Caroline on Thomas and Hans

Caroline de Gruyter is the NRC Handelsblad correspondent in Brussels. Here is her bio at Presseurop where she gazes dreamily into a far distance. Her acute and informative diagnosis though of last April at Cargenie Europe has the apt title The Dutch Are Trapped In Europe.

“Since the Second World War, the Dutch have wanted to be part of a transatlantic community based on the principles of liberalism and free trade. But instead they have become embedded in a continental and deeply political European community. They would like to live in a British Europe but find themselves in a German one.”

“There are no signs that the tension between the transatlantic dream and the European reality will ease soon. The Hague will probably continue to react in its traditional, irresolute way to all things European that cross its path.”

“There are two obvious developments the Netherlands can hope for, apart from economic recovery. The first is that the UK finds a contructive way to stay in the EU and that it stops holding up initiatives in Brussels. The second is that the EU manages to successfully negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States in a year or two. That would give the Dutch a morale boost, vindicating their stubborn dream of a transatlantic community.”

“Both developments would, however, reconfirm that Dutch well-being in Europe is shaped mostly by events outside of Dutch control.”

Caroline crafts a very British understatement here: “that the UK finds a constructive way to stay in the EU”. Given the reports in The Economist about David Cameron’s problems with UKIP and his referendum, it is more likely that the EU has to find a constructive way to handle the UK – including Scottish independence. A EU & USA free trade agreement is less likely when the EU is locked up in recession for the North and depression for the South. Hence I don’t quite agree with Caroline’s otherwise acute analysis. It is very much in Dutch control to lift its censorship of science so that this continent can end its visit to Hades.

In NRC Handelsblad last weekend, May 25th, Caroline also wrote about Thomas Wieser and Hans Vijlbrief (a text in Dutch).

Thomas Wieser looks a bit like the Ben Bernanke of Europe. The most informative article about him seems to be by Tim Jones in the EuropeanVoice.com, 2009. He now holds the chair of the EU Economic and Financial Committee, say the key policy making committee of the issues discussed in this weblog. Thomas Wieser happens to be born in 1954, like me, Angela Merkel, Franςois Hollande and, not to be forgotten, Alex Salmond of Scottish independence.

Caroline compares the diplomatic and effective teamwork of Jean-Claude Juncker and Thomas Wieser with the undiplomatic and increasingly ineffective non-teamwork of Jeroen Dijsselbloem and his treasurer and assistant Hans Vijlbrief.

“They seem to confirm the old cliché that the Dutch ‘speak too long and tell others how things must be’. Treasurer-general Hans Vijlbrief, who also worked for De Jager, apparently speaks a lot. Many call him competent, some see him as a jovial burgundian – but also a somewhat crude burgundian. Strict pronouncements by Vijlbrief about Greece and other Southern countries in the past, are still recalled with resentment by some delegations – and not only the Southern ones. “Vijlbrief acts sometimes as if Holland pays the whole bill for Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus,” says a national diplomat. “But Malta pays relatively more than Germany. This annoys people.” (…) A diplomat confirms: “Perhaps we see this wrongly, but this is not a team by which Dijsselbloem can gain our hearts and minds.”

Caroline explains that this is an element in the reasoning that caused Franςois Hollande on May 16 to propose that there will be a permanent Eurozone government, with its own President – and no longer a parttime appointment from a Member State. This is the report from France24 and this is from Reuters. In itself it makes sense. In standard economic analysis, the Eurozone needs integration for the euro to function properly, and then one needs a government with an Executive, Legislative and Judiciary to maintain democracy. The French economy is in dire straits and could very well benefit from such a Eurozone government that starts taxing Germany and subsidizing France. Of course, the UK would be an onlooker only, fall apart, and perhaps be reduced to something like Great Denmark.

The situation still causes a small surprise, that however might not be a real surprise since there is a system in the madness.

I happened to hear about Hans Vijlbrief for the first time when he wrote a fax in 1995 to the reporters of MUG in Amsterdam. MUG is a monthly magazine for welfare recipients that reports about how to find a job, how to apply for benefits if you don’t succeed, and how to save expenses when on benefit. It is quite popular with a quite large circulation in the Amsterdam region. The name MUG incidently derives from an abbreviation of Dutch Maandblad Uitkerings Gerechtigden, say “Welfare Recipients Monthly”, and should not be confused with the English word mugging, though some readers may of course wonder whether lazy welfare recipients aren’t mugging the welfare state on a grand scale. The actual Dutch pun in its name is that “mug” also means mosquito. At that time MUG received subsidies from the Amsterdam local council and many of its articles carried the stinging message that benefits were too low for a decent living. This is its 2013 website.

In 1995 I had good news for MUG’s reporters: there was a new approach in economics that would allow full employment again, provided that the censorship at CPB was resolved. At that time, Vijlbrief worked at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs that supervises CPB. His fax to the reporters explained that CPB functioned fine, that the Ministry also looked at employment, and that they followed a different policy than mine precisely because their approach was better for employment. The final published MUG article can be found here, with my comments in brackets (all in Dutch). My main comment was that I was surprised that Vijlbrief already knew my analysis even though it was being censored. The man must be brilliant, to already know what isn’t available yet. We can observe that Dutch employment policy before and after 1995 is a mess, with a beggar thy neighbour policy of exporting unemployment by means of low wages. It must be with the same ‘burgundian’ optimism and clair voyance that Hans Vijlbrief now conducts the Eurozone policy, managing employment policy that he doesn’t understand, and with a similar command of monetary policy. I am quite tempted to apologize to Thomas Wieser for his incompetence and behaviour.

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