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Prof. Steven Brakman: 'Dutch politics is too provincial'

12 December 2006

Looking back on the elections, Steven Brakman, Professor of Globalization at the faculty, observes that Dutch politics is very insular. Topics such as international economics, migration at a European level and the environment were not discussed. This is not right, says Brakman, as increasing globalization makes it important to respond to international developments. ‘If we don’t do it now, we’ll be faced with the consequences in a few years.’

Prof. Steven Brakman
Prof. Steven Brakman

Brakman noticed that no attention was paid to international issues during the election campaign. ‘People don’t seem to realize that there’s a whole world outside the Netherlands.’ The many election debates made that clear: ‘The level was pitiful. The speakers kept going on and on about the health care contributions and whether or not they should go up one percent, but the really important international issues were not discussed. For example, I didn’t hear a word about migration at a European level, the environment, international economics or the rise of low-wage countries such as India and China.’

Even the discussions on migration – a particularly international theme – were confined by the Dutch borders. ‘They were only talking about whether or not to grant a general pardon. That is a really marginal issue as it only affects a very small group of people. Migration is first and foremost a question of economics, a solution for which must thus be found in the field of economics.’ The problem will not be solved with a general pardon or, looking at the other end of the political spectrum, by disqualifying people as ‘fortune hunters’. ‘I find that a very degrading term. They are just people who are moving to another place because they want to improve their quality of life. I did exactly the same when I moved from Groningen to Amsterdam to start working there – except that there is no national border between those two cities.’ Brakman therefore suggests introducing a selective admissions policy. ‘Europe has a great shortage of workers, and these so-called ‘fortune hunters’ would love to work here. We should respond to that, like countries such as the US and Canada have been doing for years.’

There was a deafening silence on the subject of Europe as well. ‘The European constitution, a logical and rational step in the unification process, was voted down on emotional grounds, as a result of a wrong choice of terms. However, there are many matters which should ideally be taken care of from Brussels, for example migration, and international and economic relationships. You’d expect some discussion about these topics, but I didn’t hear a word about them.’

According to Brakman, our provincialism prevents us from responding to changes in the global economy. ‘We will have to adjust our economy as a consequence of the rise of the low-wage countries. Sectors involving a lot of unskilled labour will be moving to countries where the wages are lower. This is not happening very much yet, but there is a great degree of growth, which we will have to respond to by investing more in teaching in order to raise our level of education. Our economy must become more knowledge-intensive. The only party I have heard on this topic is D66 [Democrats 66, a social-liberal party]. But that doesn’t really get us anywhere.’ To which he adds, sarcastically: ‘That’s what you get when politicians start showing up in TV game shows and RTL Boulevard. Of course no important issues are discussed there. But if we don’t do something now, we will be faced with the consequences in a few years.’

Brakman’s outlook on the treatment of international topics during the current formation and in the future cabinet is gloomy. ‘Elections are all about gaining votes. This continues to play a role once they are over. The SP [Socialist Party], for example, strongly highlighted the topic of care in its campaign. Come formation time, they are not going to say, never mind about care, we now want to discuss the European constitution.’

Curriculum Vitae
Steven Brakman (1957) studied Economics at the faculty. After working for the Nederlandsche Bank in Amsterdam for some time, he came back to Groningen to gain his PhD. He has been Professor of Globalization at the Faculty of Economics since 2002.

Prof. Steven Brakman, tel. (050)363 3746 (work), e-mail:
Last modified:31 January 2018 11.50 a.m.

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