Writer, speaker and advisor

Category: EU Watcher

The long way back

There is nowhere to hide from corona, apart from your living room. And this situation will not end soon.

It is Easter Monday and the streets in Brussels are deserted. Sometimes runners pass by, the occasional car makes it way on empty streets. Litter is dancing in the wind. Windows of houses display rainbows drawn by children, here and there people painted colourful signs on sheets: ‘Tous ensemble!’

This is the new normal. The corona normal. And it is not going to end soon.

So much has been written in the past month about the lockdowns, the spread of the coronavirus and the human tragedies in hospitals and nursing homes, that it is difficult to find words that haven’t been used already, to describe or capture this unprecedented, historical situation. That said, I want to share some thoughts – worries, mainly – about how we can get out of the crisis.

Possessing the truth

For starters, I am really annoyed by all those righteous analyses of people who claim to possess the truth on corona. The underlying argument of their story is always the same: ‘See, I knew this was going to happen because [select a cause] globalisation / neoliberalism / plundering the earth is out of control. We will go into a systemic change from now!’ I even read an article of someone claiming the link between climate change and the coronavirus. But this is a skewed line of thinking and won’t help us get any further.

I am the first to acknowledge that overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, industrial farming and high rates of globalisation all are factors that have made the risk of such a pandemic as we currently experience, very high. Widely shared on social media are speeches of Bill Gates, Barack Obama and other leaders stating that it is not a matter of if but rather when the pandemic will break out. And when it breaks out ‘we’ should be ready.

Clearly the world was not prepared – apart from Eastern Asia, which is a region that is harnessed well against outbreaks of viruses, notably after the SARS crisis of 2003. But for the rest of the world, there are no dams or barriers high enough to stop COVID-19 from spreading.

We found ourselves in a situation that is comparable to a period of grief. First there is denial, then anger, followed by bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. I don’t know in which stage the world is now, but my main point is that this is a crisis that will not go away after one, two or even six months of lockdown. Humans are extremely vulnerable to the virus and that just puts everything on hold.

Nowhere to hide

We should abandon the hope that the virus will pass soon. Until there is a vaccine that works there is nowhere to hide, apart from your living room. In the meantime, we should go to into a state of ‘open patience’, as the Dutch philosopher Luuk van Middelaar wrote a few days ago in NRC Handelsblad.

Of course, societies cannot remain on full lockdown for an extended time. For a start, it kills the economy. Nearly 200 million fulltime jobs will be lost in the next three months. In the United States, already the worst coronavirus-hit country in the world, 16 million people lost their jobs in the last three weeks – which equals ten percent of the American labour population. This is pictured in a mind-boggling graph:

Politicians across the globe are now doing the right thing: flatten the curve, stop the virus from spreading so fast that it overwhelms our healthcare systems. We all know this by now, but actually it took a few weeks into the crisis before this strategy became apparent.

But what after the intensive cares are no longer overloaded and infection rates have lowered, while testing has been ramped up? If the lockdown is respected, countries should be able to move into the next phase – a time in which we can relax the lockdown rules.

Surviving the summer (and fall, winter, spring)

In this phase, the virus is more or less under control, but the fire is not extinguished. Flames will flare up regularly, after which society immediately has to follow the stricter regime rules. So schools may open, and close again. People could go back to work: first a few days a week, then fulltime, and then suddenly they have to work from home again. The same applies to shops, cinemas, restaurants, event locations, airports and borders.

In other words, we turn our economies and societies partly on and off, until A) the virus vanishes miraculously or B) a successful vaccine is introduced. (I don’t believe in herd immunity as the third option, because that is years away from now and we don’t know if people are actually immune after contracting COVID-19). The advent of a vaccine will take a year if everything goes well, but it is likely to take longer. Until then, we’re fucked.

It is this phase that I am most worried about, for the simple reason that ‘we’ cannot hold our breath for so long. EU Commission President Von der Leyen says that we have to live with the virus for the time being. But we can’t. It kills us and puts our countries in a state of paralysis.


Apart from the massive discipline needed from citizens, my fears are about the following consequences of such an on-and-off society.

First of all, economic havoc will rain upon our heads in this time. And every week will lead to more damage, more job losses and more financial strain. The IMF is already stating that the world will experience the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression. This year alone, the economies of some countries could contract by more than ten percent (worst-case scenario).

Sectors that are hit extremely hard are in the field of transport, tourism and entertainment. A massive nationalism of airlines seems likely. The automotive industry is on its knees. Revenues of hotels, b&bs and other travel/tourism segments have evaporated. Millions of restaurants, cafes and cinemas across the globe face imminent bankruptcy. Even online food delivery services face a hard time in some markets.

Even if countries keep the economic damage limited, they will suffer from severe disruptions of supply chains, disappearing demand from key trade partners. We already see in the Netherlands a bizarre effect: millions of tulips and roses are destroyed because they cannot be sold. If flowers are not able to being exported, what then for machine parts, chipsets and other semi-finished goods? How long can factories run if supply chains dry up? The internationalisation of the economy has made itself fragile for disruption.

(Speaking of internationalisation, it goes without saying that countries without proper healthcare systems face an unprecedented crisis which will be much worse than here in Europe or Northern America. The hammer will hit hardest in parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Read this tough analysis of the New York Times on the drama that will come)

Secondly, finance. As the economy grinds to a halt, states and financial institutions step in, with support measures of trillions of euros. The speed of the intervention of governments is unprecedented and should be welcomed. But debt levels of many countries have not recovered from that previous crisis, the credit crunch of the late 2000s. It seems we in the West will all be like Japan in a matter of months: unsustainable levels of debts for decades to come. Not to mention the huge risk that the ECB and others are taking with the ‘whatever it takes’ policy. Can our financial institutions survive a year of corona crisis, or will they collapse?

I also fear a plethora of knock-on effects as a result of the lockdowns. What will happen with developing economies and nations that now see foreign investments being hold back or even reverted? If one sector goes down, what will happen to the others? Can the 27 EU Member States coordinate their exit strategies, to prevent the Single Market from collapsing? Will budgets for addressing climate change be used for the emergency measures? Can democracies withstand the temptation to keep the current police-state measures in place, once COVID-19 belongs to the past? And what will the crisis do with our minds, our mental health, especially for those that have been hospitalised on the intensive care?

It makes no sense to formulate answers to these difficult questions, as we are at the very beginning of the crisis. But we need to observe, make plans, define strategies to handle the many dilemmas that will come on our plate very soon.


