To get a further idea of what the Dutch think about membership of the euro and the European Union, reporter Olaf Bruns spoke to economist Mathijs Bouman in Amsterdam.
“Mr Bouman, among your Dutch fellow citizens there’s growing disappointment with the euro. Voices can be heard who want to quit the euro zone, who want the Dutch guilder back. Can you understand those people?”
Mathijs Bouman, economist:
“Well, of course it’s an emotional reaction to what has happened in the last couple of weeks, or maybe months. We see sort of a destruction of confidence in the euro experiment in the Netherlands. But rather than leaving the euro ourselves, we would like to kick out – or rather some of my fellow citizens – would like to kick out countries like Greece, or maybe even Spain and Portugal.
“Nevertheless we’ve heard people saying, the Netherlands could leave the euro. It doesn’t seem very practical for a small country like the Netherlands to leave, but are there good economic arguments for the Netherlands to quit the euro zone?”
“Well I think there are good arguments. They are not the best arguments – there are better arguments against leaving the euro zone – but one of the good arguments is, well, look at countries that didn’t go along with the euro like Denmark, like the UK, like Sweden – they are not doing much worse in this crisis then we are, and they don’t have to pay up for the deficits of the Greeks.”
“By now it can’t be excluded that Geert Wilders’ populist Freedom Party will be part of a government coalition after this election. They have said very strongly that they don’t want the euro any longer. Can you imagine this to have any impact on future government policies?”
“Let’s face it, suddenly in all euro countries the scenario of an exploding euro area is on the table. It’s no longer probability zero, it’s now a probability of two or three or four percent, or maybe 10 percent. So every government should study what will happen when countries leave the euro, when the euro area explodes, when it falls apart. So it’s not that bad, what he (Geert Wilders) said. He didn’t say: ‘We should leave, the moment we are ruling the country.’ He said: ‘Well, we should study the possibilities.’”
“A couple of years ago the Dutch rejected the European Constitution with a large majority in the referendum: more than 60 percent. Last year a strong anti-European party came second in the European Parliament elections. Now people are criticising the euro. Are the Dutch becoming anti-European?”
“Well I think you’re right there: there is an anti-European atmosphere in the Netherlands. But it’s also because the European Union changed in the last five or six years, with the introduction of the new eastern European countries. And now we see a lot of people from there working in the Netherlands. Well, that’s OK for the economy as a whole, but for low-skilled people in the Netherlands, well, they suddenly face competition form the workers from the East. So the European Union has changed, and with Greece’s deception concerning their debt and their deficit, well that also changes the way you have to look at the European Union. It’s no longer a community of friends, it’s now a community of cheaters maybe.”