleg’), in which the union’s and employers’ demands (including the government as large employer) for the coming years are negotiated.

The following snippets come from the Dutch newspaper Trouw:

The labour unions reacted furiously. That there were a lot of hurt feelings from the past, became clear in the reaction of FNV [i.e. largest Dutch labour union- EL] chairman Han Busker: “Now they do it again. First they continue with shifting all risks to their workers and making uncertain labour the standard modus operandi. After that the attack started against lay off-protection. And now they kick the can down the road with respect to the mutually made agreements from the Social Agreement (i.e. the Dutch society-wide general agreement between employers, workers and the government) of 2015. This is pure unwillingnesss. This is aiming for prolonged uncertainty”.

And CNV [second largest labour union - EL] chairman Maurice Limmen was also enraged: “Employers are busy with demolishing the polder. We had ironclad agreements with these employers that we would repair the unemployment benefit [for older workers – EL]. What are deals with employers worth now?! We had some concrete arrangements to start from. But now the employers are frustrating these deals. This is not how it works. Older employees and workers really deserve this security. When things continue like this, it makes no sense to continue the negotiations regarding the other urgent problems on the Dutch labour market.”

This news message is symptomatic for the waning influence of the labour unions and the abuse of this circumstance by the employer’s organizations, but also for the unhealthy focus of the labour unions on the older workers, as their almost exclusive grassroots. The younger workers feel not represented anymore by the labour unions, but by waving their union membership they make sure that they indeed are not represented by the labour unions anymore.  This is a very unhealthy situation.

Perhaps all these deteriorating circumstances form a good way to activate the top sports mentality and ‘killer approach’ among the workers, but in the end it will prove to be bad for the workers AND the companies themselves: I am actually quite certain about that.

The labour market as ‘survival of the fittest’ seems to be the favorite dream of many ambitious companies and management consultancy firms. The ‘World of LinkedIn, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, PWC and the Boston Consulting Group’ focuses solely on these “top sporters” and successful company sharks with skyhigh ambitions and no patience for less fortunate workers and in fact stimulates them in their “erratic” behaviour.

According to me, this leads to ubiquitous distrust and envy among workers and it rewards a ‘dog eat dog’ behaviour between people, who should in fact all be fighting for the same just cause, but often fail to do so, as they consider it not to be in their own interests.

I consider that counterproductive...

Not everybody is fit to be a ‘top sporter’ in his labour achievements and nobody should be forced to behave like one, unless it is his ultimate desire to become one. Perhaps in the end those companies are most successful that give their workers the security they need and the chance to be themselves and to improve themselves in a slow evolutionary way that feels natural and safe for them.

These are companies where doing the best you can is good enough, as long as you fit in the team and make the company as a whole better. No sports team can exist without the ‘water carriers’ who simply do their job well and require little attention and only the slightest compliment from their coaches.

And no company can either... For instance rowing on the Thames with only captains, helmsmen and lone rangers in the team and no ordinary rowers and teamplayers is no guarantee for success. To the contrary… And football teams with only stars and primadonna’s bring seldomly the success that their coaches and fans aim at.

I would advocate companies where good workers have the chance to excel in their jobs and just be good (or excellent) at it, without needing to have ambitions to reach higher and higher annually. When these workers want to grow, they should have all the chances, but if they don’t want to and they like their own job most, why should they always feel the obligation to grow?!

Even though that might seem counterproductive and even a catalyst for stagnation and (worse) decline of the company, it might be the contrary: happy and motivated workers will probably produce more and better products than unmotivated and scared workers, who constantly worry about their personal growth and their chances of being fired at the spot.

And there is more: please be so smart to pay workers for the increased productivity that they achieved in their hard hours of labour. In a country as The Netherlands, the wage development is nowhere near the productivity rise during the last fifteen years, as the following table shows. In this table I compared the general productivity increase in The Netherlands with the wage increase during the last 15 years.

Net wage development vs productivity growth 2001-2015
Data courtesy of Statline (powered by the
Central Bureau of Statistics:
Click to enlarge
When one does not take the inflation into consideration, he could think that the wages increased much more than the productivity in The Netherlands. However, when the inflation (i.e. based upon the consumer price index) is taken into consideration, the total net wage increase between 2001 and 2015 was little more than 2.5%, against a productivity increase of 15.5%. This shows the substantial void between what employees produce and for what they are paid nowadays.

Due to wage restraint and job flexibilization, the wages of lower and middle  class workers have virtually stood still during the last fifteen years, while their productivity and thus the profits of their employers grew steady, by in average 1% per year.

Therefore it is time to pay the workers their share of this productivity increase, instead of focusing on shareholder value alone or on new and more modern computer systems and even robots to totally replace these employees within a few years. This should be a reward for their loyalty and for their will to give the best of themselves on a daily basis.

Motivated workers can still work wonders in a company, while computers and robots are very complex and therefore are often extremely hard to implement in an existing working situation. One could say that computers are in fact not always the best solution, in spite of the current state of technology.

And those top sporters among your personnel?! They are always extremely hard to keep within your company and their loyalty lies often with the person that pays the highest paycheck. There is no guarantee that it always will be you and your company...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Does the Euro survive the ignorance and superficiality of the European populist politicians, but even more the moderate goverment leaders and politicians who increasingly follow in their footsteps?

Suddenly the odds for the survival of the European Union seem considerably higher in 2017 than during the catastrophic year 2016, in which the future for the European Union was very bleak indeed.

2016 was the year of the Syrian and African refugee crisis, in which the usual solidarity and good relations between the European countries came under fierce pressure. Many European countries, not lying in the front line of refugee arrivals like Spain, Greece and Italy do, refused to accept their fair share from the influx of refugees numbers. This left especially Italy and Greece in problems, as they were stuck with large numbers of desperate refugees, with nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.