Let’s end with a few signs of hope.

Humanity is everywhere. Not just us as humans, but the way we take care of each other. By and large, societies across the world have wilfully accepted draconic measures that limit their freedoms. And all for the greater good: to save the old and the weak, out of respect for the healthcare workers, in consideration of the collective. Even in our highly individualistic societies that dominate the West, we think of the other. That goes beyond the bear hunts, the daily clapping ceremony, warning strangers to take a bit of distance. It is deeply empathic.

We reflect and reconnect. Suddenly our lives are put on hold. What do we do with all this time? I am only speaking about what I see in my direct environment, so not generalising for everyone, but I note that many people reach out to one another, reconnecting with friends, family and acquaintances, even if it is only online over Zoom, Skype or Hangout. Signs of aggression and impatience in public areas and in traffic are gone, people seem more polite and caring. We slow down and therefore see more details of our area of confinement: flowers in blossom, a renovated house, smiling neighbours. We hear the birds sing, we can sniff the clear and clean air, look at more stars at night. Suddenly people realise that humans are a part of nature and vice versa. We revalue the value of life, of living. Maybe this introspection will end with the eradication of the virus, but it is a wonderful side-effect of this fearful period.

Pharmaceuticals are united in their efforts to beat the virus. China released important characteristics of the virus at a very early stage, which helped kick-off research already in January, gaining critical time. Clinical trials are already starting. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help prepare massive production capacity for seven different coronavirus vaccines, even if only one or two of these will prove useful. Gates will waste billions of euros with this approach and he doesn’t care. Because we don’t have time to wait for vaccine production to start up only after the right one has been found. Better to bet on seven horses at the same time.

Finally, the state is back. In 2011 I wrote a book on the decline of the power of the state (De machteloze staat), but that thesis is (alas partly) no longer valid. We need governments more than ever. They are the only institutions that can protect us (this is the prime reason of existence of states), not just in economical terms but also as a society. And they do this well. In a time of deep polarisation in society, of a dismissal of the added value of governments or democracies, a surge in legitimacy and accountability, is a fantastic and hopefully longterm effect of this historic crisis.

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Europa, treuzel niet met 5G

Dit opiniestuk verscheen op 18 december 2019 in NRC Handelsblad Europa is importeur van digitale diensten en 70 procent van gebruikersdata gaat naar de VS, schrijft Joop Hazenberg. Haal de achterstand…

Dit opiniestuk verscheen op 18 december 2019 in NRC Handelsblad

Europa is importeur van digitale diensten en 70 procent van gebruikersdata gaat naar de VS, schrijft Joop Hazenberg. Haal de achterstand in met een snelle 5G-introductie.

Illustratie Hajo / NRC Handelsblad

Bijna elke week kun je in Brussel naar een 5G-conferentie. Het onderwerp is al jaren niet meer weg te denken van de Europese agenda, en met goed recht. 5G-netwerken hebben de potentie om economie en samenleving naar een hoger plan te brengen, de economie en concurrentiekracht van de EU-lidstaten te verstevigen én de energietransitie te versnellen. 

Maar de laatste tijd komt de opvolger van 4G vooral negatief in het nieuws. Er zijn zorgen over de (staats)veiligheid van de enorme hoeveelheden data die straks over dit hypermoderne netwerk zullen flitsen. Zullen de Chinezen niet meeluisteren via Huawei? Verder rijzen veel vragen over de stralingseffecten van 5G (die grosso modo ongeveer dezelfde zullen zijn als 4G). De stad Brussel, de feitelijke hoofdstad van de Europese Unie, heeft alvast verboden om 5G uit te rollen. „Onze burgers zijn geen proefkonijnen!” zeggen de lokale Brusselse bestuurders met fierheid. 

Verder gaan de cruciale spectrumveilingen voor het mogelijk maken van 5G de verkeerde kant op. Telecombedrijven moeten vergunningen kopen om gebruik te maken van bepaalde frequenties, maar elke lidstaat heeft andere veilingregels en sommige landen zien het nieuwe spectrum puur als melkkoe. Dat komt doordat de vorige Europese Commissie er slechts deels in geslaagd is om telecomregels – en daarmee de interne telecommarkt – te harmoniseren. De Finnen doen het goed en slim en jagen de markt op om 5G zo snel mogelijk in te voeren, terwijl in Duitsland en Italië de telecomoperatoren vele miljarden euro’s hebben moeten ophoesten om de felbegeerde radiofrequenties te bemachtigen. In Nederland beginnen de veilingen volgend jaar en voor belangrijke spectrumbanden zoals 3,5 gigahertz, zelfs pas in 2022.

Ik maak me veel zorgen over het getreuzel en de twijfels rond 5G. Ten eerste omdat een trage uitrol van dit nieuwe netwerk de fragiele Europese economie niet zal verstevigen. En ten tweede omdat politici en beleidsmakers onvoldoende oog hebben voor de snoeiharde geopolitiek waarmee 5G en de digitale revolutie is omgeven. 

Sinds ik in 2016 in de telecomindustrie ben gaan werken, ben ik werkelijk doodgegooid met rapporten, analyses en discussies over wat 5G allemaal kan betekenen voor economie en samenleving. Dat is voor een deel natuurlijk hype, maar de kenmerken van 5G maken duidelijk dat de potentie enorm is. Het 5G-netwerk wordt een soort Zwitsers zakmes dat tegelijkertijd een enorme hoeveelheid functies en datastromen kan verwerken. 

Miljarden apparaten te verbinden

Ja, 5G zal het internet op uw telefoon nog sneller maken, maar het gaat vooral om industriële toepassingen waar het netwerk als een echte game changer werkt. Tegen 2025 hebben we 25 miljard ‘slimme’ apparaten op de wereld, waarvan er vele moeten worden verbonden met 5G. Denk aan geavanceerde robots op de werkvloer, zelfrijdende auto’s, miljoenen sensoren in stedelijke omgevingen en tienduizenden drones voor het leveren van pakketten of zelfs vervoeren van mensen.

Deze toekomst staat voor de deur en heet de vierde industriële revolutie. Ook kunstmatige intelligentie zal een belangrijke bouwsteen voor die revolutie zijn, maar 5G zal uiteindelijk als een soort smart grid functioneren; om al die miljarden apparaten, al dan niet met kunstmatige intelligentie, te verbinden en ze op een intelligente manier met elkaar te laten praten. 

