May 16, 2017 The Poldermodel, or why is consensus so important for keeping your head above water in the Netherlands
December 2, 2016 Who would have said?
October 18, 2016 Engineers Without Borders
August 25, 2016 TTIP point of situation
May 30, 2016 Education and Social Inequality
May 11, 2016 Nice to meet you Portugal
May 16, 2017
The Poldermodel, or why is consensus so important for keeping your head above water in the Netherlands
Poldermodel is a concept used since the 1990’s to refer consensus decision-making as a pragmatic recognition of pluriformity. It is mostly used for describing Dutch economic and social policy making but can also be very important when it comes to keeping your feet dry in this nether water, low land, region of the world. A polder in Dutch language is a piece of land completely surrounded by a dike for the purpose of protecting it against high waters. The largest in the Netherlands, Flevoland measures 48,000 hectares and has around 400 thousand inhabitants. Managing a polder, especially in the old days, could quickly become a dangerous process. Keeping it dry was a task for many hands and consequently, disputes among neighbours had to be set aside for the greater purpose.
In addition to its poldering culture dating to the middle ages, the need to cooperate despite differences resurged even strongly after the Second World War. Back then, The Netherlands found itself among devastating conditions. Rebuilding the country was taken as a common effort by very different parties and unions. Actually since those times, no single political party has ever had anything reaching an absolute majority in the parliament (which corresponds to 76 of 150 seats), making coalitions a political habit. Despite all these years of pluriformity experience, it is never an easy feat to form a coalition Cabinet. The Netherlands has its special version of proportional representation, without any individual districts or election thresholds. Therefore, election results can be spread among a large number of parties, making coalitions a highly laborious and lengthy process. Currently a new Cabinet is under formation for already approximately two months. The previous formation in 2012 was uniquely fast, taking only 54 days. The longest formation happened in 1977, counting more than 200 days. Meanwhile, the former Cabinet remains in office refraining from taking controversial decisions.
So, what are the prospects for the forming of a coalition? Centre-right parties are expected to dominate, with the ruling liberal party of the former prime minister Mark Rutte (Party for Freedom and Democracy – Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD) finding a majority together with the Liberal Democrats (Politieke Partij Democraten funded in 1966, D66) and Christian Democrats (Christen Democratisch Appèl, CDA). The projections of seats for such coalition is of 69. Nevertheless, as referred before, 76 seats are needed for a majority in the parliament. And even between the aforementioned parties, there are also some variances in perspectives which make this equation even more complex. Especially concerning immigration, environment and European integration: D66 uses a lefty-like lens and VVD and CDA an economically right-wing view.
The strongest candidate for filling the missing seats is the Green Left (GroenLinks). Although GroenLinks has a higher affinity with D66, its ideology diverges from VVD and CDA when it comes to sustainability, migration and income policies, including pensions. If such negotiations fail with GroenLinks (as they have as of May 15, 2017) what will be plan b? Probably conversations would shift to the Christian Union party (ChristenUnie, CU), a centrist social-economic, pro-environment and ethical conservative party. Major block on the road for such agreement centres on the possibility to expand euthanasia and organ donations policies – which are supported by D66, GroenLinks and VVD but not going along well with the Christian parties. What about a scenario without the former prime minister party? Altought quite unlikely, Groenlinks, Labor (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA) and Socialist party (Socialistische Partij, SP) have shown interest in a five-party pact which would exclude VVD.
For me, coming from a country where candidates not even share their advertisement campaign billboards – you will see the faces of the candidates as big as your car if not bigger. And because they don’t share the billboards it means there will be billboards all along the roads. Truly, it makes you feel like an ant in comparison with them, being depicted more like giant political gods or something. This is very different from the campaign I have experienced here in the Netherlands. Probably the billboard difference between countries derives practically from the different policies concerning campaign costs, but for me it seems to reflect more than that. The Dutch way seems much more integrative and respectful of different views. The campaign billboards I have seen are barely full, with posters who don’t seem bigger than a3 and many of them without the face of the party representative. It gives a feeling that it is less about the head of the party him/herself and more about the ideas they defend, and perhaps also a kind of subconscious acceptance of the collaboration to come, who knows?
As a final note, it is important to refer that the polder model is not the cherry of everyone’s pie. It is also suggested that such coalitions weaken the importance of democratic elections, putting more weight on the affiliations between parties. Recently, starting with the first years of 21st century, Pim Fortuyn, later followed by Geert Wilders, have advocated that this reaching of consensus is too extreme and keeps politicians from taking important decisions which are long overdue. Wilders doesn’t like coalitions, but it seems coalitions also don’t like Wilders. Despite the fact his party (Party For Freedom = Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) has won the second-largest number of seats in the parliament, no other parties are seeking conversations with PVV. Still, the voters preference for such anti-immigration xenophobic views should not go forgotten. The western world adhesion to extreme-right populism views is increasing, signalling a high amount of discontent and frustration. This is a big red flag for human rights, as such brainwaves and behaviours go hand in hand with a decrease in benevolence and empathy between us: us – indeed neighbours of different nations, but still and always us – citizens of the world… this big polder where we all are together .
The Indispensable Guide For Expatriates Holland Handbook, Xpat Media 2013
Politics in the Netherlands, Prodemos 2013
December 2, 2016
Donald J. Trump has just been elected as the 45th president of the United States of America. From the 20th of January of 2017 on, after his presidential oath, he will be the incumbent president. Therefore he will lead the executive branch of federal government and will be commander-in-chief of the armed forces of USA. Yes, let it sink in.
Hillary Clinton, “the most prepared candidate”, lost against every poll prediction. Some are fast to give a verdict why: “America is a country of racists and sexists”. It is only natural some would think that: talk shows and news channels spent a lot of time at Trump’s rallies corroborating again and again that these are the kind of people who support him. This can be part of the explanation, but in this article we will explore other reasons for his election.
