The Netherlands, the world and the elections

Elections are soon to be held in the Netherlands. The political parties are sharpening their knives and have outlined their plans in hefty manifestos. Not surprisingly, they mainly focus on domestic issues. International themes are primarily addressed in terms of opportunities for Dutch companies and threats in areas like health, privacy and competition that we need to protect ourselves against. But if we want to make the Netherlands sustainable, we especially need to look at our footprint beyond our own borders and make every effort to reduce it. In the weeks leading up to the elections, Both ENDS looks at where the parties' manifestos offer opportunities to achieve that.

All parties agree that, as a small country, the Netherlands is very dependent on other countries. Without markets for our agricultural products and without gas- and oil-rich countries to supply our energy needs, without our favourably placed transit ports and without the strong back of Europe behind us, the Netherlands would carry little weight. Even the parties that have traditionally left everything to the markets and our common sense have now come to see that we need to defend these interests, if necessary with rules and legislation and a robust role for government. D66, CDA and VVD believe that the government should act more often as a 'market supervisor' to protect Dutch farmers and other producers, Dutch citizens and our climate against external influences – for example, against companies that do not have corporate social responsibility among their top priorities.

The Netherlands as a threat to many countries

For many countries, however, the Netherlands itself is an external threat. Our country holds a prominent place on the world stage, when it comes to trade, investment, agriculture, water management and infrastructure for the fossil industry. The Dutch economy is currently one of the worst polluters in Europe, not at home but through our trade activities beyond our borders and their impact on people and ecosystems.

Nearly all parties choose for sustainability

Fortunately, most of the parties argue for shorter supply lines, a stop to carrying goods all around the world, less use of natural resources, more recycling and a circular economy. Such ambitions have a direct positive impact, intentional or not, on the climate and biodiversity beyond our borders. By reducing imports of palm oil from Indonesia and soya from Brazil, we contribute to forest restoration. If we produce on a smaller scale, we will no longer need to dump our surpluses of milk and tomatoes on markets in West Africa, so that farmers will no longer have to compete against our cheap products. Now that political parties across the board want to focus on sustainability, that is good news for the rest of the world.

More is necessary

Yet more needs to be done: if we really want to contribute to curbing climate change, Dutch companies will have to operate more climate neutrally not only in our own country but also in all countries where they are active. If we want to make the transition to sustainable energy sources, we should not only look at ways of reducing our dependency on gas in the Netherlands and making greater use of the wind, but we especially need to stop investing in fossil activities abroad. If we want to make agriculture sustainable, we should not only help our own farmers to adopt circular economic practices, but also stop exporting large-scale monoculture to other countries. If we want to make product and trade chains shorter and more local to protect our producers, employees and climate, we need to immediately stop importing non-sustainable products from other countries.

The government must set regulatory frameworks

To achieve all this, we need a robust government, a market supervisor that sets regulatory frameworks. The stronger rules that our future government will impose will also have to apply to Dutch activities abroad. Only then will farmers, citizens and businesses in countries where the activities take place know that, like their counterparts in the Netherlands, they are protected against detrimental external influences.

Taking opportunities

Where do the party manifestos offer scope for such a coherent foreign policy? In the runup to the elections, we will be analysing and clarifying the foreign policy sections of a number of parties to see what they have to offer on climate, food, trade and investment, and what they have failed to address. But, above all, we are going to look where the opportunities lie for a new coalition to reduce the Netherlands' footprint in a world of which we are a part and to contribute to sustainability worldwide.

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