In onze toekomstige omgeving wordt alles ‘slim’. Van autonoom vervoer tot decentrale energiegrids die de batterijen van elektrische auto’s ’s nachts gebruiken om het energiesysteem stabiel te houden. Van volautomatische landbouw waarbij nog geen druppel gif wordt verspild (of te veel stikstof uitgestoten), tot vergaderingen met hologrammen in plaats van videoconferenties. Zonder 5G kun je veel van deze innovaties op je buik schrijven.

De mogelijkheden van 5G worden uiteraard niet alleen in Europa onder de loep genomen. Er is wereldwijd een race aan de gang om 5G-netwerken als eerste in te voeren. Niet verrassend ligt Oost-Azië voorop, gevolgd door de VS. De EU komt daarachteraan. 

Europa achterop

Dat is een voortzetting van een trend. Europa was ook veel te laat met de uitrol van 4G, heeft nauwelijks IT-bedrijven die meespelen op wereldniveau, en blijft een netto-importeur van digitale diensten. Intussen gaat 70 procent van de persoonlijke data van Europese burgers direct naar bedrijven in de VS. We reageren halfslachtig en verdeeld op president Trump die een Koude Oorlog tegen Huawei en China voert.

En het laatste nieuws is dat Europese telecombedrijven Amerikaanse megabedrijven als Microsoft en Amazon het softwaregedeelte van 5G laten runnen. Gezien de enorme hoeveelheid data die 5G-netwerken gaan verwerken, is het duidelijk waar de toegevoegde waarde – en de gevoeligheid – ligt. Niet in de zendmasten in uw buurt of de glasvezelkabels onder de grond.

De nieuwe Europese Commissie heeft terecht een topprioriteit gemaakt van de Europese digitale soevereiniteit. We worden op dit moment echt weggespeeld en hebben behoefte aan een volwaardige digitale interne markt, met digitale Europese kampioenen die hun mannetje kunnen staan. 

Het is tijd voor de EU-lidstaten om wakker te worden. Duitsland en Frankrijk hebben alvast een project gelanceerd voor een Europese clouddienst. Nu nog een krachtige, gedeelde AI-strategie en een snelle introductie van 5G, en wie weet missen we dit keer dan niet de digitale boot. 

Joop Hazenberg is schrijver van het boek Technologie de baas.

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What is the European Green Deal?

On 11 December, the European Commission presented the long-awaited European Green Deal in a press conference and in a plenary session at the European Parliament. The Commission calls it ‘Europe’s man on…

On 11 December, the European Commission presented the long-awaited European Green Deal in a press conference and in a plenary session at the European Parliament. The Commission calls it ‘Europe’s man on the moon’ moment. For President Von der Leyen, climate forms the very heart of her political agenda for the next five years. “70 years ago, Europe invested in coal and steel. Now we are investing in renewables and algorithms. This is the core of the European Green Deal.”

I went through the whole document and it is a well thought-through piece of work. The Commission really covers all aspects in its strategy to make Europe as climate friendly as possible. From a strong push for the energy transition to massive reforestation plans and halting biodiversity, from sustainable farming to recycling of electronic waste – all the right measures are there.

Really groundbreaking is that the EU will enshrine in law the target of becoming (the first) climate-neutral continent by 2050. This is at least the ambition of the Commission, now supported by 26 of the 28 EU Member States (the UK will be out by January, and Poland refuses to budge, protecting its very large coal industry).

Whether they are actually realistic, remains to be seen. Decarbonising the energy system is – with current technology choices available – impossible. ‘Clean steel’ production by 2030? Forget it. Realising the circular economy? With only 12% of materials recycled in Europe, this is a paper dream. In the meantime, NGOs are unhappy (“it doesn’t go far enough”) and richer and poorer EU Member States may be split over the measures. Not to mention, what do to with nuclear energy.

Overview of actions

The package consists of 50 actions for 2050.  The key ones can be divided into various categories.

The hard-core political goals and actions: 

  • Europe climate-neutral by 2050, enshrined in law –> proposal for law in March 2020
  • 50/55% CO2 reduction by 2030 –> proposal to be presented by Summer 2020
  • Reform of ETS (Emissions Trading System) + carbon border tax
  • Mechanism for ‘just transition’ worth 100 billion euro (to get central EU Member States to accept the 2050 target)
  • Decarbonising the energy system – supplying clean, affordable and secure energy

Systemic reform of Europe’s economy (and society)

  • EU industrial strategy to address twin challenge of green and digital transformation –> adopted in March 2020
  • 1 million extra charging poles for EVs by 2025
  • Doubling of speed of renovating buildings and increasing energy efficiency
  • Investment plan by early 2020, EIB to become green investment bank
  • Shift to sustainable and smart mobility
  • Smart infrastructure and sector integration
  • European Climate Pact to focus on three ways to engage with the public on climate action –> March 2020 announced

Realisation of the circular economy

  • New circular economy action plan (the old one wasn’t effective), with sustainable products policy for circular design
  • ‘Right to repair’ for consumers, curbing the built-in obsolescence of devices, in particular for electronics
  • Economic growth decoupled from resource use
  • Development of lead markets in Europe for climate neutral and circular products
  • Preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Massive reforestation of land in Europe
  • From ‘Farm to Fork’: a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system
  • End green washing of products and services by taking (non-)regulatory measures

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The Dutch election: populism loses a round, but democracy still in trouble

European leaders breathed a sigh of relief at the Dutch election results. Nevertheless the results are a sign of the ongoing crisis of Western democracy. The Dutch parliamentary election of…

European leaders breathed a sigh of relief at the Dutch election results. Nevertheless the results are a sign of the ongoing crisis of Western democracy.

The Dutch parliamentary election of 2017 has exposed the ongoing crisis of Western democracy. Not so much in the surge of anti-liberal democratic and populist parties, but rather in the continuing fragmentation, decreasing legitimacy and erosion of the political foundation underneath Western welfare states.

On 15 March, political pundits across the globe sighed with relief, after yet another political disaster in the West was diverted. Last year, Brexit and Trump shook the belief in democratic systems, as lies (‘alternative facts’), fake news and a continuous outpouring of misinformation resulted in the UK population voting with a (slight) majority to leave the European Union, and Americans opting for Donald Trump to be their next President.

Anti-establishment forces rejoiced because of these uprisings. In Russia, Hungary and other autocratic states, the people’s choice was welcomed. In France, the spokesperson of Marine Le Pen tweeted: ‘as their world crumbles, ours is being built.’