It was also the year in which the authoritarian voices of Viktor Orbán (Prime Minister of Hungary) and Jarosław Kaczyński (leader Law and Justice Party of Poland) sounded more shrill than ever in their battle against the free press and other vital ingredients of a democratic structure. Already this behaviour led to steadily mounting animosity within the European Union

On top of that, 2016 was the year in which the Dutch referendum about the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement ended in a blatant loss for the pro-agreement government of Dutch PM Mark Rutte. This forced PM Rutte to kick the can down the road with respect to the Association Agreement and play a game of hide and seek with the people from the anti-agreement coalition.

These people demanded an immediate withdrawal from the whole agreement by The Netherlands – including the trade parts of it that were outside the scope of the Dutch government. This was a demand that PM Mark Rutte could never meet, without causing enormous commotion in Europe and everybody and their sister knew that.

And last, but not least, 2016 was the year of the British referendum about their membership of the European Union. A referendum, that had been dreaded and cursed in advance by most continental politicians and that left many British citizens and almost all European leaders in shock and awe, when the British population voted in majority in favour of a Brexit, thus making the British exit from the EU inevitable.

This referendum made an immediate end to the political career of British PM David Cameron – as I accurately predicted a few days before the referendum took place  and it showed that the Brexit camp did not even have the slighest hint of a plan, when they would indeed win the referendum. The ideological leader of the Brexit camp Nigel Farage (UKIP’s ) left the British ravage for others to clean up and PM Theresa May – who was in fact against the Brexit herself – was appointed as ‘volunteer’ to clean up the mess, which she did in a very decisive and even reckless way.

At these very moments it seemed that the European Union was ‘a dead man walking’. The union, of which the raison d’etre and usefulness had never been in doubt in the previous 50-odd years of its existence, came under heavy crossfire from the populist movements everywhere in Europe, as well as from the middle-of-the-road politicians. These moderate politicians closely followed in the populists' footsteps in order to not lose their own grassroots to them, leading to an ubiquitous movement in more populist directions.

Except from the influx of African and Middle-Eastern refugees for which nobody seemed to have compassion, solidarity and understanding anymore, the main targets of these relentless attacks against the European Union by both the right- and leftwing populists and the moderate rightwing politicians were the open borders (i.e. ‘Schengen’) and… the Euro.

The mantras of these politicians were: the borders must be closed again, to stop the dangerous influx of refugees, as this creates havoc in the open and rich societies of Europe.

And especially the euro was “the most dangerous and crazy experiment” in their views, as:
  • It started without a proper financial, economic and monetary union, which all are necessary as a foundation for a sound financial system;
  • There was generally a Europe of two speeds, with the “frugal, conscious and successful” countries in the North of Europe (according to politicians in a.o Germany and The Netherlands) and the “wasteful, inconsiderate and backwarded countries” in the South (according to the same politicians in these two countries);
  • Countries like Greece and Italy should never have been allowed in the Eurozone in the first place, as they were financially and economically unstable and they ‘had lied about their financial and economic situation’ by rigging their national statistics and national, financial reporting;

Summarizing, at the end of 2016 things seemed very dire for the European Union, with populism on the rise – also among moderate politicians – and the EU under general crossfire from right- and leftwing politicians, for the alleged mistakes that it made in past and present.

And with general elections soon to be held in The Netherlands (Party for Freedom (PVV) – Geert Wilders), France (Front National – Marine le Pen) and Germany (AfD – Frauke Petri), it seemed that the situation could only turn more awkward for the EU.

But look now in the first half of 2017: even though Geert Wilders of PVV has gained five more seats in parliament, it wasn’t by far the landslide increase in seats that everybody thought he would gain, according to earlier polls.

And in France, the social-democrat candidate for the presidency Emmanuel Macron seems a trustworthy and undisputed opponent for the anti-EU stance of Marine Le Pen.

Instead of protests against the European Union and the Euro, there is a growing number of protests in favour of the EU and the Euro, as many people now consider what they have and how valuable it is.

On top of that, everybody can nowadays see the ‘ultralarge-scale sociological experiment’ that is the Brexit; everybody can see how the British government is struggling to bring it to a good end. And how clueless the victors of this referendum were, when they had won it.

Perhaps is 2017 indeed the year of the turning point in populism. As many people have seen that he European populists are masters in asking the right (or wrong) questions, but utterly fail in addressing these questions in a structural, legal and acceptable way. And populists are also extremely poor in binding a nation together in a way that everybody can have a decent life in peace and prosperity.

In order for populists to be successful, there must be groups available to suffer for them: the scapegoats, on which anything being wrong in society can be blamed. This blame game is only successful when everybody (i.e. nearly the total lower and middle classes) is suffering from difficult economic circumstances, which can be blamed on these groups under fire. 

Now that the economy is reluctantly, but steadily improving and joblessness is finally dropping, the feeding ground for populism is slowly disappearing. So perhaps, the worst in populism might indeed lie behind us. But that does not automatically apply to the Euro currency yet.

Due to the Eurozone’s inadequate strategy of kicking the can down the road with regards to especially Greece and Italy – temporary taking away the effects of the euro crisis without really solving the causes for the euro crisis itself – the confidence in the Euro, as the currency of choice for the European Union, is still at a low.

The debt level of Greece is nearly infinite until this day and the country is still in a very dire situation, without easy solutions. Instead of taking away the debt itself through a (partial) bail-out, the debt is rolled over to the future with yet again new loans, that will be as always very hard to pay back. In this way, the dire situation can last forever, as the tax collection in Greece, as well as the economic outlook for the country is still close to a disaster. And so the debt level of Greece remains a huge millstone for the future of the Eurozone and real solutions are still very hard to find.

And also Italy has still many rivers to cross before the country will be totally healthy, from a economic and financial point of view. In Italy there is always the difficult North-South situation with the rich and successful Northern provinces, against the poor and backwarded Southern provinces (‘according to many Italians, Africa starts directly under Rome’). On top of that there is the top-heavy political system and the still widespread corruption and extremely powerful organized crime that makes any change for the better very difficult in Italy.