The dangers of the Echo Chamber
Liberal media have been wrong at every single step of the way: first they told us Trump’s candidacy was a publicity stunt, then that he wouldn’t win the GOP nomination and then that he wouldn’t become president. And still they never took a step back and tried to understand why their predictions consistently failed. And still we continued to trust their opinion. More recently we trusted them when they propagated the simplistic view that Trump supporters were bigoted and stupid in contrast to morally and intellectually superior Hillary Clinton supporters. We even trusted them when they told us it was obvious that Hillary was a better choice, and it would be madness to state otherwise.
By constantly repeating these ideas, they were able to convince everyone that these were facts, shaming into silence all those who supported Trump because they had very valid reasons to distrust a Clinton presidency. And so they kept quiet until the 8th of November.
Who is this “Silent Majority”?
Conservative media have been using the term, when in fact “majority” is misleading for two reasons. First, abstention was around 44.5%, which means that of the 220 million voting age citizens, only around 120 million casted a ballot. Second, Clinton actually won the popular vote, with a margin of around 230.000 votes, but lost in the Electoral College[i]. All in all, only around 1 in 4 Americans voted for Trump. The best way to understand their motivations is to turn to the National Election Pool[ii], a joint effort of several news networks and newspapers to interview the electorate post-voting.
It tells us that:
Women backed Clinton almost as much as they had done for Obama in 2012;
Hispanics and Blacks voted less for Clinton than they had done for Obama in 2012;
Provided with four candidate qualities and asked which mattered most to their vote, almost 4 in 10 said a candidate who “can bring needed change.”;
Almost two-thirds of Americans said that Clinton’s “use of private email” bothered them “a lot” or “some.” Among that group, Trump won 70 percent to 24 percent;
Less than 4 in 10 voters had a favorable opinion of Trump. Only 1 in 3 said he was “honest and trustworthy” – the same percentage that says that about Clinton.
Also, according to a recent study of the Commonwealth Foundation, white workers of today “have lower incomes, fewer are employed, and fewer are married.” Neoliberal politics have been impoverishing the American workers and the media failed to notice that. Trump appealed to them by proposing protectionist reforms – such as the abolishment of NAFTA and TPP – expelling of immigrants, attacking Clinton for her paid speeches by Wall Street – who they rightfully still resent for lost jobs or houses – and being against NATO and the Iraq war – who made them resent the government for sending their kids to die on the other side of the world.
As indicated by the polls, some people are calling this election “an election for change”. Clinton would most likely continue the politics of Obama, and as such, for those who wanted change, there was only one real option. It is also worth exploring some other reasons, more subtle, that might have helped him get so many supporters.
Alpha of choice
Still, why did so many USA citizens vote for Trump? Didn’t they hear his unapologetic racist and misogynist comments throughout all of his campaign? His offensive remarks about Gonzalo Curiel, the Khan family, a former Miss Universe, grabbing somebody by her pussy, calling Mexicans rapists and refusing to condemn the former KKK leader David Duke for his endorsement? Even the way he treated and threatened his opponents, his lies, his tweets!? The possibility seems to be that more important than listening to Trump’s atrocities is that they felt heard by Trump himself. They saw in him someone with the ability to solve their problems, to calm their fears. A way to break the system which has so badly served them.
For more than ten years Trump has been having his own reality show where he portrays a confident and capable leader. There has been much talk about how news channels handled the presidential campaign. But do not underestimate the mind-washing power of recreational shows. What one sees when arriving home after a long day of work. Perhaps wishing for a very different life, a better one. And they tune in on Trump’s show, appearing as an almighty businessman, with a supermodel wife and exemplary children. This sort of escapism has the power to restructure not just our conscious being but also our subconscious.
You might be a very lovely and literate person and think that it would never had such an influence on you. Nevertheless, for the best and the worst, much of our physiology works as it has been working since prehistoric times. In our modern and technological life, our body can still engage in the same stress response our ancestors would have had when encountering a potentially dangerous wild animal. Of course, all of us do a conscious effort to be more than our primal self. This is, until fear gets installed. If there is something in common among Trump voters is the sense of abandonment from the current socio-political institution. In the words of Klein: “Here is what we need to understand: a hell of a lot of people are in pain. Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present. For the people who saw security and status as their birthright – and that means white men most of all – these losses are unbearable. Donald Trump speaks directly to that pain.” When economic insecurity makes up for our surroundings, to act, in this case vote without succumbing to a survivalist fear, becomes a very complicated task.
The Democrats failed to see this pain and anger. Instead of electing Sanders, who would defend the American people against corporate power and neoliberalism – and which the polls at a time predicted would win the presidency against Trump – they chose to elect their personification. Not only has Clinton been part of the White House one way or another for 20 years, she is known to have very powerful connections to Wall Street and other lobby groups. To make things worse:
She is seen as corrupt: she has been accused of using her position of Secretary of State to fund the Clinton Foundation, of holding more than 300 fundraising events, only 5 of them open to reporters and of being funded by at least 20 billionaires;
She is often seen as antipatriotic as well: for letting Americans die in Benghazi or using private servers for state emails, for her connections with Saudi Arabia and other regimes – further propagated by her choice of Huma Abedin for Vice Chairwoman of her campaign;
And lastly, she is seen as a warmonger for supporting every war initiated by the United States for more than 20 years (Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and international terrorism generally) and for further promoting Russophobia and the building up of tensions with Russia.
These are very valid reasons to elect any other candidate rather than Clinton. Here we propose that Trump’s racist or sexist remarks may have been in fact a confounding variable, and while a minority of his voters might endorse them, the majority acted for other reasons, either economical, military or even moral, in the case that they found Clinton’s actions more condemnable.