Would 2017 be just as bad for liberal democracy as 2016? With elections looming in Germany, France and the Netherlands, a domino-effect was feared that would push the pendulum from TINA (There Is No Alternative) to the Alt-Right.

Yes, you have a choice, people, the populists in the three founding nations of the European project stated. Go for Frexit, Gexit, Nexit. Release yourself of those chains of globalisation and the European super state. Protect your welfare state. Distrust the immigrants.

No wonder that media across the globe watched with great interest what was happening at the next stage for the domino theory: the Netherlands. With the last general election in 2012, the Dutch would be able to have their say on five years of harsh reform executed by a kind of bizarre coalition government, consisting of ‘just’ two parties: the conservative liberals teamed up in the Union for Freedom and Democracy VVD, and the classic social democrats of the Labour Party PvdA. In the meantime, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party PVV kept hammering hard on the ‘dismantling’ of the welfare state, the flux of migrants (‘We want less, less Moroccans in Holland, and I will take care of it’ said Wilders – echoing Joseph Goebbels, and being convicted of racism because of this statement), and of course the bloody EU, eating away our sovereignty. At the end of 2016, he was firmly leading in the polls, though his election programme consisted of just one A4 sheet.

Two elections in the Netherlands

‘There are two elections in the Netherlands,’ tweeted one observer in March. ‘One for the foreign media, and one for the Dutch population.’ Indeed, how the Netherlands was portrayed in the foreign press didn’t really match reality. Only Wilders’ party was in favour of a Nexit referendum, along with a handful of new parties that were completely unknown until the start of the election campaign. So a possible exit of the Dutch from the EU was not a serious political option, also because almost four in five Dutch citizens is positive about European integration. Plus none of the mainstream parties wants to slam the brake on cooperation within the EU.

And then there is Wilder’s popularity. Actually, it never got much beyond twenty percent of the total share of voters, and that is important because the Netherlands does not have an election threshold. A mere 70,000 votes is enough to get you into Parliament as one of the 150 members of the Second Chamber. So twenty percent of the vote will never be enough to get close to a majority.

In fact, in March no parties were polling over 17 percent, which meant that a coalition government would become difficult. The Dutch always have had coalitions, and are used to having ten parties in Parliament (including one for pensioners, one for animals and one for right-wing Christians), but this election seems to have led to an even greater fragmentation of the electorate. More about that later, because for me this is the real crisis and showstopper of democracy.

Geert Wilders, a firebrand in Dutch politics since decades (and since 2004, on his own after he left the VVD to found the PVV), was effectively barred from governing after a government with him, the VVD and the Christian Democratic party CDA collapsed in 2012. It was Wilders who pulled the plug on this coalition which was based on a programme that, according to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, was ‘a finger-licking sensation for the right-wing part of the Netherlands’  (‘waar rechts Nederland zijn vingers bij kan aflikken’).In the ensuing election Wilders was punished with a loss of 9 seats. After that traumatic experience for VVD and CDA, the only two parties potentially interested in cooperating with Wilders, they excluded him explicitly as a coalition partner.

And now in the 2017 election, Wilders scored lower than in 2010, with a mere 20 seats in total.

So the fuss about the Dutch election was much ado about nothing, right? The Dutch economy is one of the fastest growers in the EU, unemployment is very low and the Dutch are the richest population in the Union (after, well, Luxembourg).

Powerless state

‘We’ in the lowlands, with our culture of pragmatism and cooperation, may have halted the rise of populism for now. It seems as if the disaster-scenarios can also be brushed off the table in France and Germany, with Marine Le Pen polling third in the first round of the presidential elections and with the race in Germany being all about a contest between the centrist giants of the Christian Democrats (Merkel) and increasingly popular Social Democrats (Schulz).

Still, our societies are in ever more troubled waters. And that has to do with a range of continuing processes that undermine the nation-state and weaken the foundation for (liberal) democracy. I have written several books on this development, coining the process in Dutch as De machteloze staat (The Powerless State) in 2012. I was predicting an end to the left-right paradigm in politics, to be replaced by a new division between cosmopolitans and sovereignty-seekers. Boy, did I get that right! A bit sooner than expected, though.

So why is the state becoming powerless? This has to do with four ‘megatrends’: globalisation, European integration, the IT revolution and horizontalisation. These trends have gained speed and traction in the last two, three decades, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The advent of internet (in 1994) and the spread of mobile phones (this year more than five billion people in the world will have a mobile in their pockets, half of them being a smartphone) helped to empower people through the massive distribution of information and building new networks, turning borders and old institutions redundant.

The rise of the network society (Manuell Castels / Jan van Dijk) can be regarded as an outcome of these four megatrends, which then slowly but decisively hollowed – and hollows – out national democracies. To throw a third name at you, Dani Rodrik calls this the inescapable trilemma of the world economy. Rodrik stated in 2007 that you can’t combine democracy, the nation-state and globalisation in one system. One of the three has to go.

Yet, politicians in the West still try to combine the three. Once in power, they realise that national capitals can no longer ‘steer’ the economy or society, their central position within the country has evaporated. Remember drastic changes in governments in southern Europe, at the height of the eurozone crisis? Despite the rhetoric of freeing up their states, notably in Greece, they were forced to implement crisis measures, dictated by the EU and IMF (who were themselves, in essence, dictated by the invisible hand of the market).

Floating voters

Back to the Dutch polder. What happened at the latest election? A few notable things, that fit seamlessly in the theory of the powerless state.

First of all, the indecisiveness of the voters. In January, 70% of the electorate didn’t know which party they were going to support. And just before the election, 40% still were hesitating between one, two, even three parties. The programmes of most parties are so much alike, and expectancies of change so low, that for many voters it was hard to form a solid opinion on voting preferences. The ‘zwevende kiezer’ (floating voter) is not a recent phenomenon but in this election they were markedly present, which meant that a party gaining (or losing) momentum just before the election, could enjoy the bandwagon effect.

This is exactly what happened to GroenLinks, a green-progressive-left party that went from 4 to 16 seats, also because it is led by a charming 30-year old with the looks of young Justin Trudeau, who managed to sell out enormous halls of up to 5,000 seats to speak – unheard of in the Netherlands.