Even though the economic situation in Spain and Portugal, and also in France, is slowly improving, the challenges ahead for the Euro as a unity currency are still enormous.

What does not help at such a moment is when the chairman of the Eurogroup, the rectilinear, ‘Calvinist’ swashbuckler Jeroen Dijsselbloem, states in an interview that the Southern European countries ‘have spent their emergency help money on "drinks and women" and now come begging for more’. This was not only a blatant lie, but leads to enormous anger in the Southern European countries, while diminishing the confidence in the Euro in the Northern European countries.

As this is the biggest danger for the Euro as a unity currency: the ignorance and superficiality (and sometimes sheer stupidity) of not only the populist politicians, but also the formerly moderate politicians, who all seem to do their best to weaken the position of the Euro, instead of reinforcing it.

It is not surprising that every now and then the same story comes around again that ‘Greece and Italy should be kicked out of the Eurozone’. This story is especially popular among more moderate politicians, as the populist politicians state that they and their countries want to leave the Eurozone themselves and return to their classic currencies.

The former, as well as the latter isn’t going to happen… at all! Forget it! Don’t even think about it!

The operation to reintroduce the old currencies in (some of) the Eurozone countries is the same, extremely expensive operation as the introduction of the euro between 1995 and 2002. And it will be equally difficult. 

One could think about all kinds of ‘paper drachmes’ and ‘paper lires’ for Greece and Italy, but the bottomline is that countries leaving the Eurozone would lead to economic havoc and ubiquitous uncertainty everywhere in Europe, with the extremely entangled financial and economic system that we have nowadays. 

There is absolutely no way to prevent that from happening!

We – the united people of Europe, represented by our own elected politicians and representatives – chose to introduce the Euro. Whether we like it or not, the Euro is here to stay and will never go away anymore, unless an economic cataclysm happens, like a war or a widespread and long depression in Europe.

You might ask: "Is the euro flawed?!" Yes, it undoubtedly is!

"Should the euro perhaps have started under different conditions?!" Perhaps, yes!

"But is there a better alternative available?!" No, there is not, in my humble opinion!

Every politician in Europe should accept that the Euro is here to stay and that replacing it for another currency is a nearly impossible challenge and - on top of that - a very dangerous one, from a political and economical point of view.

What politicians should do in order to save the Euro, is just stopping with weakening its position to begin with and instead looking for ways to improve it in its current, flawed, but yet unchangeable form. 

Just like the partners in an average marriage, the Euro is far from perfect, but just like the same partners, the Eurozone countries should try to make the best of it. That is what the European leaders should also try to do: make the best of it and lead it through the current, difficult crisis; hopefully towards a better and more prosperous future. That is in the interest of every European!

And of course the politicians should try to reinforce its foundations, by slowly, but surely working towards the monetary, financial and economic union as the best way to make the euro a more balanced currency. 

However, at this moment it will still be very hard to achieve that, under the still quite anti-EU stance of large groups in European society. Nevertheless, the leading politicians should hold on to this paramount strategy, as the best warranty for a more successful future. 

Like Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music sang in the Seventies: “Let’s stick together!”

Monday, 3 April 2017

Gibraltar and the domestic gains of old-fashioned, post-colonial sabre-rattling against a ‘vicious enemy’

I visited Gibraltar once in my life – in 1996 – during a fortnightly group roundtrip in a minivan in Spain. This roundtrip led us through the magnificent Spanish province of Andalucia and one day we visited indeed the most British part of Europe, located east of Dover.

I remember the beautiful view on the top of the mountain, the funny and energetic berber monkeys, the wonderful weather and the horrible British food – Shepherd’s Pie with overcooked carrots and greenpeas drowned in gravy –  which I suspect until this day gave our whole group a food poisoning that lasted for a minimum of two days for the lucky ones and among others much, much longer. But, to be frank, it could also be a fish dish in Spain itself, that caused our group’s discomfort.

And of course I remember how utterly British Gibraltar was, as a kind of open air museum crafted after the picture-perfect, proverbially British city that didn’t exist in reality. With red telephone booths, pubs, souvenir shops, restaurants featuring British ‘cuisine’ and other typically British paraphernalia for both tourists and anglophiles.

Now, twenty-odd years later, the same peninsula of Gibraltar is the subject of heavy, vocal sabre-rattling by both the Spaniards and the Britons.

Hardly the British government and diplomats delivered their Article 50-letter, effectuating the Brexit as a process, or the Spanish government smuggled a Gibraltar paragraph in the EU draft agreement that was the starting point for the orderly Brexit negotiations. The New York Times described the matter in the following snippets:

After it became clear Friday that the union’s remaining leaders might give Spain an effective veto over whether any deal applied to Gibraltar — a British territory long the subject of an acrimonious sovereignty dispute between London and Madrid — lawmakers in Britain and Gibraltar responded with defiance and concern.

Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, made his anger clear on Friday, calling Spain’s tactic “disgraceful” and “predatory.” He said in a statement about the insertion of language on Gibraltar into the European Union’s draft guidelines for negotiating a British withdrawal: “This unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable discriminatory proposed singling out of Gibraltar and its people was the predictable machination of Spain.”

In Gibraltar, which has a clear frontier with Spain, the fear is different. It is that once Britain is outside the European Union, which guarantees free movement of people, Spain could demand concessions or make the border with Gibraltar harder to cross, effectively isolating the territory.

Although the mounting emotions about Gibraltar are perhaps understandable with both the Spain and British views and background in mind, the Spanish action – to make the negotiations with the UK an effective hostage of the future British plans for Gibraltar – was not so sensible from a political point of view. Especially as Spain itself has two exclaves – Ceuta and Melilla – on Moroccon soil; two exclaves which Spain is not likely to abandon soon.

