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“if it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much”

Tuesday 14 December, 2010

I attended this talk U.S.-DUTCH RELATIONS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE given by Fay Hartog Levin, US Ambassador to Holland, & Renee Jones-Bos, Dutch Ambassador to the US, & organized by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs.  Ms. Levin kicked off by noting that the Dutch still have enduring feelings for Americans because of our kindness following World War II.  The Netherlands is actively engaged in preventing future wars through its work in NATO, the EU, etc.  The Dutch fight poverty as the largest donors per capita.  They combat terrorism by sharing data.  They work together with us on alternative energy.  NATO is the most successful alliance ever, but needs to be strengthened & adapted to 21st century security challenges.

Ms. Jones-Bos took over from there by stating geography leads to destiny & gave us a history lesson.  Holland is located on the delta of 3 rivers, which led to a rich history of trading, as indicated now by 60% of their GDP coming from international trade & investment.  The Dutch still hold territories in the Caribbean.  Their economy is the 6th largest in the world & have more bikes than people (17M).  Amsterdam is a top 10 financial center & the Netherlands is the 2nd largest agricultural exporter.   They are the 3rd largest investor in & 7th largest trader with the US.  750 US companies have their headquarters in the Netherlands.  International market forces have led the Dutch maritime industry to convert to cruise ships & dredges, while the textile industry has transitioned to make high-tech sails.  Europe is still 1 of America’s most important partners with $1B crossing the Atlantic in trade every day, but we must enlarge our level playing field to other places.   Focusing on the economy is the most important task right now, & we need to fight protectionism in congress.

Q&A:

  • the Netherlands is 1 of the most multicultural societies because of its historical liberal asylum policies, which they assumed were temporary, but have turned out to be permanent.  1M Muslims from Turkey & Morocco now reside in Holland.  The problem is they don’t speak Dutch, & therefore can’t participate in society like everyone else.  Politicians have been caught up in a populist wave creating stricter immigration policies, job skills training, etc.
  • the recent G20 summit stabilized the downturn in the crisis, so now we are turning our attention back to real issues.  The US & Europe are developing financial standards & staying aligned.  But it’s harder to change mature economies, especially while others are rising.
  • Europe still works closely with the US, but feels a bit like a former girlfriend or spurned lover, losing out to “new girls” around the globe.  It’s difficult for countries with big GDP’s because it’s difficult to achieve fast growth.
  • The Dutch educational system directs students to make choices earlier than Americans, which puts them in less of a hurry because they feel more free & there is less incentive to get out of school.  The US has the most variation, the best & the worst, while the Dutch system is more even.

To explain the title:  when I lived in Germany years ago, the European Cup came to Muenchen (where I lived) & the Dutch played in the final against the Russians.  Wherever we went around the OlympiaStadion that day, all of the Dutch had dreadlocks on their heads & were wearing orange t-shirts which read, “If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much!”  There is some truth to that.

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