Back in 2012, the PvdA had a similar surge, shooting up to 38 seats and nearly becoming the biggest party, while they were polling around 10-15 seats in the months before the May 2012 elections. The social-democrats have now been severely punished though, dropping from the 38 high to a mere 9 low, in fact an all-time low for the party which has been in (coalition) governments for decades and produced a number of statesmen-like Prime Ministers, such as Wim Kok in the 1990s.

So the electorate is very volatile and easily moves from the radical left SP to the radical right (or supposedly so) PVV. Or they switch from PvdA to Denk, a right-wing club of disgruntled pro-Erdogan Turks that gained three seats in Dutch Parliament. Also the Forum voor Democratie got two places in the Second Chamber, its leader being a young intellectual troublemaker, with close links to Trump’s gang in America and Putin’s mob in Russia.

Just as in other Western countries, centrist parties lose their appeal. Just as in recent years, a new Dutch government will only be able to push some handles up and down of the complicated system that’s called the welfare state, but not bring back sovereignty. European integration will continue, more power will go to Brussels to save the euro and to increase our external border plus boost our common security. The real future of the Netherlands lies in the (invisible) hands of the EU, the market and the ongoing technological revolution.

So the margins for national policy makers and national politicians become smaller and tighter. And this cannot remain without a response. The void in power needs to be filled. We can identify some striking examples, apart from the increasing appeal of populists and nationalists who claim that there is an alternative, that there is a third way in our globalising world.

  • The European Commission is doing everything it can to deliver results for Europe’s citizens: abolishing roaming charges for your mobile phone when travelling abroad, free train tickets for 18 year olds to discover Europe, while also putting some-sort-of-halt to enlargement and limiting the amount of new rules coming from of Brussels. By showing the added value of European integration to daily lives of ordinary Europeans, political strategists hope to re-win the minds for the good works being done in Brussels.
  • Increasing assertiveness of cities and regions. Now that of the nation-state is under pressure, citizens look for new identity frames. One way is to ‘buy local’. More and more people now read and watch regional media, cultural festivals of regions are also increasingly popular. Cities realise they can put an end to climate change if they work together, and start initiatives like C40 that aims to make the biggest cities in the world CO2-neutral in the next decades. Not unimportant as one realises that the overwhelming majority of the global population lives in an urban environment – and that is also where most CO2 is produced.
  • Decentralisation of powers. This is a big trend, in which the national government gives a lot of responsibilities back to lower levels – in the Netherlands this process has already taken place in a drastic way, giving municipalities the lead in providing previously nationally planned provisions for the welfare state (healthcare, housing et cetera).
  • Citizens discovering what it is to be a citizen. After most of its citizenship has been taken over by the state (no need to put Grandma in the attic, the government has built elderly homes), now the personal involvement in society is coming back. That can take many forms, from women’s marches against Trump in the US to picnics on roads in Brussels to ask for pedestrianisation of the centre. Or from Cinque Stelle trying to tear down archaic political structures in Italy, to crowd funding for societal projects and raising millions in a matter of days, all over the world.

The show must go on

The decline of the nation-state is a gradual process and we need to wait if it can be reversed. Maybe we’ll look back to this period in thirty years’ time and regard the rise of Trump and Great Britain leaving the European Union, as no more than futile attempts, a swan song even, of politicians to keep in control of the nation. Unless, of course, they reject globalisation fully and go on the path of autarky. ‘Poor but proud of our independence’ would then be their clarion call.

Luckily, no such tendencies exist in Dutch mainstream politics. What the March 2017 election showed, however, is the realisation that politics do not really matter anymore apart from changing accents within the welfare state, or show moral leadership. Redefining what the nation-state is and does, and how it relates to regions, Europe and the world – those difficult questions have not been tackled at all in the Dutch election campaign. They will need to get a proper answer though, otherwise Wilders and the likes may be more successful in their next attempt to gain power.

This article was previously published by the 

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The cosmopolitan ideal is dead

The era of further European integration and continuing globalisation is over. Though many cosmopolitans haven’t realised it, their narrative is as dead as a dodo. Political parties in the middle…

The era of further European integration and continuing globalisation is over. Though many cosmopolitans haven’t realised it, their narrative is as dead as a dodo. Political parties in the middle need to drastically overhaul their programmes and put national interests first. Otherwise they will marginalise themselves further at the benefit of radical parties, and further alienate from voters.

You know what?I hate myself for writing the first paragraph of this article. For years, I have been promoting the good causes of European integration and globalisation. Together with the IT revolution and the sociological process of ‘horizontalisation’ these four ‘Megatrends’ have completely altered the structures in our economy and society, in a span of just three decades. The world, our world, has changed unrecognisably from the time before the Wall fell and the Cold War was ended.

Old borders evaporating
In my books, interviews and speeches I have always explained these radical changes and how they have undermined traditional institutes like political parties, welfare states and labour unions. It was all about the rise of the ‘network society‘ and ever continuing disappearing of old borders – in real life, in the way we organise economy and society, and especially between European countries.

After all the dreadful events of 2016, I still believe in the lightning speed of this transformation and the many benefits it has. We are in the middle of the journey of reinventing ourselves as a human being, as a society, and you shouldn’t stop those processes forcefully just because new technologies are scary or because muslims are throwing bombs and guiding trucks into our weak spots.

But I am now convinced that the era is over for people like me who have an eye for the big picture, and now it is time for politicians and pundits who promote the return to the glorified past. 

And that is because there is a stark difference between me and Trump, Farage, Le Pen and Wilders: these guys offer, and I will write it in capitals so will you remember: AN OUTLOOK, or a vision. 

Cosmopolitans sell you an outlook of tomorrow for sure, but it on the one hand just more of the same and also a largely utopian onethat only frightens people. Not that long ago our lives and the world around us was pretty simple: there was a capitalist West and a communist East, you had a job for life, there were just a few tv channels and two sorts of coffee: black or sugar/milk. Politicians were left or right, that was also easy.

Today, all these cornerstones of life have evaporated in the blink of an eye. And cosmopolitans will want to have the cake and eat it, too. More Europe! More IT revolution! More globalisation! Welcome the Syrians and Afghans! In the meantime, theclass of professionals(be they politicians, bureaucrats or managers) are busy optimising the welfare state, meaning the entitlement of citizens is cut across the board: higher pension age, less unemployment benefits, school tuitions and security taxes going up.

Unfolding dramas
As a writer and founder of a think-tank for young people in the Netherlands (when I was in my late twenties), I was promoting all of this because I found – and find – the current welfare state unsustainable. We live in an age of high debt while Europe’s population is ageing, fast. Without structural reform of the welfare state we will create an enormous generation conflict in the next twenty years.