On top of that, the situation around Gibraltar never stopped both the Spaniards and Britons from actively working together for 40 years within the European Union and its predecessors. And it also never stopped the British elderly from spending their finest years in Spanish holiday resorts and second houses, at the same time that their youngsters spent their holiday money in Spanish discotheques and pubs, while drinking (much too much) Spanish beer, wine and cocktails.

So the question is valid “what the fuzz is all about”?!

And while the Spanish action was already quite erratic to these eyes, the British reaction – especially represented by former minister and current Tory official Lord Michael Howard, as well as a few warmongering British newspapers – was straightforwardly bananas, as the following snippets from the Guardian show:

Theresa May would be prepared to go to war to protect Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher once did for the Falklands, former Conservative leader Michael Howard has suggested, in comments that were immediately criticised as inflammatory.

Lord Howard’s suggestion that the prime minister would be ready to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor 35 years ago came alongside a government pledge to protect the sovereignty of Britain’s overseas territory.

Downing Street said May had called Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, on Sunday morning to say the UK remained “steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy”.

Sir Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, also used robust language. “We’re going to look after Gibraltar. Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar ,” he said.

The highly provocative picture of a British aircraft 
carrier at full steam in the British Telegraph newspaper
Picture courtesy of
Click to enlarge
And the Telegraph put things in overdrive, with a picture of a British war vessel and the following bragging lines about the British military strenght in a possible war with Spain:

Britain's Royal Navy is substantially weaker than it was during the Falklands War but could still "cripple" Spain, military experts have said.

Rear-Adml Chris Parry, a former director of operational capability at the Ministry of Defence,  has called on the Government to "appropriately" invest in Britain's military capacity if it wants to "talk big" over Gibraltar.

It came as a former Tory leader suggested that Theresa May would go to war with Spain to defend the sovereignty of the peninsular just as Margaret Thatcher did with the Falklands.

Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom quickly downplayed the situation in the media, reputedly by “laughing off the Spain war talk”, but the tone was definitely set.

As this incident shows, a toxic combination of aggrieved pride and an inferiority complex, as well as unhealthy nationalism and an uncertain future under influence of arguably the biggest and most uncertain, economic step in recent British history, could quickly lead to mounting anger and dangerous envy among the British population. And this by itself could lead to irreversible steps on the path towards war: hence the Falklands war, with its massive bloodshed and skyrocketing emotions about a few dry and almost deserted islands in the South Atlantic Ocean.

By focusing on a mutual enemy – Spain in this case – the British officials can distract the attention from the mounting political and economic uncertainty and the quite unfavourable outlook, emerging from the inconsiderate, to these eyes even reckless Brexit that the United Kingdom entered into.

The promise of a war against a ‘vicious enemy’, who threatens a country’s social, economic and political interests, is a catalyst for exploding nationalism and national pride. It will probably lead to a population that stands behind the government as one man, more than willing to chew through a dozen economic, sour apples on behalf of the greater good and the national interests being at stake. That is the reason that I am not absolutely sure that the situation between the United Kingdom and Spain will not escalate further, before coming to a timely end (or not).

Is the current British escalation strategy a dangerous strategy? It is very dangerous!
Is it effective? Oh yes, it is very effective for domestic purposes, as it overcomes political differences within the population and leads to ‘one people united against the enemy’!
And might the British government – perhaps with Lord Howard as a straw man – have deliberately (ab)used this Gibraltar crisis as a powerful weapon of government mass deception and nationalist demagoguery?! 

Well, to answer that question I gladly turn to what Sir Francis Urquhart, the main political vilain from the (far superior) British ‘House of Cards’, would have stated in this situation: “You might very well think that! I could not possibly comment!” 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The European Union is 60 years old today. Is that a reason for a party? Or is the music for its planned funeral service simply playing too loud at this moment?!

Today the European Union  established in 1993 as a much more interconnected successor, upon its predecessors the European Community and earlier the European Economic Community – became alltogether 60 years old.

It is an understatement to state that this is a historical moment in time indeed. 

This union of European countries started so modestly 66 years ago (1951), with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community – founded by West-Germany, Italy, France and the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). However, after the official formation of the EEC on 25 March 1957, the Union grew slowly, but surely into a pan-European powerhouse of 28 countries: the largest economic block in the world. 

That one of these countries – The United Kingdom  has decided to leave the Union within a few years, based upon its own motives and emotions, does not diminish the enormous success of the EU after 60 years. One can hardly overstate the enormous influence of the EU and its predecessors on the initially empoverished, shell-shocked and war-torn Europe, that was still heavily coping with the consequences of the Second World War and the formation of the Eastern Block and the Warsaw Pact afterwards.

Instead of the allied countries taking revenge upon the Germans (i.e. the West-Germans), like had happened at the end of the Great War when the victors of the war penalized Germany with vast compensations that the Germans were unable to pay, the Germans were offered a helping hand to rebuild their country. 

And in return the Germans took the whole Western Europe by the hand on the road to economic success and prosperity. The formation of the ECSC and later the EEC helped to weave the West-Germans into a comforting cocoon of economic cooperation, longlasting peace and deepening friendship with countries like France, Italy, Spain and – to a lesser degree – the United Kingdom. 

All involved countries understood that the next World War could very well be the last one for the human race and a stable Europe would tremendously help to prevent this from happening. This was, is and always will be the main raison d'etre for the sheer existence of the European Union, whatever else 'emotionless, technocrat free market addicts' tell you.

The West-Germans were at last offered the possibility to reunite their country again with East-Germany in the early Nineties, after this country had abolished socialism and Russia (in fact the Soviet Union) gave its blessing. 

Then on many occasions – the emerging Germany acted as a ‘postillion d’amour’ between the Western European countries and the former Eastern Block, that had to cope with the sudden and overwhelming end of the socialist era in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And Germany, aware of its difficult past and special responsibility, played this extremely important role with confidence and dedication.

