'It may not seem so, but the Dutch are still very liberal and open minded'

vrijdag 7 september 2012, 12:41

DEN HAAG (PDC) - ‘In its essence the Netherlands is a very liberal and pragmatic country.’ Adriaan Schout concluded this in the middle of the debate ‘Are the Dutch losing their outward-looking reputation?’ organized by the Montesquieu Institute.

The historical reputation of the Netherlands as an outward-looking country with an open and welcoming society is increasingly challenged. Surveys from the last years indicate that the Netherlands is 'expat-unfriendly', show a rise in support of anti-immigrant talk, and the pro-European course of political leaders is no longer taken for granted. Observers speak of a turn toward societal introversion. Is Dutch society really losing its outward-looking reputation? Gideon Shimshon (head of the Center for Innovation the Hague), Billy Allwood (director and founder of TheHagueOnline) and Adriaan Schout (deputy director of research/Europe at the Institute Clingendael) had a debate on this issue.

According to Allwood the Dutch indeed are losing their outward-looking reputation. When he came to the Netherlands in the 1990’s, he came to a country far more liberal than it is today. The Dutch used to have a very openminded and inviting culture, but now more and more emphasis is being put on ‘native’ culture. Given that half the population of the three big cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht) is composed of non-white Dutch people, it is strange that this enforced ‘native’ culture is mostly a white culture. It shows that the Dutch are looking back at a golden age with their backs to the future.

Shimshon doesn’t see this as a something that is just happening in the Netherlands. Globally there is trend of ‘going back to the hills’; societies all over the world are becoming more tribal and inward looking. This is a trend that started about a decade ago and will probably continue for many decades to come. On the international level a worrysome trend is going on however: international aid and defense budgets are being slashed. This is about to seriously hurt the Dutch capacity to act on an international level in the near future.

Schout still thinks the Dutch are very much involved in the international debate. ‘We may not always hold the top positions, but below those we are busy within the committees and with policymaking.’ Because the Dutch are a relatively small country, we are in a position where we can take a critical view on important matters without severly upsetting the powerbalance. Our most recent government – which was supported by Geert Wilders – was very active in the EU and actually was very pro-Europe. Rutte may have seemed overly harsh against the Greeks in recent debates, but this only because he doesn’t want to lose his bargaining chip against Hollande and Samaras. The Dutch are still very active in the international debate, but perhaps not the way you want them to.