Fresh approach needed to economic crisis and international chaos

14 October 2014

Fresh approach needed to economic crisis and international chaos

According to Tiny Kox, leader of the SP group in the Senate, a different approach is needed to the economic crisis and to international chaos, including from the Dutch government. The Senate is at the moment debating the budget for 2015 with the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, who will shortly be taking up his post as a European Commissioner. The SP’s position is that it does not want to bear any responsibility for the plans as laid down. ‘The slogan of the plans is “out of the shadow of the crisis” but as so many Netherlands are left out in the cold, that is in our view not going to happen,’ says Kox. ‘This budget is a missed chance for a better future for everyone.’

Kox noted in his contribution, amongst other things, what he sees as a hurried and ill-thought out step into the dark with the decentralisation of the state responsibilities to local authorities. Short-sighted spending cuts threaten to lead to chaos and uncertainty, amongst older people, the sick, people with disabilities and the unemployed.

In the SP’s view the debate around the modernisation of parliament and government should begin. ‘The SP has long advocated the merging of the lower and upper houses of Parliament into a single legislature,’ says Kox. ‘That would be more democratic, more transparent and more efficient. And we need to look into the consequences of transferring powers to Brussels and to the local authorities. Doing nothing is not an option.’

Below are extracts from Senator Kox’s speech, highlighting those which directly concern foreign affairs:

Referring early in his discourse to the appointment of Frans Timmermans to the European Commission, Kox said:

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is here today for the last time. I wish him all the best in Brussels and hope to be able to visit him shortly with a delegation from this House. It would be really good if the new Commissioner were to tell us that the extremely expensive branch of the European Parliament in Strasbourg is going to be closed down.

Whether the budget as presented is workable will depend on international developments, according to the accompanying explanatory notes. So let’s first of all take a look over our borders. Not a happy tale, sad to say.

The crisis which began around 2008 caused more than only economic damage. There has been a widespread loss of confidence in the institutions which we have built during the last hundred years: parliaments, governments, prime ministers, presidents, international organisations, banks and multinationals.

Confidence is declining, cynicism growing. The legacy of the crisis is low growth, high unemployment, growing inequality. Internationally there are now more than 200 million unemployed, an estimated figure which might have been foreseen. In the OECD countries alone there are 45 million, 12 million more than before the crisis. Inequality in the world has never been so great. In the OECD countries the incomes of the 10% poorest people are nine-and-a-half times smaller than the incomes of the 10% richest, and globally the gap is even greater. A generation ago the gap was only six times. We are going at top speed in the wrong direction. And that’s a bad thing, including for the economy.

In addition to the economic crisis we are seeing a tidal wave of war-related violence. Yesterday I was still walking round Sarajevo, where a hundred years ago the First World War began. A century after the appalling summer of 1914, this summer civil war exploded in Ukraine, Gaza has been razed to the ground and a terrorist movement in Iraq and Syria has tempted us into a new war. International relations are so chilly that there is talk of a new Cold War just a quarter of a century after the end of the first version.

Wars aren’t natural disasters. We make them ourselves,.

In Ukraine a popular uprising against a corrupt president ended in a controversial coup d’état. Russia has fooled the population in the east into thinking that virtually the whole government in Kiev consisted of neo-Nazis, while the European Union and the United States close their eyes to right wing extremism. Russia and the European Union are offering the almost bankrupt and bizarrely corrupt Ukraine an attractive economic alliance, but under conditions which amount to all or nothing. That puts everything into focus, as I said this spring myself in Kiev, L’viv and Donetsk. The US suggested the country could join NATO, a country where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has its home port. On top of that Russia annexed the Crimea and stirred up unrest in the east. Time and again sanctions rained down. The EU and America continue to support the government in Kiev, even when its army started bombing towns in the country’s east. Russia sent illegal aid to the insurgents and the Americans sent military advisers to Kiev.