As EU Watcher, based in Brussels since 2013, I have witnessed several European dramas unfold, from the inability to really curb the eurocrisis to the rising antagonism towards Russia and the cynical, powerless policies regarding Syria. The EU institutions have proposed numerous solutions for many of Europe’s problems, but more recently, the member states have started to put the foot on the brake.

And right now, the cosmopolitans I meet here – in the European Parliament, at receptions, at work or in my gym – all share a certain amount of pessimism. “I really feel that the whole thing can fall apart,” said an influential member of the European Parliament to me, at a congress of Europe’s liberal parties in Warsaw in November. “Everything in Europe is going wrong.”

Who travels too fast, travels alone
Though you can’t blame ‘people like me’ for the current anxieties in our societies, we are an easy target. Basically because those involved in the organisation of society – including journalists and writers – have lost touch with ordinary citizens. In the EU, this is recognised in statements like ‘We need to make Europe work!’ and as an answer, by trying to increase the EU’s output legitimacy through ‘populist’ measures like the abolishment of roaming surcharges for mobile phones and free Europe train passes for 18-year olds.

The cosmopolitan, ruling class may well have acted in an autistic wayin the last decades by stimulating further European integration or allowing for large-scale immigration. The backlash of this was already witnessed in the Netherlands with the rise of, and the murder of, Pim Fortuyn in 2001, as well as the current high polls for Geert Wilders with his racist, xenophobic, anti-EU and anti-establishment rhetoric. As a result, Dutch parties have all moved to the right, promoting to curb EU cooperation, impose stricter rules for immigrants and limit the role of the state – for instance by lifting red tape and reducing taxes.

But all the shit that has happened this year, made me realise that even a softened cosmopolitan narrative has no future.For too long, we have traveled too fast and therefore are now traveling alone.

  • ‘We’ built a welfare state that made people politically passive, by institutionalising societal relations (grandparents used to take care of the grandchildren, now they get subsidies for doing that, for instance);
  • ‘We’ abolished national currencies and replaced it by the euro that lacks to have any cross-European political and societal underpinning;
  • ‘We’ expanded the EU from 12 to 28 Member States in two decades and unleashed waves of unchecked movement of people;
  • ‘We’ are creating a European political sphere that lacks the power to nourish, because there is no European demos;
  • ‘We’ promote ever more globalisationwith a marked role for big North American companies, continuing to press for ‘neo-liberal’ trade deals with Canada (CETA) and the United States (TTIP).
  • ‘We’ have let inequality risewhile real-wage incomes of the middle class haven’t increased since the 1970s.

In the United States, similar processes have been going on: in the first decade of this century, over 11 million people came into the US as legal immigrants (and millions more as illegal). Unchecked globalisation has turned the rust belt into a dead belt, countless Americans are in a ‘working poor’ condition – working in multiple jobs but without sufficient money to have three meals a day, while the credit crisis, initiated by radical liberalisation of the finance sector in the 1990s, has basically destroyed America’s middle class.Oh and the political institutions in Washington have been in a fierce political deadlock for over a decade now, and then there is the culture war raging on.

Our world is crumbling 
In my book Next Europe, published in 2014, I addressed these issues already. I suggested to redefine the relation between the member (nation) states and the EU,to put a halt to the ever-closer-union narrativethat was still upheld here in Brussels.

One particular measure was to end the accession talks with Turkey: that is one of the best examples of where ratio is ruling. Turkey is key to our geopolitical security, there are deep historical ties between Turkey and Europe, and the country is economically more advanced and dynamic than let’s say Bulgaria and Romania. But the pathos towards Turkey amongst Europe’s people is close to zero. As a diplomat I would fully subscribe to the idea to keep Turkey close to Europe, but as a realist I concluded in 2014 that it will only estrange people further and further from the European Union.

I was proved right by the Brexit referendum. The Brexiteers successfully used the talks with Turkey as a (false) argument to conclude that Europe was getting bigger and bigger – and more muslim as well. (This is highly ironic, because it has always been the United Kingdom that promoted the accession of Turkey, because it would make the EU weaker)

Even an Association Agreement, which by no means is a first step towards EU membership, is a daunting challenge. We saw this in the case of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreementwhich was voted down in a referendum in, again, the Netherlands, in March this year. Only with an annex that underlines that Ukraine will NOT become an EU member and that stipulates that we do not have to defend that country from the Russians, can the Dutch prime minister Rutte probably get the treaty ratified at home.

And then came November.‘While their world is crumbling, we build ours,’ was the jubilant tweet of the spokesperson to Marine le Pen, the leader of the French Front National party, after Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States. Not by Americans per sebecause in the popular vote Hillary Clinton got a whopping 2.8 million votes more. No, it was the forgotten class of people that voted against more ‘professionals‘ like Clinton, especially in the more rural and hard hit areas of the United States. If it was up to the more cosmopolitan West and East coast (and the young people), Clinton would have walked over Trump with a landslide.

Post-truth, liquid society and global trilemma
Much has been written about the post-truth reality of today. No matter how much debunking goes on to expose the lies, falsified data and misleading narratives of those wanting to make America great again, or give the Brits their country back, people still buy the narratives of the populists. Even openly displayed misogyny and racism doesn’t scare away female and coloured voters. Trump violated ALL of the rules of the textbook How To Become a President of the USA and still won.

Of course you can point at the power of social media, notably Facebook, that helped to spread fake news reports en masse. But I think the problem runs deeper and for an answer we have to go to the liquid societyconcept of the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman. His vision on society is rather pessimistic; even before the advent of social media he published his book Liquid Modernity in 2000. In modern society, every relation that we build is flexible and disposable, from divorcing to speed dating, from blogging to consumerism, from The Weakest Link to Big Brother. Change is accelerating, making everything around us ‘liquid’ and therefore of little value.

Connect this concept of Bauman to the political debates and decisions in the ballot box, and there is definitely a match. They will value a report from an unknown source on Facebook, for instance on pedophile networks around Hillary Clinton, equal to a background piece in the New York Times. Britons enjoy traveling to Europe with EasyJet for 10 pounds, but reject the Polish supermarket around the corner. Dutch see the bombing of Aleppo on the television, but then protest against a refugee centre being constructed near their town.

This goes much further and deeper than NIMBY behaviour. It is sheer irrationalism. Maybe we should bring Dani Rodrik into our considerations, a worldwide known economist who is famous for his theory of the Trilemma of the world economyIn a nutshell his theory boils down to this: you can’t combine a globalised economy, national souvereignty and democracies in one system.