In the Nineties, the Schengen zone with its open borders and its virtually passport-free traveling made the cooperation and friendship between the European countries even more palpable for the people of Europe. Consequently, it seemed no less than logical that all Eastern European countries tried to participate in the European Union, even though the annoyed protests of Russia – who saw their sphere of influence in Eastern Europe crumble and on top of that thought of the NATO and the EU as two birds of the same feather – became louder and more violent over the years.

And finally the introduction of the cash Euro in 2002 became the Magnum Opus of this unprecedent bond between independent countries and the success story that it had become for almost all participants. Few people doubted at the time that the EU would grow into an ever-closer Union, akin but not equal to the United States.

At least, that was until in 2005 the intented Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe crashed and burned, due to the popular rejections of a.o. France and The Netherlands via national referendums (quote from Wikipedia:

The Treaty was signed on 29 October 2004 by representatives of the then 25 member states of the European Union. It was later ratified by 18 member states, which included referendums endorsing it in Spain and Luxembourg. However the rejection of the document by French and Dutch voters in May and June 2005 brought the ratification process to an end.

Following a period of reflection, the Treaty of Lisbon was created to )the Constitutional Treaty. This contained many of the changes that were originally placed in the Constitutional Treaty but was formulated as amendments to the existing treaties. Signed on 13 December 2007, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009.

This rejection sent shockwaves through the European institutes (European Council, European Commission and European Parliament) and left the leading politicians in shock and awe, totally flabbergasted by the unimaginable event that had happened.

This event in 2005 was an unmistakable signal that the feelings of the European people towards the progress of the European Union were shifting considerably. And even though the EU was bonded closer together via the (slightly diluted) Treaty of Lisbon that replaced the European Constitution, it felt never the same anymore as before. More and more, a significant part of the European people started to see the EU as a faceless and hardly democratic monstrosity, that was moving in a direction they didn’t like.

Also people were increasingly worried about the structural stability of the Euro, in the light of participating countries like Greece and Italy, that did not share the North-European, “Calvinist” ideas about fiscal frugality and sensible government policies.

And then came what turned out to be “the perfect storm” for the European Union: the American mortgage crisis (i.e. Lehman Brothers), which evolved into the European Credit Crisis: a crisis that started at the end of 2008 and lasted in fact until today, as many European countries are still very much struggling with the effects of this devastating crisis.

Especially Greece and to a lesser degree Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal (i.e. the so-called PIIGS countries) were hit mid-ship by the sudden, ubiquitous loss of confidence in the financial world and the urgent need for the European governments to first save their large banks and afterwards themselves, as the value of their sovereign bonds started dropping like a rock in a ravine.

Massive debt waves, massive tax increases, massive (youth) unemployment of almost 50%(!) in Spain and Greece and massive loss of confidence among the grassroots anywhere in Europe were the very palpable results of this crisis. 
And then there was a European Union that was indecisive and utterly divided about anything; this nearly sealed the economic doom for the weakest countries Greece and Italy. 

Instead of taking decisive actions and firm decisions, the European Council started to muddle through the crisis in a tortoise-like velocity: from one endless executive meeting to another executive meeting and with only small (i.e. almost Pyrrhic) results to celebrate, which were nevertheless celebrated as enormous political victories by the leading national politicians, until nobody believed them anymore.

The modus operandi on press conferences and in their own political arenas of the leading national politicians in Europe increasingly became: “European successes are our own successes and European failures are to blame on the nameless and faceless bureaucrats within the EU”. Especially the European Commission became the perfect bureaucrat “patsy” for everything being wrong in Europe.

And now the EU has become sixty years old; in exactly the same week that British Prime Minister Theresa May will deliver her Article 50 bidding, which will inevitably lead to a “Brexit” of the United Kingdom… How symbolic!

On top of that, while the populist party PVV (i.e. Party for Freedom) in The Netherlands has increased its number of seats in Dutch parliament, but not at all with the landslide victory that populists hoped for and others feared, the French could still choose for the populist path of Marine Le Pen’s Front National: a path that would definitely set the country up for a Frexit from the EU.

And Germany has its own populist problems to cope with, with the Alternative für Deutschland of Frauke Petry as a dark horse in the coming elections for the Bundeskanzler position. A party, which is also adamantly against the European Union as we know it.

Undeniably the “elephant in the room” is the ongoing refugee crisis, emerging from the Arab Spring turning into an unpleasantly chilling winter, with countless deaths in countries like Libya and Syria, as well as the emergence of new, extremely dangerous Arab terrorist groups, like IS (Islamic State).

Especially the massive influx of refugees has turned into a fission fungus within the European Union, as ‘everybody wants to help the refugees safely land and live in another country than his own’.

Greece and Italy are stuck with tens of thousands of refugees that have nowhere to go, as other European countries “drag their feet” in helping them and rather look the other way, by erecting large walls, fences and new borders to stop refugees from entering their OWN country. "Solidarity is very good, as long as it does not cost us anything!"

Turkey, the increasingly dictatorially led country at the brink of Europe and the Arab world, suddenly became the hero of Europe in 2016, when it was lured into a lucrative deal to host massive amounts of refugees from Syria, in exchange for vast payments of aid money. What Turkey did with those refugees? We didn’t want to know... at all! 

"Child labour? Dehumanizing lving circumstances for refugees? That is bad..., that is very bad... Oh dear..., how sad..., never mind!"

With the economic crisis (i.e. now the enduring Greek and Italian Euro crisis), the refugee crisis and the populist crisis in Europe – leading to the Brexit and perhaps a Frexit – as a complex of hardly dissolvable crises, it is unclear whether we should celebrate the European birthday or mourn its upcoming funeral. It seems that the funeral music is already playing loudly in the wake of its inevitable demise.

Will the EU survive a Frexit? Or the ongoing refugee crisis? Can it deal with the increasingly hostile aspirations of Turkey, China and Russia… and even the Trump-led United States? Will the unwilling Eastern European countries cause an implosion of the Union? Will it last for another five years? Or will it fall apart with a massive bang that sets the whole world in flames?!