What does the future hold with Trump?
Currently, Donald Trump has appointed Steve Bannon as his new chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon is former president of Breitbart a news website known by endorsing alt-right views. Even if Trump and Bannon do not agree with these views themselves, using them for fueling their rise to power does not diminish the damage. With a very “simple” agenda to very complex problems, Trump promised a bright future by making “America great again”. Barack Obama says Donald Trump seems to be more pragmatic rather than an ideologist, and that is what serves Trump well. The question in everyone’s mind is however, will that serve the US and the world for the best in the future?
This entry blog was written by Lúcia and the invited blogger Bruno Penha. He is a militant of Left Bloc and its tendency Revolutionary Socialism, the portuguese section of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
[i] Like voting on a Tuesday, the Electoral College was implemented to solve a problem that no longer seems relevant, and many have been arguing for its ending.
[ii] Polls have earned our distrust lately, but this one claims to “have never made an incorrect projection based upon exit poll data”.
October 18, 2016
Engineers Without Borders
Engineers Without Borders Netherlands (EWB-NL) is a non-profit organisation which works in promoting, teaching and implementing sustainable technical solutions in developing countries. All EWB projects are based on local requests (demand-driven) from local organizations, NGO’s and entrepreneurs. Projects always include a business/social model, so that a long-term, sustainable impact is achieved, and local ownership is ensured. In this way, EWB helps enhancing people’s quality of life and the development of communities. Example projects are drinking water systems, sustainable off-grid energy, development of smart apps or low-tech tools and set-up of small factories and enterprises.
Volunteer engineers give support with their knowledge and time ensuring that the locally requested ideas get the necessary technical support. In return, volunteers develop non-technical knowledge such as how to deal with cultural differences, social impact, institutional models and entrepreneurship, which they also apply in their professional work. In addition to its volunteers, EWB also works with financial and strategic partners who besides monetary support can also contribute with new ideas, projects and collaborations.
Aleix Canet is a co-founder and board member for EWB-NL. At EWB he is responsible for Communication & PR. He has graduated as Aerospace Engineer from Madrid University. After some years working in airport processes, he is now a renewable engineer and self-employed entrepreneur. Aleix has kindly given his time, for which we thank him, for a talk about his personal journey with EWB. We here share our interesting conversation.
Q: How have you heard about EWB for the first time and what were your first impressions?
A: Actually, my first contact was almost 10 years ago in Spain. While I was studying at university the EWB Spain came to the Aerospace engineer faculty. Back then we had a discussion about technology and its role in developing countries. Unfortunately I didn’t find an alignment between their ideas and mine. Nowadays I know they are doing fantastic work but back then as a student I ended up not joining.
My second and more prolific contact happened when I moved to the Netherlands. I had finished my degree and was working here in the Netherlands. Then there was a moment I decided to completely realign my career. Back then I stopped with my current job and I remembered about that first contact with EWB in Spain. So I googled it. To be honest, the first impression was not too positive. The website was quite messy and difficult to navigate. Still, I managed to find an email contact. I wrote to them that I was concerned with the social applications of technology and how messed up the world seemed to me. I also added that I wanted to contribute with my little grain of sand into truly meaningful technology. They were very fast with replying back. Back then I was in Bolivia working in a fair trade project. When I returned we had a meeting and I joined the organization. My first impression evolved when I met all the team. I saw there was a lot of work to do but also a full team of highly committed people. Everyone had an idea on how the projects should contribute in the local communities. I myself felt a great alignment with their ideas.
Q: How does it feel to be an international/expat working for a national volunteer organization?
A: When you arrive in a new country you are initially surrounded by the unknown. It is very difficult to build new roots. I think these kind of activities and associations where you can somehow give back to society can actually help you to grow roots in your new place. It will make you feel more connected to your surroundings. Also, these organizations usually work with developing countries, giving you the opportunity to do international work too. Even if you are just a temporary expat, in my opinion, joining such activities will allow you to enjoy your time abroad much more. It will give you a sense of achieving something, of making something beyond yourself with the opportunity you were given.
I am in the Netherlands for three years now. The first year and a half I was inactive in what concerns this kind of initiatives. I was feeling disconnected and didn’t want to stay here any more if I couldn’t do also something more fulfilling. These initiatives give me a sort of anchor to stay here and feel good about it, a positive thing to do with my time here.
Q: Can you tell us about the roles you have at EWB? What were the first projects you were involved in?
A: I work in coordinating parts, the communication, the project management, how do you get more people on board, new partners, it is all very exciting!
My first goal was to fix the webpage. There was also lots of work in laying the foundations for new projects abroad. You see, one year ago, EWB was just an extension of the Royal Engineering Association of the Netherlands (KIVI). In that position we could only raise awareness in the Netherlands about developing world problems. This is already very important work. Nevertheless, the goal of EWB is also to conduct work in these developing countries. Therefore, we have also worked a lot in setting up a new EWB separated from KIVI. In this way we can now conduct work abroad. There were loads of work and obstacles and it was a very exciting challenge.
Q: Any other favourite moments so far?
Because my role is to meet people, to develop relationships with NGOs and open the doors to EWB to other people, my favourite moments are the ones when I see all the genuine desire people have to help. Even if initially they still don’t know how, it is with intentions that we start!
Q: What have you learned so far with the work you do at EWB?
A: We have lots of things that happen behind the scenes that gets the organization running in the legal boundaries. We need safety procedures, manuals for engineers going abroad, constant meetings with the engineers already abroad. I have learned a lot while helping with running the organization, about getting consensus and making your ideas clear to others. It is a constant learning process about how to make things happen. You can see in our policy plan (http://www.ewbnl.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Policy-Plan-2016-Foundation-Engineers-without-Borders-the-Netherlands.pdf) we have some objectives and some strategies but it is a constant evolution process.