In 2012 I published a book in the Netherlands called De Machteloze Staat (The Powerless State)and I included both aforementioned authors. I disagreed with Bauman, concurred with Rodrik. Now I think both are right.

Wake-up call 
For me, 2016 has been one big wake-up call. I continue to ponder about the right response to the many, many heavy blows that the mindset of ‘my kind of people’ has got, but here are already a few conclusions that I wish to draw, and that I want to expand – and crystallise into a book, a film, a set of debates,anything substantial – in 2017. Happy to discuss.

  • The cosmopolitan ideal is dead.It is no longer appealing to people. Their lukewarm support for European integration can collapse in the blink of an eye.
  • The populists have answers, have a perspective, and we don’t.We offer just more of the same. And people don’t want the same. They want to have more security, to maybe have lesschoice, lessresponsibility, be less informed.
  • In a globalising world, what populists offer may be a false dream. Putting up border controls and killing trade deals won’t stop the robotisation of our industries. Populists will not find the money and other resources (like people) to uphold the welfare state. There are many more pressures to our society, like the lack of future skills and demographic buildup.
  • People are angry, lost and anxious. We need to respond to their worries. Maybe to such an extent that it will harm us. Like what the British Prime Minister May said something like the following about the need for a hard Brexit: ‘This will hit our economy. But we want a Brexit nonetheless.’ An American voter knew very well that Trump was not good for her country. But she was just so desperate for ‘change’ that she voted for the billionaire.
  • Voters are fed up with smart people doing nice things on their behalf. They want to be in control again. Of course this doesn’t make any sense. But in a world that has gotten so incredibly complex to govern, it seems that people who promote easy solutions win the day.
  • Take care of the vulnerable. Yesterday I saw the movie ‘I, Daniel Blake’, and it hit me in the gut. People get squashed by the state institutions that don’t have any eye for the person, just for being efficient and by following the rules. And this is not just about lower class people, it can also happen to ‘Jam’ people who are ‘just about managing‘ as they feel the continuing pressure of mortgage, job and taking care of their children.
  • Reconsider the benefits and the woes of globalisation. Take an example to the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, who acknowledged that ‘globalisation isn’t working for ordinary people‘.
  • States have to become much more active in protecting and guiding citizens through the next decade(s) of change.In the Netherlands, around half of young people have trouble adapting to the borderless world (while the other half enjoys being a freelancer or having 12 different jobs in the first twenty years of their work life). If there is one institution that can help people with education and training, it is the state, but we also shouldn’t exclude ‘socialist’ measures like fixed contracts. Even if that damages economic dynamics in a country.
  • Education, education, education. If there is one task for the post-modern nation state, it is just this one. And not just training (digital) skills in lifelong learning programmes. I am talking about digital savviness, being able to decyphering right from wrong, listening to people who are not in your tribe.
  • In a network society, there is no place for vertically organised political parties with a large membership constituency. Already membership has declined dramatically over the last decades. But what do we see? We are increasingly governed by people with a diminished experience of the world beyond politics, according to the LSE. Instead of building a career in society itself, members of parliament and ministers have been locked up in their political bubble right after the school benches.
  • You can argue that our Western democracies work surprisingly well in response to societal preferences.Trump, Brexit and the Ukraine referendum were no accidents. They reflect a changing mood within the electorate; now it is time for new winds to blow. No need to compare Trump to Hitler or make general references to the 1930s; those claims are preposterous.
  • You can also happily conclude that as time progresses, cosmopolitan thinking can become popular once again. This has to do with the next generation. Young people voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, against Trump, in favour of Ukraine.But the problem here is that the millennials are politically absent as their turnout at the polling stations is historically low.
  • Finally, the decline of the power of the nation state will continue. I predict this on the basis of a further erosion of borders – a process that can be slowed down but not stopped. Look at the migration crisis, at the ongoing digital revolution, at the end of business models in many industries. See how assertive regional and city administrations have become, for instance on tackling climate change in the C40 forum (you undoubtedly have heard about the excellent book If mayors ruled the world, by political scientist Benjamin Barber). In other words, even if the populists get into the hot seat and impose radical change and protection of the nation state, maybe it’s all too late, and all in vain.

Responses welcome on contact@euwatcher.eu or on Twitter: @joophazenberg

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Europa in 2016: de leugen regeert

Column uitgesproken voor de Opleiding Ambtenaren Internationaal Beleid / 30 november 2016 Vorig jaar had mijn column voor uw voorgangers van OAIB 2015 het thema ‘de geschiedenis als een losgeslagen…

Column uitgesproken voor de Opleiding Ambtenaren Internationaal Beleid / 30 november 2016

Vorig jaar had mijn column voor uw voorgangers van OAIB 2015 het thema ‘de geschiedenis als een losgeslagen paard’. En die column werd welgeteld twee dagen voor de beslissende aanslagen van Parijs uitgesproken. Laten we het thema van het losgeslagen paard dit jaar maar eens dunnetjes overdoen, zou ik zeggen, en er een losgeslagen olifant van maken. Onze kwetsbare samenleving is als een porseleinkast, en daar slaat de olifant nu zijn slagtanden op stuk, bij wijze van spreken.

Op Twitter, het veelgeprezen opiniemedium, smeken de digitale pundits aan ‘2016’ of het alsjeblieft over mag zijn, dit jaar. We vallen van de ene in de andere absurditeit. Op 22 maart gaan hier op een kilometer afstand de bommen af in een metrotunnel, terwijl vlak daarvoor de metalen pennen door de lucht vlogen in twee explosies op de luchthaven van Zaventem. Onlangs werd een mobiele telefoon van een van de betrokken aanslagplegers teruggevonden op een politiebureau hier in Brussel, verloren geraakt onder een stapel documenten. Ik verzin dit niet.

Ik verzin ook niet dat ik op een ochtend met de hond wandel, het nieuws check en lees dat acht uur eerder een vrachtwagen over een menigte heen is gereden, 2 kilometer lang, in Nice. 86 doden, een derde moslim.

De Leugen Regeert
Een paar weken daarvoor waren de Britse vrienden op mijn housewarming in een collectieve depressie, omdat hun landgenoten voor een Brexit hadden gestemd – volstrekt irrationeel, zelfdestructief, en de tegenstemmers namen het echte succes van de ‘post truth’ democratie van vandaag met genoeg tot zich. De Leugen Regeert, zou Beatrix zeggen.