It is a very awkward situation on the EU’s sixtieth birthday… and one that might not be dissolvable very easy.

But look at things from the other side: with the USA, Russia, Turkey and China as increasingly aggressive and hostile countries with their own economic agenda that is diametrically different from that of the EU, there is every reason to be thankful for the sheer existence of the EU.

In spite of the fact that the EU is not so democratic, so transparant, so well-led and so decisive as everybody hoped and prayed for, it is still a formidable economic block without a match anywhere else in the world. 

And under the wings of the EU, its member-states could build up economic prosperity, safety and justice for all its citizens, while corruption and nepotism were mostly taken down under the ever watchful eyes of the European Commission and its vast staff of civil servants.

On top of that: the EU has proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that it has mastered the art of muddling through the crisis like no-one else before. Already in the early days of 2011, pundits saw the end of the Euro coming for Greece and Ireland, but this end actually never happened. “Ireland?” you probably say now: “Did they ever have a euro problem?! I totally forgot about that!”.

The EU always managed to find the smallest loophole in order to escape from the most acute existential crises and to muddle through the endlessly continuing economic crisis even further, with all EU members aboard and intact.

And even though Greece is still in big trouble, it is very much a member of the Euro-zone and the signals that the country is going to leave it, became hardly stronger than in those early days of the euro crisis. 

And last, but not least: there isn't a crisis so big that the European Council, Parliament and Commission can't solve it (or postpone it) more or less, with endless meetings and seemingly pointless conclusions. That seems an utter weakness, but could really be a strength in disguise of the EU.

So, let us celebrate this beautiful day of 60 years Europe, in all its imperfections and knowing there is still a helluva lot of work to do. And let us not forget, that without the EU the chances for this longlasting peace and prosperity in Europe, would have been much, much dimmer.

And to end with a bombshell: let us watch how the United Kingdom will manage itself outside the protective wings of the EU, on its solo mission to greener pastures and a brighter future. It will be one of the biggest sociological experiments in human history, of which the outcome is very much uncertain!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Will 2017 be the year that the new strong men of Europe, Russia, Turkey and the United States finally shake off the remains of their “veil of civilization”?

The cocktail consisting of the enduring, global economic crisis and the societal unrest that it causes, in combination with the soaring wave of nationalism hitting the globe since a decade and the mounting, almost ubiquitous need for ‘strong, decisive politicians’ is an extremely poisonous one.

Next to the ‘usual suspects’ consisting of whole and half dictators in the Middle-East, the Far East and in the former Soviet Union (i.e. Russia itself, according to many, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Chechnya to name a few), this cocktail yielded a bunch of authoritarian leaders within the EU itself. 

People such as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, who is an autocratic leader and a  declared opponent of the free press. And in Poland the shadow-leader of the country, Jaroslaw Kaczynski of the PiS (i.e. Law and Justice party), who made the country turn into an extremely conservative direction, in which minorities come more and more under jeopardy. These are leaders that couple a undeniable amount of xenophobia and populism with self-reverance and an allergy for (inter)national criticism.

On top of that, there is the Brexit in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Theresa May has been morphing from a initially EU-friendly and moderately conservative politician into the terminator-in-chief of the British EU membership: at any price and cost and in the toughest variety possible. And this Brexit itself might be followed by a split off of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK, as they see more future for themselves as independent countries within the EU than within the UK. 

This might cause yet another political implosion within the European continent, after the unfortunately events in the Balkan countries (i.e. former Yugoslavia) and the quest for independence of Catalunya in Spain.

And last, but not least, this poisonous cocktail yielded of course Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. A president, whose seemingly erratic and sometimes straight-away racist, undemocratic and xenophobe presidency is causing more and more commotion at home and abroad – this even includes the Kremlin, where ‘dictator-ish’ Russian President Vladimir Putin is scratching himself behind his ears, whether he did not get much more than where he bargained for, with this rogue 'leader of the free world'.

Trump is adamantly against the to his eyes “hostile mainstream press and media”, who he started to shut out from the White House press briefings, and by his appointment of ex-Breitbart editor-in-chief Steve Bannon – an extremist-right wing  swashbuckler and prominent producer of fake news – as a member of the National Security Council, he created a formerly unheard of precedent regarding the American security situation. 

Even among the GOP senators and congressmen, who genuinely hate the Democrats’ guts, the clamor about this loose cannon Trump is getting louder and louder.

But that’s not all…

The Netherlands, Germany and France are on the brink of national elections in which the question is not so much whether their populist politicians Geert Wilders (Party for Freedom), Frauke Petri (Alternative für Deutschland) and Marine Le Pen (Front National) will do well, but HOW well they will do and what their (devastating) influence on national politics and the European Union will be.

And the only thing that the existing, moderate parties in these countries can seemingly do is adjust their visions and points-of-view to their populist counterparts, in order to not lose all their grassroots to these more extremist views, that seem to become more and more in vogue in these countries. 
The whole situation is akin to a pressure cooker with the safety valve being stuck.

The latest event in this range of ubiquitous societal tensions within the Western societies and the mounting global acrimony is the diplomatic war between Turkey at one hand and Germany and The Netherlands at the other.

Riding on the wave of the Turkish nationalist-religious outbursts in Turkey, that soared after the failed coup d'etat, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has organized a national referendum in order to change the Turkish constitution. 

This change is planned to give President Erdoğan nearly absolute power as president and to prolong his reign well into the Twenties of this century, when he turns 75. In order to secure his nearly certain victory in the referendum, Erdoğan does not only mobilize his domestic grassroots, but also the vast amounts of Turkish citizens in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands.

Initially Erdoğan planned to administer a speech himself in these countries, but he very reluctantly withdrew these plans, only to send his Minister of Foreign Affairs instead to do this job. This led to a strong reaction of disapprovement among the leadership of The Netherlands and Germany, who remembered all too well the mounting tensions within their Turkish community shortly after the failed coup d’etat in The Netherlands, allegedly organized by the grassroots of religious leader-in-exile Fetullah Gülen.

