Dutch News

17 March 2014

In an essay in the Volkskrant cultural historian Rene Cuperus warns that democracy is threatened in the Netherlands and in Europe. The gigantic ongoing decentralisation operation of care tasks in the Netherlands and the far-reaching centralisation of the government of the Eurozone, weaken the last vital democratic bastion: the national political level. The turnout of both the local and the European elections in the Netherlands seem to go under 50%. Is democracy just an after war intermezzo and will the 21 century be the century of authority?

Rene Cuperus concludes that in case the turnout of the local elections this Wednesday March 19 will really go under 50% it would be a democratic drama. He does not understand that this might happen on a moment that several care tasks, worth 12 billion, are decentralised from the national to the local level. To Cuperus this proofs that there is a total communication breakdown between the world of the politicians and administrators and the world of the people.


It is unclear if the municipalities are prepared well enough to handle the youth care, the care for the elderly and the new participation legislation. The Dutch population does not have any clue what is going to happen. Cuperus states that the municipalities are taken over the responsibility of nearly half of the welfare state, but with a lot less budget. At such an important moment the turnout might drop under 50% in the coming local elections. So Dutch civilians will not vote against the new decentralisation and cutback measures, or in favour of professional politicians that will be able to handle the workload and responsibility of implementing all the new measures with a lot less money. Rene Cuperus concludes that 'the vitality of the local politics in the Netherlands is in a worse state than we all thought'.


And in May this year the European elections are still coming up. Cuperus explains that the European elections traditionally already have a turnout  of less than 50%. 'The Dutch representative democracy is doing well', Cuperus states sarcastically. So the only political level where there is still some vitality is the national level. But in the upcoming period it is the municipalities and the European parliament that will get a much more important role. ‘On one side there is the decentralisation of the welfare state and on the other side the Europeanisation of the financial economic and the budgetary policy. The effect will be the erosion of the national level. The gigantic decentralisation operation in the Netherlands and the far-reaching centralisation of the government of the Eurozone from Brussels, weaken this last democratic bastion.’


Decentralisation and Europeanisation are moving policies from the national level where the elections turn out is still 80%, to the levels of less than 50% turnout. To Cuperus everybody hopes that a new democratic vitality will arise both on local and European scale. 'That is a highly dangerous gamble with democracy. A case of risky democratic striptease.’ Cuperus mentions an essay in The economist from last week with the title: ‘What’s wrong with democracy and how to revive it’. A vital question, because according to Cuperus it is not going well with our democratic system. ‘Now the Chinese and Russian systems seem to have become a sort of role models and democracy is vulnerable. Technocracy, autocratic and efficiency fetishism are huge threats. Otherwise German-British political scientist Ralf Dahrendorf will be right with his theory that democracy will only be an after war intermezzo and that the 21 century will be the century of authority. Democrats of all states, unite. As long as it is not too late.’



What’s gone wrong with democracy






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