De ‘post truth’ realiteit hield natuurlijk ook in eigen land huis, met dat stomme Oekraine-referendum dat met geen mogelijkheid te winnen was. Tja, als je 50.000 euro kunt vangen door wc-rollen te drukken met verdragsteksten… Nou ja, gelukkig is Europa niet in een crisis gestort door het Nederlandse Nee, zoals Juncker destijds had voorspeld, we bestaan nog steeds en de Russen staan nog niet aan de grens. Wel jammer dat de krijgsmacht de Leopard tanks heeft verkocht. Aan de andere kant ook weer fijn dat diezelfde krijgsmacht in november een eenheid voor cyber warfareheeft opgetuigd.

En dan Amerika. Tja. Ik herinner me nog dat in januari de NRC-correspondent vol overtuiging schreef dat Trump geen enkele kans maakte om kandidaat namens de Republikeinen te worden. En ziedaar, acht maanden later, Trump is duizenden, duizenden! keren afgeschreven – door de media, door Republikeinen, door Democraten natuurlijk, maar ook door meer onafhankelijke politieke analisten en opiniepeilers. En toch, en toch, was daar de tenenkrommende, misselijkmakende uitslag. President Trump. Daar gaan de handelsverdragen, de klimaatafspraken en de internationale koers van de Verenigde Staten door de plee. Oekraine-wc papier niet nodig, de Amerikanen gebruiken hun eigen made-in-America-rol wel.

Iets ten noorden van de Verenigde Staten ligt Canada. Canada, niet zo’n belangrijke handelspartner van de Europese Unie. 27,5 van de 28 lidsaten van de Unie hadden ja gezegd tegen het CETA verdrag. Maar een klein dorpje in het Gallische gebied bood dapper weerstand. 4.5 miljoen mensen tegen 504 miljoen mensen. De democratie overwint. Intussen sluit de EU ook een verder gaand handelsverdrag met Japan, Japan dat een grotere handelspartner is dan Canada, maar daar hoor je niemand over want Japan is geen land dat dicht bij het kwade, neoliberale Amerika ligt.

Het grote sterven aan de grens
En intussen sterven duizenden mensen aan de grens met Europa. In Aleppo en elders. What is A Leppo? Zouden sommige Amerikanen vragen. Dat herhalen de Europeanen hopelijk niet, al ben ik waarschijnlijk de enige hier in deze ruimte die daadwerkelijk ooit in Aleppo is geweest en daar de schitterende citadel heeft beklommen. Aleppo, het kruispunt van beschavingen, al duizenden jaren lang, nu aan puin geschoten, een kwart miljoen mensen in de val, en Europa doet niets. Misschien is dat wel het echte drama. Maar Syrie is van onze radar verdwenen sinds we de deal met Turkije hebben gesloten, de deal die de vluchtelingenstroom deed opdrogen, nou ja, die gaat nog steeds door maar wordt gestuit in de Griekse eilanden en het Turkse vasteland. En duizenden gelukszoekers sterven in de woeste golven van de Middellandse Zee, maar ja, die beelden hebben we nu ook wel genoeg gezien.

Turkije, daar is trouwens een mislukte coup geweest, en pakweg honderdduizend mensen zijn hun baan kwijt of zitten in de gevangenis, hoogstwaarschijnlijk volstrekt onschuldig. Maar Europa blijft maar praten met de Turken over een EU-lidmaatschap, ook al weet iedereen al decennia dat Turkije nooit nooit nooit lid van de EU gaat worden, maar we willen de dialoog niet stilzetten omdat we anders niks meer hebben om invloed mee uit te oefenen. Minister Koenders spreekt inmiddels van het ‘tijdelijk formaliseren van de comateuze toestand van de toetredingsgesprekken.’ Wat een taal. Ik weet er alles van want ik heb lang geleden een hele mooie scriptie over het Nederlandse Turkijebeleid geschreven. En het perspectief van uitbreiding als een middel om een land mee te stabiliseren en democratisch te maken, daar zijn we nu wel klaar mee. Turkije is een brug te ver. Toch gaan we door met praten, door met onszelf en de Turken voor de gek te houden, en het cynisme over Europese samenwerking te voeden. Hubris is helaas geen zeldzaamheid in deze EU-hoofdstad.

Zijn er dan helemaal geen lichtpuntjes in die Europese samenwerking? Wel degelijk. Al moet ik gelijk daarbij zeggen dat heel veel zeer goed ingevoerde waarnemers hier in Brussel nu openlijk spreken over het mogelijk einde van de Europese droom. Timmermans is daar niet alleen in. De verkiezing van Le Pen en vervolgens een succesvol Frexit referendum is bijvoorbeeld een mooie gelegenheid om het licht uit te doen.

Doortrappen bij tegenwind
Maar hier is het wonder van Europa dan toch echt een stip aan de horizon, het einde van een donkere tunnel. Europese integratie, dames en heren, gaat gewoon door. De Commissie heeft de afgelopen maanden ingrijpende voorstellen gedaan voor het invoeren van een digitale interne markt. Er is een Europese grenswacht gekomen. Lidstaten praten over vergaande defensiesamenwerking waar miljarden aan investeringen mee zijn gemoeid. Een Europees OM ligt in het verschiet. De uitbreidingsgesprekken met Balkanlanden gaan door. Griekenland zit nog in de euro. Het eurobestuur breidt langzaam uit met invoering van de Bankenunie. En wie de Nederlandse verkiezingsprogramma’s naast elkaar legt, ziet daar – in het politieke midden – een duidelijke lijn: dóór met Europa.

Weer of geen weer, de eurocraten blijven op de pedalen staan. En zoals ze dat in Nederland zeggen, bij tegenwind ga je gewoon harder trappen.

Wel hoop ik tenslotte dat 2016 snel voorbij is. Ik heb behoefte aan een kleine adempauze, voor we 2017 in gaan. Verkiezingen in Nederland, Frankrijk, Duitsland en mogelijk Italië, opnieuw benauwende momenten in Griekenland, de start van de Brexit onderhandelingen, de continue dreiging van aanslagen, een poolkap die twintig graden boven de normale temperatuur is. Maar voor mij is 2017 in ieder geval al een hoopgevend jaar, omdat er geen kampioenschap voetbal op de rol staat. Laten we daar het glas op heffen en een kaarsje opsteken!

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