Q: Before you have referred to how you feel aligned with EWB NL vision concerning engineer and developing countries. What is your personal vision on this topic?
A: Complicated question. I thought a lot about this but still don’t have a clear answer. I have for now arrived at perhaps still a bit of a vague answer. It is a very complex question as many dimensions mix – you have history, economics, conflicts of crossed interests and all together design of the world we live in. My vision is that in the end I want to give back some of the privilege I experienced in life. With privilege I mean these extra opportunities I have just from being born where I was born and being surrounded by the social economic conditions I am surrounded with. But I did nothing to deserve to be here. So, in my case, I feel it is unfair to have this advantage in comparison with others and do nothing to help others without it.
The world is complex and it is dark in many aspects but this is about empowering people by giving them the tools they ask us for. Is not about pushing an idea of a model of development, society or technology. It is about supporting people in what they feel they need in order to move forward. EWB for me is a vehicle to make this happen.
Q: You have referred previously you also have conducted volunteer work in Bolivia, can you tell us more about it?
A: Before I joined EWB I participated in a fair trade project in Bolivia. This actually also inspired me very much to join EWB. I have helped interviewing local farmers. It was close to the Amazon jungle. It was a big inspiration although we didn’t get an immediate result, as I participated in a small part of the project going on there. It was an interesting experience to get in touch with the local reality in a developing country. Sometimes we are very biased about these countries. I have learned a lot from them, about the capacity of coordination and its positive impacts. I learnt a lot about conflicts and evolution of struggles. It is difficult to summarize what I saw there but that experience changed my way of viewing development and where the objectives lay. But there is a very wide range of struggles in local communities. So you might have a successful case and others not so much. The first thing I learned is that each place you visit is a world in itself and you cannot apply a general rule to solve their problems. Not just every country is different, each community in the country is different.
Q What would you say to someone who is interested in joining EWB?
A: I would say to listen to the demand coming from yourself to give back to society. You just have to do it, that is the advice. Contact us! We have a very nice website (http://www.ewbnl.org/) and you can also drop a line on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/EWBNL/). We will have a chat and we will see what we can do together! If you don’t want to do it, it is your responsibility. Perhaps you are not just into it and that is fine. But if you want to do it, EWB is offering you a vehicle.
Of course everyone has limitations. I am also very busy during my working week. But we can do a small commitment. And it is so much more fulfilling than just keep thinking I want to do something but I don’t know how and what and when. If you really want to do something now, just get in touch with us. Then we together will find the means. We don’t ask much time from people. We do ask for a regular commitment. I would say that the regular volunteer, the project members, will spend in an average four to maximum eight hours per week. Only board members, like myself, we will usually invest more time. Most board members actually tend to arrange with their work-place some extra free hours per week. It is a small decrease in salary, but in return we get so much by having more time to work for EWB and bring empowering and sustainable technology to developing countries.
Q Are you currently looking for new members for any new projects?
A: Currently we are looking for water management engineers for a project in Cameroon (http://www.ewbnl.org/water-management-expert/) and building and installation engineers for a cinema house in Liberia (http://www.ewbnl.org/arthouse-cinema/). Of course, any volunteering effort and other skills are always welcome.
Aleix in an abandoned train close to Uyuni, southern Bolivia.
August 25, 2016
TTIP point of situation
The European Union is negotiating a trade and investment deal with the United States, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – TTIP. The goal is to make imports and investments between US and EU simpler by improving trade regulations. Consequently, such is envisioned, to create more jobs and growth and to cut prices and offer more for the consumer to choose from. Major concern arises from questioning if such agreement will force the EU to adopt some of the less protective US laws concerning health, product safety, environment and workers’ rights. For many it is unclear to which extent such an agreement is mostly dictated by lobbies without fiduciary responsibilities for overall citizens and the planet.
First negotiation round: July 2013
Number of rounds: 13
Next round: July 2016
Predicted end date: before November 2016 (US presidential elections)
Predicted economy boost by the European Commission: EU’s economy by 120 billion euros, US by 90 billion and the rest of the world by 100 billion
First leak: March 2014
First public consultation (limited): July 2014
Last leak: April 2016
Predicted jobs loss by Tufts University (USA): 600 thousand lost jobs
Number of signatures collected against TTIP: more than 3.2 million European citizens signatures (collected from October 2014 to 2015)
Interview with Bernard
Bernard Gerard, secretary of Eindhoven Association for Environment Protection (Milieudefensie), volunteer of Brabant Environment Federation and active blogger has kindly given his time, for which we thank him, for a talk about his views on TTIP. We here share our main four questions for Bernard and his very informative answers.
Vredesburo: What will be the future of TTIP?
Bernard: I want to distinguish between what I would like to happen and what I think is possibly going to happen, it might not necessarily be the same. Ideally, international trade should have as basis a global system based on the interests of the population and strength of the States and their specific national laws. This would be a legal system which does not make a difference between large and rich international companies, and in which the typical national characteristics of countries and their political perspectives are well recognized.
What I think will happen is currently difficult to say because the idea is gaining momentum. The case draws in emotions and broad interest, everyone is going to interfere with it and it’s a bit unclear what the EU is doing with it. One possible outcome could be that the EU closes a sort of light version of a treaty so it will be more acceptable, with more stringent exceptions and somewhat less intervention in the national competences of countries. Moreover, it is questionable whether our national parliaments will approve it.
V: How can citizens, consumers and businesses affect this treaty?