And so the whole country was on fire. And then MH17 was shot down and almost three hundred people died who had absolutely nothing to do with this completely unnecessary war, amongst them our colleague Senator Willem Witteveen, his wife and his daughter. Theirs too belong to the more than 3,600 deaths that this war has already cost. A million people have taken flight and a new arms race has been set in motion.

The Netherlands is also taking part in this, with counterproductive sanctions and more money for defence. In our opinion this is unwise. We want to build on the ceasefire and the construction of a constitutional state in Ukraine. We want Ukraine to be able to cooperate with both the EU and Russia. .We don’t want a new Cold War, because that would only bring catastrophe. This summer I heard in Moscow how there too people are worried about reliving old times, there and here. It’s time to turn the tide, we believe.

This summer Israel bombed Gaza and 2,300 people died, by far the most of them civilians. The United Nations is talking about possible war crimes. When are we finally going to hold Israel to existing UN resolutions that require them to put an end to the occupation and blockade of Palestinian territory? Only that, after all, will prevent another war. We want to see our country and the EU taking the EU Association Agreement with Israel, that demands respect for human rights, seriously. We want to see no more products allowed into our country on which it states that they are made in Israel when they are actually illegally produced in an occupied area, a breach of the international laws of war. With Sweden, we want to see Palestine recognised as a state. There were times when this Foreign Minister was also in favour of this. It could be a fine last act for him, one which would certainly get attention in Israel, in Palestine and in the whole of the Middle East.

As things stand the Middle East is a vast war zone. I realise that the only reaction to the atrocities of terrorists in Iraq and Syria is to scream. But in Syria these atrocities have been going on for a long time, with hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded, towns bombed to rubble and millions of refugees. Last year I was in the biggest refugee camp, on the border with Jordan. The horror stories then were no less than those now told of the so-called Islamic State movement, referred to in the region as Daesh. The same is true of the stories from Iraq, where for years the Sunni part of the population has been oppressed, which has created a feeding ground for terrorist fanatics. Why did we first look away for so long and now suddenly there is this enormous pressure to act? In our country do we only take notice of human tragedies if we feel ourselves threatened?

The Netherlands is now dropping bombs on Iraq. According to the government this is in keeping with international law.

Where does this leave the question of whether it is proportional and effective to bomb a country from the air in order to combat terrorists who for preference like to hide amongst ordinary people? According to the Prime Minister we will initially be bombing for six to twelve months. After that, ground troops must go to work, though who they will be and what they will do no-one knows. What should we do next with Syria, and what after that will remain of Iraq as a unitary state? Whoever can answer this ought to do so. There is no strategy and scarcely a tactic.

According to us there are better options. Don’t destroy Iraq, reconstruct it. Don’t allow the Iraqi army to supply arms to Daesh, but to the Kurds. The flood of money from countries in the region must be halted and the market for stolen oil shut off. Put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, who call themselves our allies but have fuelled the growth of terrorism. And prevent a new Cold War, so that we can use the United Nations to bring about a transitional government in Syria.

Certainly this would all cost time and would not deliver instant success, but in the end the people there would be better off than they will with another endless war.

After going on to criticise the government for its domestic austerity policies, Kox concluded his speech with the following remarks explaining why the SP would be voting against the budget:

My group wants to see government that improves democracy and the constitutional state rather than immiserating and eroding it…. In the light of the permanent transfer of functions to Brussels and to the local authorities, we need to really consider how our democracy and our constitutional state can in the future be given a better shape. … Doing nothing is not an option.

Much of what with good reason is seen as a task for a democratically controlled government has gradually been put into the hands of undemocratic markets. But markets recognise no general interest, only their own. Supervising them works poorly and can’t prevent their going off the rails. My group wants us to turn away from an outmoded belief in the curative working of invisible hands – because that doesn’t work. The crisis showed that. We want a government that aims to strengthen the role of democratic organs, one that’s fairer and more effective. We want budget financing that strikes higher incomes and levels of wealth and relieves people for whom things are tough. Otherwise there will be little chance for those left out in the cold to escape the shadow of the crisis. This budget seems to me a missed chance for a better future for everyone and we can take no responsibility for it.

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