Especially in The Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte – under fierce pressure of his most feared opponent Geert Wilders (Party for Freedom) – felt the urgent need to stop this Turkish hunt for favourable referendum votes on Dutch soil at all cost, in an attempt to show that “in his country he is the boss and not Recep Erdoğan, for crying out loud”.

So when Mark Rutte learned that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stepped on a plane to keep his speech in The Netherlands in spite of the urgent request to not do so, he took the drastical step to personally withdraw the landing rights of this Turkish airplane, thus effectively stopping the Foreign Ministers of landing at Dutch shores. Whether this hardly precedented step by the Dutch Prime Minister was legal and appropriate in this situation did not matter too much, in this international match of diplomatic sharpshooting.

The Turkish goverment reacted to this step as being bitten by a snake: both Erdoğan and Cavusoglu called the Dutch government “a bunch of fascists and nazi remains” and warned that this step would have fierce consequences for The Netherlands… both for Dutch diplomats and the Dutch tourists, who just cautiously started to return to the Turkish beaches and all-inclusive hotels as a summer holiday destination.

And this was not the end of it: not even close. Turkey sent their female Minister of Family Affairs Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya by car(!) from Germany on a mission to The Netherlands, to show that President Recep Erdoğan would bend for nobody in his struggle for a favourable referendum outcome. 

“Who the hell thought this clown Mark Rutte of this teeny-weeny country at the North Sea that he was, that he tried to stop the undisputed leader of the most powerful country in the Middle East?! Captain America? Superman? Get out of my way, you darn SOB!” That were probably Erdoğan most intimate thoughts, I presume.

But PM Rutte did not plan to give in to this Turkish attempt to brutally overpower the desires of the Dutch government by stealth. He sent a police force to the Turkish consulate, where they caught the escort of the Turkish Minister before she could give her speech to the large numbers of Dutch-Turkish citizens who all wanted to hear it. The Turkish minister was expelled as ‘an unwanted visitor’ of The Netherlands and she was escorted to the German border, whereafter she soon returned to Turkey.

The Turkish outrage was now complete and President Erdoğan warned the Dutch government that he would take “strong countermeasures against this outrageous treatment of the Turkish political officials”.

The fact that this political situation between Turkey and The Netherlands got out of hand so quickly and in this formerly unheard of manner – irrespective of with whom you sympathize in this very awkward political situation – shows how messed up the current political conundrum in the world has become.

Turkish President Erdoğan feels so powerful and mighty at his hometurf and he sees his own leadership for Turkey as so righteous and “God-given” that he thinks he can brutally overpower the strong and crystal-clear desires of the Dutch and German government, by sending his ministers in spite of the strongest demands to do not so.

And PM Mark Rutte of The Netherlands feels so weak in the wake of the elections for the new Dutch cabinet – in which he hopes to become PM for the third time in a row in spite of the mounting populism – that he took the risk of breaching Dutch constitutional laws (i.e. of free speech and free association) and causing an international incident with Turkey, in order to make his point clear.

Whatever the outcome of this peculiar international incident might be, it makes very clear once more to these eyes that the boundaries of international diplomacy are about to be stretched substantially in 2017 and that the world is not becoming more safe in the process.

Irrespective of whether the populists might eventually win or lose in Germany, France and The Netherlands and how these European countries might be governed in the aftermath of the general elections, 2017 could become the year that the strong men of Europe, Russia, Turkey and the United States finally take off the remains of their “veil of civilization”! And that is a very worrisome prospect for our own safety and that of our children and loved ones.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

In which country The Netherlands do I live?!

“Can you tell me where my country lies”
Said the Unifaun to this true love’s eyes

We live in confusing times, that is without a doubt...

Times in which feelings and emotions suddenly come to the surface that we thought to have "pushed under the rug" for eternity, after the first half of last century.

Times in which fear for other people, other countries and other religious groups seems to beat our feelings of compassion, cooperation, friendliness and hospitality.

And times in which some people – mostly politicians and influential opinionists with their own hidden agendas – shamelessly exploit our darkest fears for their own benefit and ‘claim to fame’. People, whose only achievement is seemingly to have broken down things, that better people than they built up for them before them, with their own blood, sweat and tears.

And now, I am confused in which country The Netherlands I live?!

Do I live in The Netherlands of LinkedIn and the 'highlighted' tweets?

A country in which 'passionate and meticulous freelancers' and 'independent, selfstarting teamplayers' achieve miracles on a daily basis and the impossible once per week?!

A country in which ICT, robotization, agile/scrum, outsourcing/offshoring and blockchain technology lead to a technological Utopia with interesting work for everybody, in which there is only room for ‘shiny, happy and successful people’ without any doubts and fears.

A country in which failure, uncertainty, temporary lack of self-confidence and a realistic view upon one's own weaknesses are fatal flaws, as they don't fit in the image of the shiny, happy and successful people.

A country in which no problems, but only challenges exist; ready to be conquered by the shiny, happy and successful people

And a country in which (excess) consumption and a life full of traveling in style, extravagant luxury, food from Michelin chefs and other tinsel are the only things that count.

Do I live in The Netherlands of the mainstream politicians?

A country were every hard-working man and family is promised €1000 in cash from the Prime Minister’s liberal-conservative VVD party, until the PM is re-elected! Then nobody from his party talks about this €1000 anymore.

A country in which the same Prime Minister shamelessly promises €2 billion extra money for extra jobs and large improvements in homes for the elderly, until he is re-elected. Extra jobs and improvements that must mitigate the years-long negligence regarding these homes, that the same Prime Minister allowed. After his re-election, everybody from his party will suffer from spontaneous, but lasting micro-amnesia regarding this very topic.