B: They must first and foremost ensure that the national parliaments have the final verdict on TTIP. Currently, the power to approve this agreement is only lying with the European Parliament. But now that the treaty’s power interferes with national sovereignty, the legal system and there is a conflict between what is public and private, that simply goes too far for the decision to be made by the European Parliament alone. So point one is that the national parliaments must also have a say. Furthermore, we have the usual ways to talk to our parliamentarians, we can demonstrate, make events like we did in Eindhoven, send letters, send emails, trying to get on the radio and television, do your own studies and internal research. The usual means of communicating with our national government.
V: How can we ensure fair and sustainable world economy regulations?
B: If you try to display in one sentence the core problem of TTIP and similar developments, then you should say that it’s really about whether the power in the world is public or private. If you think, like me, that the world must be governed democratically, then the control and power must ultimately be given to the people. What TTIP will do is, that through its own international legal system, it will place the power with the companies instead of with the common citizens. It is a kind of privatization of the world. In addition, it is important to respect the already prevailing conditions where international law is based, and the different trade relationships between different European countries and the US.
Competing in the world economy
Partnerships as TTIP can be seen as highly necessary in order to successfully compete with the emerging economies outside Europe. The US has been negotiating in the past years several trade agreements between all major economies (TISA, TPP, CETA and NAFTA) but excluding the emergent economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS). Moreover, it is argued that such partnerships can subsequently ensure producers worldwide to continue to increase their quality standards toward joint US-EU regulations. On the other hand, it might therefore further increase inequalities, not just among the world players but also inside the EU. With only the most competitive member states profiting and the peripheral ones becoming even more dependent on foreign capital, the EU economics crisis can become even more exacerbated.
Different standards across the sea
Nowadays, to export to the US, the EU firms must meet US rules on standards. Often these rules differ and makes trade costly because of the differences. TTIP can reduce these differences and therefore related costs of overseas trade. Nevertheless, the conventional trade barriers between the US and the EU are already low. This is due to long-standing membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) but also to recent agreements and work by the Transatlantic Economic Council. Therefore many believe the deal aims mainly to focuses on non-conventional barriers, such as overriding national regulations.
Corporations and the sovereignty of nations
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is a procedure covered by TTIP that allows companies to sue foreign governments and to receive compensation if laws or measures reduce their profit. It therefore can be seen as an attack to the sovereignty of a nation to act in the interest of their citizens. Similar procedures in other treaties have allowed an American tobacco company to sue Australia for enacting anti-smoking legislation, an American energy company to sue the state of Quebec after it issued a moratorium on fracking and a Swedish energy company to take legal action against Germany’s nuclear energy phase out politics.
Is secrecy always conspiracy?
Besides the contents of the agreement, the way it is being conducted it is also for many anti-democratic. The general public is not allowed to see the official texts until negotiations are finished. On the European side, authorised readers include the European Commission negotiators, members of the European Parliament and European Union. Nevertheless, parliamentarians have limited access to the documents, as they are only allowed to read them in especially designated rooms, without expert help, and are not allowed to tell the public about it. The EU says this is common procedure until all negotiations have been settled. Nevertheless, there is some information made available by the EU, such as the stages of the negotiating process with a public release for every negotiating round, the EU negotiating texts already tabled with US negotiators, an independent study identifying TTIP’s likely impact from 2013, and factsheets on every chapter in TTIP explained in plain English.
Outside experts have also been assigned from business and trade unions, consumer bodies and environmental and public health groups. Moreover, a second independent and more in depth study has been commissioned known as the Sustainability Impact Assessment and four public consultations have also been held. Still, Stop-TTIP organization writes in its website that 92% of all consulted stakeholders were company representatives, with only very few cases concerning consumers and trade unions.
TTIP can’t be a deal at any price!
At the European Commission trade web page, the EU representatives write that TTIP “can’t be a deal at any price”, and they specifically underline two important points. Firstly, such agreement must ensure that products imported into the EU meet EU higher standards, especially concerning people’s health, safety and the environment. And secondly that the EU governments must fully maintain their right to adopt rules to protect the people and the environment and run public services however they wish.
In the current global market display, such oversea agreement between two big players as the US and the EU seems to be a very sure step to be taken in the near future. If not with TTIP, than with another catchy treaty acronym. Nonetheless, the future is also bringing new business models, that advocate for the three P’s – caring not just about Profit but also People and Planet. Treaties like this can be seen as an opportunity for citizens and representatives to press the corporate world to face up to their civic responsibility. TTIP can’t be a deal at any price but instead a fair exchange of rights and duties, benefiting both parts alike, firms and the general public.
Useful sources about TTIP
Bernard Gerard blog
European Commission TTIP page
European Initiative against TTIP and CETA
The Guardian piece on TTIP
TTIP Greenpeace leak
more info and references on: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_Trade_and_Investment_Partnership
Dutch interview with Bernard
1 Hoe heeft u voor het eerst over TTIP gehoord?
Dat is jaren geleden, dat is zo lang geleden dat ik het eigenlijk niet meer weet. Waarschijnlijk heb ik het ergens gelezen in de krant of in een brochure van tegenstanders of iets in die gist, maar ik weet het echt niet meer
2 Wat zal de toekomst van TTIP zijn?
Ik wil onderscheid maken tussen wat ik wil dat er gebeurd en wat ik denk dat er gebeurd, dat hoeft niet hetzelfde te zijn. Wat ik wil dat er gebeurd is dat er een wereldhandelssysteem is, wat meer gebaseerd is op de belangen van de bevolking en wat meer gebaseerd is op sterke positie van staten en op inzet van gangbaar nationaal recht en waarin geen apart juridisch systeem is voor grote en rijke internationale ondernemingen en waarin ook de typische nationale kenmerken van landen –en hun politieke opvattingen- beter erkend worden.
