Exaggerated caricatures of Southern Europeans: perhaps funny material to talk show producers or the editor of a magazine’s front page, but very harmful for the position of the Netherlands in Europe. Caricatures, exaggerations, prejudices or jokes about others are of course completely allowed in a free society, but ensuing political decision-making should always be about facts and arguments. That is where the problem lies.
In the Netherlands, caricatures, prejudices and sometimes downright lies about the EU and Europeans have usurped down to earth and pragmatic consideration. These perceptions are now so deeply ingrained, that reality has come to be seen as lies.
Many politicians know this very well, but prefer to stay silent, rather than refuting this ‘disinformation’. For decades this was the method of Tory leaders in the UK: stirring up eurosceptic sentiment from time to time. Even adding a little fuel to the fire with some juicy lies about ‘faceless eurocrats’. The UK’s current tory Prime Minister launched his career in this manner. The previous Prime Minister completely misjudged its potency. One day the conservative-liberal Tories lost control of the rapidly spreading wildfire. In the end it resulted in David Cameron leading his country out of the EU. Cameron of course, was a liberal conservative, like his political friend prime minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands benefits from the EU, and the EU benefits from the Dutch perspective on a number of issues. Transforming that vision into action requires negotiating. Sharp negotiating, but always in good faith. A distorted view of Europe because of caricatures and prejudices hampers that vision. It does not create a good negotiation climate. We end up in a dialogue between people that do not understand each other, alternated with political mud fights. It only makes the opponents of a strong Europe in the Kremlin, White House and Beijing more excited.
It is not only the dutch who indulge in caricatures, as Southern Europeans make them about us too. These are just as incorrect and insulting. And likewise, they will agitate Dutch people.
It is high time that Dutch politicians tell the public the honest story about Europe, and return the facts into the discussion. We can and must criticize one another, but always with mutual respect. This will allow Prime Minister Rutte to represent Dutch interests in Europe.