A country in which the vice-PM from the Labour Party promises even more money on behalf of care for elderly people, until hé is elected as PM. Then everybody from his party will complain that this very promise turned out to be an impossible proposal to negotiate upon with their counterparts in the new government.

A country in which one party fears the ubiquitous climate change and promises to change the country in one big greenzone, while another party promises unlimited tarmac for every car-addicted person to drive upon, with the highest possible speeds.

Do I live in The Netherlands of the populist parties?

A country 'allegedly' being victimized by nameless, yet invincible herds from the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, who are going to take away our money, our jobs, our pensions and private wealth, our women, our own religion and our freedom of speech and freedom of religion and replace all those for the eternal darkness of new religious middle ages. And perhaps they are going to take away our lives too!

And a country, in which the remaining debris and the last remains of our own free will and freedom allegedly are annihilated by 'the faceless herds from Brussels', who want to assimilate everybody into nameless and unresisting monsters, akin to the Borg in the Startrek series.

A country, in which the populists are the only ones to understand and express the real ‘vox populis’, while ignoring all the voices from the people that disagree with them for various reasons, as “these are not the real voices of the real Dutch people”, but only ‘fake persons’ that should move out of their way.

Do I perhaps live in The Netherlands of the captains of Industry? (source: Financieel Dagblad)

A country in which ‘the captains of industry’ want to starve the beast of populism, by offering a “positive alternative”, as “the country lacks a clear growth perspective, which feeds the negativism. To fight populism the country needs a new business model; a dot at the horizon towards which we can work during the following decades...".

These business men realize that “they live an a world in which people increasingly zoom in on what divides them and not what bonds them. They look for a way to create an exiting, future-proof and sustainable society, together with positive people; people from all layers of society.”

Are these the same captains of industry who had put shareholder value and profit hoarding above everything else? And who had put their factories at the spots where labour costs and establishment costs were the lowest and where governments resided that didn’t care too much about labour circumstances or the environment?

And were these the same captains of industry, who spurred their companies to hunt for the lowest – if any – corporate taxes and who built up their labour force around temporary labour, flexible labour, (East-European) freelance labour or outsourcing and offshoring of labour to the Far East?!

Or were those captains of industry, avoiding corporate taxes and turning their labour force in a totally flexible one, all DIFFERENT captains of industry and do these captains of industry from the FD-article all preserve their Dutch factories and their fixed (Dutch) labour force for the mid-term future?!

Do these very captains of industry indeed want to live in a country in which the Dutch people have decent jobs against decent payments, including those captains of industry themselves.

And won’t these captains of industry look to American executive paychecks anymore as thé standard for their own future paychecks?! Because these huge wage differences, between the highest and lowest paid people and people living on welfare, are appaling and bad for the country in the end?!

Or will their compassion go skindeep instead and is it only aimed at making the Dutch satisfied, meek, humble and obedient again, so they accept their fate with an understanding smile and without any form of protest?!

Do I live in The Netherlands of Alt Right? (Source: Elsevier (paywall))

Statement by one of the Alt-Right people translated below
Courtesy of:
Click to enlarge
Do I live in arguably one of the happiest nations in the world, in which seemingly deranged people under the moniker Alt-Right nevertheless predict “a civil war in which people with a migration background will die, ‘just as Dutch people who don’t care for their own people”’?

Do I live in a country in which the same deranged people tell the world that they are following shooting practice and combat training, as they fear “...that it will be us or them... in a very bloody battle”?

Or do I live in The Netherlands of my office and my children's chess club and basketball club?!

Do I live in a country were people of all colours, religions and cultural backgrounds work together successfully, respectfully and joyfully, with humour and compassion and with a keen eye for the needs of their companies, as well as their colleagues?! Because working together and achieving successes or coping with failure together is fun and makes you feel confident in others.

My children's chess club
Picture by : Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge
Do I perhaps live in the country of my children’s chess club, where people from Indian, Russian, Surinamic, Chinese, Bulgarian, Italian, Turkish or Moroccan descent and a zillion other backgrounds fight their peaceful battles on the 64 fields of the chessboard, in order to see who’s best at chess? Children who all speak the language of this fascinating game and use every break between games to play that other favorite sport of them: football?

My son's basketball club
Picture by : Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge
Maybe do I live in the country of our basketball club where again children from a zillion backgrounds play together in teams to become better basketball players and also better people, under the loving guidance of voluntary coaches, who spend all their spare time to teach these youngsters the noble game of basketball?  

And where I see insecure youngsters – initially “at war” with their quickly changing, juvenile bodies – turn into confident and well-trained teamplayers, who appreciate the help and the displayed confidence of their team mates, bringing them all on a higher level?!

Do I still live in a country where a Dutch comedian can create a hilarious, multi-million-viewer mini-movie, in which he advocates The Netherlands as the natural number two behind Donald Trump’s “America first”?!

The answer is: “Yes, I do!!! I do live in this country The Netherlands!”. And strangely enough, the answer applies to all the aforementioned questions, regarding The Netherlands.

That is the strange and ambivalent situation that the Dutch have to live in, knowing at the same time that the political and societal situation in many other countries is equal or even much worse, when it comes to the upcommance of Alt-Right and populist movements and people. And also much worse with respect to unreliable, dishonest and disloyal politicians, who are only in it for the money and for their eternal claim to fame.

I realize that there is a lot at stake currently with the upcoming Dutch parliamentary elections of March 15th, 2017. Therefore I hope that the The Netherlands of the last category will win eventually: the country in which the people have humour, love, confidence and compassion with other people, as well as the headstrong directness that people in other countries might hate, but that made us to what we are today.

Not the picture-perfect, unicolourous small country with only white people that some of us might want to see, but a real country with real people; with real, but nevertheless resolvable problems. A country in which the mainstream politicians keep their relative fairness and honesty they always possessed.

My beloved country The Netherlands in which not the cynics, fearmongerers and warmongerers win, but the normal people of good will and good faith!