Wat ik denk dat er gebeurd dat is op dit moment moeilijk te zeggen omdat de gedachte in een stroomversnelling zit. De zaak trekt emoties en brede belangstelling aan, iedereen gaat zich ermee bemoeien en het is een beetje onduidelijk wat de EU ermee doet. Een mogelijke uitkomst zou kunnen zijn dat de Europese Unie een verdrag afsluit met een soort light-versie van het – ISDS?—waardoor het wat beter aanvaardbaar wordt en dat ze een strenger verdrag maken met meer uitzonderingen en wat minder ver ingrijpt in de nationale bevoegdheden van landen. En dan is nog de vraag of onze parlementen dat goedkeuren (misschien?) Maar het vraagt bijna op dit moment een helderziendheid om te bepalen wat er gebeurd en die helderziendheid heb ik niet.
3 Hoe kunnen burgers/consumenten en ondernemers invloed uitoefenen op dit verdrag?
Ze moeten er op de eerste plaats voor zorgen dat de nationale parlementen het eindoordeel hebben over TTIP. De bevoegdheid is neergelegd bij de EU om internationale handelsverdragen te sluiten. Maar nu blijkt dat die bevoegdheid zo ingrijpt in de nationale soevereiniteit en het juridisch systeem en belangenafweging in de opvatting over wat publiek en privaat is, dat gewoon het te ver gaat om deze beslissing aan de EU over te laten. Dus punt 1 is dat het nationale parlement zich erover moet buigen. Dan hebben we de gebruikelijke manieren om onze parlementsleden aan te spreken, we kunnen demonstreren, manifestaties doen zoals we dat bij Eindhoven gedaan hebben, brieven sturen, e-mails sturen, proberen op de radio en televisie te komen, eigen studies doen, eigen research doen. De gebruikelijke middelen om je nationale overheid bepaalde kanten op te krijgen. En die moet je ook bij TTIP inzetten.
4 Hoe kunnen we zorgen voor eerlijke en duurzame regelgeving in wereldeconomie?
Je kunt moeilijke vragen stellen…
Als je probeert in één zin weer te geven waar TTIP en vergelijkbare ontwikkelingen over gaan, dan moet je zeggen dat… Het gaat eigenlijk over de vraag of de macht in de wereld publiek of privaat is. Als je vindt, zoals ik, dat de wereld democratisch moet worden geregeerd. Dan ligt de zeggenschap over de dingen bij regeringen en bevolkingen en democratische systemen – voor zover die er zijn want het is natuurlijk lang niet ideaal in deze wereld – en hoe het dus de macht uiteindelijk aan bevolking is. Wat TTIP wil, dat is via een eigen internationaal juridisch systeem eigenlijk dat de macht bij de ondernemingen liggen. Het is een soort van privatisering van de wereld—-, TTIP en aanverwante verdragen en… belangrijkste is dus dat de normale gangbare verhoudingen waar het internationaal recht op gebaseerd is of verhoudingen tussen landen onderling en binnen landen, dat die ook de basis zijn van de wereldhandel. En niet specifieke belangen een rijke groep ondernemingen die hun eigen soort recht bedacht hebben.
En dan verder heb je natuurlijk veel eigenaardigheden, Frankrijk heeft zijn kaas en Duitsland zijn dierenwelzijn. En zo heb je overal specifieke eigenaardigheden waar de bevolking in een historisch proces ooit voor gekozen heeft en dat soort dingen dienen gewoon in de internationale handel gerespecteerd te worden.
May 30, 2016
Education and Social Inequality
Learning is a personal asset we hope to maintain for as long as possible.
Humans are born with quite a plastic brain. Such plasticity compromises independency during our first years in return for an avid ability to learn and adapt as best as possible to the environment we came to be born in. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly challenging and morally risky to draw a straight rigid line between genetics and environmental conditioning. From what I have understood from genetic research, we can go as far as saying that genetics goes hand in hand with epigenetics. This means that whatever is the instruction manual, a.k.a. genes, the cells our body possess, there are myriad and still magically unknown ways this information can come to express itself depending on the environment they are subjected to. Therefore we shouldn’t judge the “machine” only by its instruction manual. Well, we probably shouldn’t judge at all… but better train our compassion and comprehension to enclose too other factors, such as who built it – like how did our first caretakers interact with us – and the available construction material and time – such as: if we grew up with good access to health care and nutrition, and if we had the opportunity to enjoy and learn from all our development stages or something more traumatic happened that hampered this (imagine suffering from abuse, becoming a foster kid, experiencing war as a child, etc.)?
It might be argued that the main constructor in building who we are to be is no one less than yourself. There are of course many constricting and influencing factors because “no man is an island entire of itself”. Still, despite all (re-)learning and adapting that one does during adult life, it is undeniable that our early years comprise a foundation in our life long journey. It is during this first stage that we rely more on and learn more from others. Our foundations are achieved not only with the help of our primary caretakers, but also with the assistance of other caretakers such as family relatives, teachers, and other participants in our social circle.
A universal builder for forming universal citizens
Not only how the teachers teach, but also what they teach, constitutes an important addition to our foundations. Schooling usually concerns the compulsory formal education that usually spans from mid-childhood to end of teenage years – full of potential for nationwide brainwash. Now, please do not misinterpret my previously first world problems bad joke about school and brain-washing. Education is a fundamental universal right (UN article 13, 1966), which is sadly still far out of reach of many. To achieve universal primary education comprised the second of the eight Millennium Developmental Goals for 2015. Despite this, nowadays still 58 million children do not have access to primary education, mainly due to location and climate, gender, cost and even language constraints (UNICEF, 2015). So after this you might think, why should we question the present education systems that are already implemented and running instead of putting effort in making sure everyone gets some education? Actually, we should be considering both simultaneously. As citizens of the world we must teach ourselves to have a global concern for our fellow humans, even if they are on the other side of the world we inhabit. It might be more challenging and difficult to have a say about what is unfolding so far away, but it is not impossible. We probably think that our life is more influenced by the ones near us than the ones far away. However, recent world events concerning terrorism and refugees remind us that we are more connected than sometimes we would initially ponder. Lastly, it is today in the schools of our alphabetized and informed society that adults of the future are being formed, and we should at least take care that they learn enough so they can one day contribute to a world where education can reach everyone.
