The February 25th, 2013 broadcast of the VPRO TV documentary series “Tegenlicht” on African migration to China came to an interesting conclusion. A conclusion that I share.
Europe, the Netherlands included, is becoming a fortress for people outside Europe. This closes Europe to refugees. But unfortunately also for ideas, cultures, innovations and willpower that immigration brings.
This development is disastrous for Europe. In Europe, the birth rate is decreasing. Therefore a decreasing number of employed people will have to look after an increasingly older population. At some point, the European working class will no longer able to bear the costs to maintain our current level of prosperity and welfare.
At the same time, more and more other countries are developing fast. Especially the BRIC countries are currently on the rise, but also the African continent’s economy sees increasing growth rates.
Another development is that many more of the future 9 billion people on this planet will be prosperous. Hence investment and financial flows will change accordingly. If we in Europe and the Netherlands do nothing and continue to feel fulfilled in our present prosperity we will rapidly degrade to a second-class economy. With a declining birth rate and increasing expenses, the Netherlands must stay interesting to foreign investors. People who are able to create and innovate and thus help to maintain national and European prosperity and welfare.
The Netherlands is a unique country. Not only because the Dutch mostly created it themselves, but also because there is a lot of green area between our cities and urban regions. There is no big metropolis consisting of a completely built-up area like many other metropolises in the world. Even the Randstad, the region bordered by the 4 largest cities and responsible for half the national economy, contains relatively a lot of green area.
But the Randstad alone does not dominate the Netherlands. The other half of the economy is earned outside the Randstad. Even the smartest region is outside the Randstad. So it is regionally well balanced. Yet the current decline in population and employment in some provinces is worrying. It would be regrettable if regional shrinkage would marginalize the Netherlands.
With fewer taxpayers it will be getting harder to keep Netherlands neat, orderly and free of water.
In the TV program Tegenlicht, Ian Goldin advises Europe to remain attractive to migration and hence maintain or enhance prosperity and welfare levels. This also goes for the Netherlands where immigration can complement the declining birth rate.
History shows that another major factor in regional development is transport innovation. The Dutch golden age (17th century) was not only triggered by immigration, but also by technically advanced vessels and waterways. The industrial revolution was driven by the steam engine and the construction of railways with fast trains for that time. Railways, which today still prove their usefulness.
The Freedom of Mobility Foundation wants to secure the position of the Netherlands in the globalizing world by strengthening the infrastructure. Better and faster connections will rebalance the strong regions and the various provinces.
In a country with more bicycles than people, it makes sense to use the (electric) bicycle for local transport. Bicycling trips are often faster than the typical time spent waiting for a local bus. But the average cyclist covers only short to medium distances. In the vision of the foundation, we extend the range of bicycle by combining it with fast public transport to get the best out of both. For example, we suggest replacing the entire intercity service by Maglev to reduce the travel time between the intercity stations and airports by a factor of 2-5. Such a combination can be a sustainable alternative to the car.
With such improved transport the Netherlands will be a unique metropolis of low-rise buildings, lots of green recreational area, a temperate climate and still connected to the rest of the world. The Netherlands will thus remain interesting for foreign investors and immigration as Ian Goldin advises.