Field trip to the Netherlands Education System
As an expat, something that strikes me most is the difference in schooling between my home and foster countries (I am a Portuguese living in the Netherlands for some years now, initially arrived as an exchange student). First of all, I would like to start by acknowledging that The Netherlands’ education system is very highly ranked internationally (for what these rankings are about see my references at the end). This was a fact known by all the Dutch friends and acquaintances that I have interrogated about the topic. Nevertheless, all of them also wanted me to know that many people were unsatisfied about how the education system seems to always come to “evolve” with the change of Second Chamber seats. This takes quite an extra toll on teachers, who need to be always adapting to presumably better ways of doing their work. We must not forget, that changes in education relate sometimes more to the near future economy of the country than to the long term investment in forming well prepared citizens. Recently, stricter funding conditions regarding higher education were applied here in the Netherlands. As coming from a country which gives less support for students who wish to proceed with higher education – and having friends in Portugal who had to stop studying due to monetary constraints – I saw the previously Dutch funding system for high education as something quite advanced, which offered the same possibilities to everyone despite their economic situation… These last modifications are for sure not just one but several steps back concerning opportunity and social equality.
The pragmatic Dutch
Like all things Dutch, the education system here tries to deliver useful citizens as pragmatically as possible. From approximately 12 years old, children are already distributed according to the most probable (at the time) occupation they will pursue as adults. Stratifying children at such an early age in different levels of education depending on their scores and their teacher’s impression of them is really strange to me. Perhaps it is already a step towards another worse type of segregation based on the economic power of each family…. But can this early assessment truly separate these two factors? My biggest question and concern here is if such stratified distribution will contribute to a more elitist society, where the different layers have more difficulty interacting respectfully and constructively with one another as they already experience a separation from such an early age. Nevertheless, from my experience, Dutch society actually seems to run on a more egalitarian stratification than I would expect from this. But I really wonder if this would work for all nations (see my previous text on nations’ personalities).
What should the future bring?
So what will be the result of building such social stratification since early teenage years? A necessary reflection of what adult life will come to be? Or is this an opportunity being missed for constructing a different societal organization? Societies do need a kind of structure because seriously, (unfortunately) anarchy would only work among Vedic and Taoist masters or other similar highly virtuous people… for the rest of us, all common mortals, it seems that law and freedom do need to be somehow (re-in)forced from time to time.
Our predisposition to social stratification is amply expressed all across human societies. Interesting scientific fact is that one of our primary instincts is to rule over others as a common survival trick. Ever see a chimpansee documentary or a controversial reality show? The resemblances are striking. Luckily cooperation is also a good monkey trick from time to time ;). Also the human care-giving model has a hierarchical basis, as for the child to survive it needs to “follow” the care-taker, and a good caretaker needs to step up to be a good role-model and lead the child to healthy experiences.
If social stratification is so far the best encountered system, we must at least ensure that the different layers are more horizontally than vertically organized, that they mutually cooperate and respect each other and recognize each other’s value. And there’s nothing better than to start doing that asap. As we say in Portuguese, it is from an early age that the cucumber twirls, or the less culinary and more straightforward Dutch version, “jong geleerd is oud gedaan”!
http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI (social inequality indicator)
http://thelearningcurve.pearson.com/country-profiles/netherlands (collection of infographics per country concerning education)
http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international/ide/ (summary of the main five international studies concerning education)
May 11, 2016
Nice to meet you Portugal
As many countries in Europe, Portugal has faced an economic crisis in the last years. The causes of this crisis are not unique to Portugal, as other countries also suffered from the same socio-political illness. What is unique to Portugal, as in every single country, is its nation‘s personality. Just like every one of us has a distinct personality and two different people can react fairly different to the same situation, likewise each nation is having its own way of dealing with the previously mentioned crisis. As someone’s personality is conditioned by its genes and environment (nature and nurture) an analogy can be made for a nation’s personality: where nature can constitute its geographic characteristics and nurture its past historical events.
As examples of relevant geographic characteristics, think about a nation’s position in relation to other countries and how it influences international relations. How different climates result in different crops and therefore, possibly a whole different backbone of the primary sector. Different geology can even influence population organization and the spread of goods and information. And of course, the old joke that nations of sunnier countries are more friendly and lazy than their northern counterparts, who are more serious and have a better work ethic, which can be argued not to be a joke at all. If you can picture humans some centuries ago and realize how a harsh winter could extinguish pretty much your entire food supply, and that you would have to rely only on what you had been able to store from more friendly seasons… and how much easier it must have been in temperate regions instead. How some nations ended up living in cold and inhospitable regions, while others reclaimed more pleasant lands already touches the nurture part of a nation’s personality: its historical events.
If you want to classify the most traumatic things that can happen to a nation, you have to look no further than a one of the most widely spread books in the world: the Bible – more precisely the last book of the New Testament. Even if your faith doesn’t involve Jesus Christ perhaps you will recognize similar teachings. Or ultimately, if you are just not interested in religion whatsoever, calling the four horsemen of the apocalypse of pestilence, war, famine and death, kind of summarizes the major enemies of the well-being of a nation. If this doesn’t sound contemporary among the so-called developed countries, fear not, as there is a reason why this book has been so popular (besides others), it can be reinterpreted over and over again… contemporarily they are also interpreted as some sort of imperial political structure, division, oppression and destruction. For me, a striking example that I have learned recently is that some part of the population of the Netherlands still today suffers from health problems passed on by their ancestors which lived during the famine brought on by the nazi occupation during the Second World War, the last great famine happening in western Europe. So even for this developed country, the traumatic experience of famine still shows its effects today.
So coming back to “the garden planted at seaside”, as Portuguese warmly call their country… what is this corner’s nature and nurture? And what is it that made the Portuguese nation’s personality the one complaining less and abiding more to the fashionable measure of austerity? I honestly cannot pin-point the reason, but I kind of remember some interesting trivia, which I will now share with you. (warning for my biased outlook: most of my memories came from my experience as a Portuguese born in the 90’s, history classes, documentaries and from keeping up-to-date by reading online Portuguese news and just trying my best to stay informed).
Starting with the nature part, I once had a geography teacher who offered his class the most poetic interpretation that I have heard of Portugal’s geographic situation. In his idea, the people living in Portugal were descendent from the nomads who were always following the sun, looking for better days, the dreamers of Europe. The reality is that Portugal lies between one of the biggest countries in Europe, Portugal’s sister Spain and the fresh Atlantic Ocean, making it the western tip of Europe. For balancing affairs between Portugal and his sister there has always been cousin Great Britain, the former forms with Portugal the oldest alliance (to my knowledge) between two nations in Europe. If it is because of our wine and sun or just to annoy Spain still remains a mystery to this day, but probably a combination of both. Most of the big cities of Portugal lie along the west coast, with the interior being still quite rural and sadly underdeveloped. This distribution comes from a nation deeply rooted in sea exploration, being it by maritime commerce, fishing, or delta agriculture. Portugal’s interior is full of lost little villages, in the north hidden on valleys among mountains, in the south sparsely distributed among the arid lands enriched with Arabic ancestry. The south coast of Portugal shows a higher population than the interior, and it is known too by its highly spread touristic exploitation. Nevertheless the south still falls short compared to the western coast when it comes to education and health. From my point of view, although a small country, it has not come so easy bringing the whole nation together and thinking on the same wavelength to find a “one size fits all” resolution when it comes to the well-being of each region.
For the nurture part, recent photos of the Portuguese president kissing the Pope’s hand with much passion and reverence resulted in quite some explosions of indignation by the non-catholic Portuguese. Keeping in mind that Portugal is a secularist country, I will not do so differently by first talking about Portugal and religion. As it already might have become clear, Portuguese people like myself, even if not catholic, have their cultural identity still very much rooted in catholic traditions. The most relevant here is the sense of the endurance of suffering. Even if we look at unique Portuguese words (words that cannot be translated into one unique word in other languages… think of the Dutch “gezellig”), the most famous word is probably “saudade” which is a feeling of a kind of nostalgic, longing and melancholy. When associated with the national identity, the word usually used is “saudosismo”. First used for expressing the shadow of the lost colonial empire and today it is still used for reflecting a passive nature in politics and matters of the state where people wait for things to change but without doing much. This is to say that Portuguese do not see themselves as the most participative nation, with almost half of the population not going to vote or voting blank in national elections – and more than half when it comes to the European elections.
There is a common feeling of dissatisfaction with politics (quite sure not unique to Portugal), which is also accompanied by a feeling of powerlessness. Most common in my generation there is also a dissatisfaction with the social state in itself which turns many young voters in the right wing direction. This national personality trait is shared by other nations which were absorbed by great empires and sat in their periphery. For Portugal, the more traumatic empire was probably the Roman. Other nations were even less fortunate and have experienced such situations more than once, look at eastern Europe. This contrary to the more northern parts of Europe, which are known by its egalitarian socio-political ways. This points to the result from a “free-of-empires” past (it seems that sometimes living in a cold inhospitable land has its favours!) where all the elements of the tribe were actively needed, which today continues to express itself in a more solid trait of civic responsibility among these nations.
As for other traumatic historical events, it is of interest to note that Portugal did not participate in the Second World War in exchange for the trading of goods to both the Allies and the Axis. Nevertheless, this caused a lack of resources in the country which was followed by independence wars with the last Portuguese colonies which in itself fed the dissatisfaction of the nation and eventually lead to the fall of the dictatorship in 1974 by the carnation revolution. This peaceful revolution brought a sense of hope and political awareness and activism to the nation. In the present, when it comes to manifestations, the young adults of the 70’s are probably the most highly represented. Still today Portugal is free of nuclear energy which is a triumph of this highly activist generation.
What a lengthy history class! But where is Portugal now? You probably already heard it in the news, in the midst of many privatizations, falling banks and the exposure of corruption in politics, Portugal has now a majority left-wing government lead by the centre-left. Nevertheless, differently from all the past centre-left governments, this one relies on a coalition with the other two big left wing parties. Challenges are ahead for sure but it seems government strategy has switched to its famous one hit song named austerity. Hopefully Portugal will remember again that politics exist to serve the nation towards prosperity and not rule it until depletion. And like in each own self-development journey, it is only by accepting our past and owning even the bits of us we would like to be different, that true progress can happen – nations also should own their nature and nurture and work on being more respectful and understanding of other nations personality.
In the end, just as in your group of friends, what fun would it be if they were all a copy of you? (if you recognize some egotistical traits in yourself just pass this question for now). After all enjoying diversity seems to be the path to progress, from personal to national and ultimately to the journey of humankind.
See the Portugal nation timeline here:
See the last news about Portugal debt here:
Have a look at some Wikipedia pages for the scholars who studied nations personalities: