Tuesday, 29 September 2015

8 antwoorden over het Oekraïens associatieverdrag waardoor je je niet langer een tokkie hoeft te voelen

Thierry Baudet, frontman van het Geenpeil-referendum, gelooft dat de Nederlandse bevolking 'geen stel tokkies is' en dat zij goed en feitelijk over het associatieverdrag met Oekraïne kunnen oordelen.
Het is dan wel jammer dat hij in hetzelfde stuk veel feitelijke uitglijers maakt, zoals dat het associatieverdrag de bevoegdheden van de EU zou uitbreiden en dat het verdrag aanstuurt op een oorlog met Rusland. Ik geloof ook dat Nederlanders slim zijn, maar door dit soort misinformatie worden we wel om de tuin geleid. Een eerlijk debat behoeft een gedegen en feitelijke uitleg over het verdrag. Daarom schrijf ik hier, in het Nederlands nog wel, een heuse 'explainer'.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A referendum on Ukraine and the EU would be an undemocratic farce

Dutch "shockblog" and political underbelly for the Great Angry White Male Geenstijl has launched a petition for a referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement signed last year. They have had to be corrected on a series of lies ever since. They downplayed texts that suggested Putin would invade the EU if this association agreement goes through - even though it has been active for over a year - after Euroskeptic blogger Chris Aalbers called it an explicit lie. They now call it "bringing a war within our "sphere of influence", as if the EU, spearheaded by Merkel's negotiations with Putin, hasn't already picked sides ever since the invasion of Crimea. They also outright state that politicians are lying on the issue of eventual Ukrainian membership of the EU, providing less than zero evidence on this matter. To the contrary, all politicians have vehemently denied EU membership to Ukraine and given the toxic environment for new memberstates (e.g. Turkey), we should take their words at face value.

For an action group with a liberal approach to facts and motivated more by sentiment than argument to lead a referendum debate will lead to an appalling result that has nothing to do with democracy. It's better if we not had it.

The agreement is democratic - the referendum won't be

Despite everything GeenPeil and Aalbers might tell you the agreement has been set on democratic terms. It was negotiated between the government of Ukraine and the Council of Ministers, which includes all EU heads of State. It was then ratified both by the Verkhovna Rada and the European Parliament. Furthermore it was discussed, critiqued and then approved by both chambers in the Dutch House of Parliament this year. The opponents of the deal have two objections: the first one of them is that "no politician has read this long and boring agreement in full". If that were true, however, it would be spectacularly unlikely that an electorate of twelve million would force themselves to read through the legalese. They secondly say that no politician would have had to step down over such an agreement. Lets first highlight that a previous EU agreement on the Stability Pact caused the Slovakian cabinet to resign in 2011. Lets furthermore agree that if this agreement is so hyperbolically scary as its opponents suggest it would have attracted enough controversy when it was signed March 2014 or approved by the Tweede Kamer on the 7th of April or the Eerste Kamer on the 7th of July. The reality is that this association agreement will provide for some trade liberalisation, some developmental aid to Ukraine and the easing of some visa restrictions - important topics but hardly the primary focus of political outrage.
What is very bizarre is that in the same breath as the association agreement the government ratified very similar agreements with Moldavia and Georgia, but no referendum is asked for on those topics. This suggests that the real ire about this agreement does not lie in the facts of the agreements but somewhere else. And that is exactly the problem of having a referendum.

Referenda are incredibly poor instruments to gauge the democratic will over a specific policy issue. For an example of this we don't have to look further than the Dutch referendum on the EU constitution in 2005. As studies have shown, the rejection of the EU constitution rested in large part on a feeling of EU skepticism before the referendum, not on the contents of the agreement. Even more worrying polling found that 30 percent of the electorate used the referendum to signal their disstatisfaction with the then-current government instead of their disstatisfaction with the agreement. Referenda provide the government with incredibly messy and noisy signals about the policy issue at hand. This referendum, started by a shockblog and an Euroskeptic platform, is likely to tell us nothing useful about an association agreement and everything about the underbelly of Euroskepticism coursing through this country.
More than that, in a media environment where policy discussions revel in short soundbites and speculation this deal will not receive fair scrutiny. A very unlikely but catastrophic event such as a Russian war on NATO will be salient in voter's minds, because such a scare image cannot be rationalised away by facts and arguments. Supporters of the agreement will have to agitate against such increasingly shrill doom scenarios of "millions of Ukrainians taking our jobs" and "Putin invading our lands". It is telling that there is no polling data about support for the association agreement, but there is already polling data about support for Ukraine's EU membership. Before the referendum is approved it is already coated in distortion and mistruth.
Finally this referendum is likely to have a spectacularly low turnout. The reality is that the agreement has a negligible real impact on our lives, and it is easier then to convey unrealistic doom scenarios than it is to project that this agreement will lead to paradise on Earth. The 'Yes' vote will only be able to organise and galvanise themselves if they in turn seek to make this debate about a wider EU issue. That strategy backfired in 2005 and is unlikely to be succesful now. As a consequence a silent majority might well lose out on a deal that on balance has a minor but positive influence on their lives.

At its core though this not a discussion about whether we want to have democracy but what kind of democracy we prefer. A referendum is a veto of the loud and angry mob. The democratic system that we chose to have is parliamentary: we elect and scrutinise a group of people who in a more contemplative and deliberative setting look at difficult policy proposals for a difficult world. As a truth-finding exercise both are imperfect, but the latter option allows for more reasoned discussion for the very simple reason that it is easier to dispell untruths when there is a smaller room of people and there is more time for reasoned debate. We chose a system of democracy that isn't just about casting the majority of votes, but that is about providing input from a wide and diverse public through the parliamentary process. On this issue, for instance, the Ukrainian diaspora might have an amplified voice precisely because this agreement matters more for their lives than it matters for the indigenous Dutch. 

On a factual level there is no lack of a democratic deficit on EU expansion. Every national government presides over a veto for new memberstates. Public opinion is a key determinant of whether this veto will be used. It is unsurprising that the rise of Euroskepticism in the Netherlands coincides with an increasingly obstructionist stance on EU expansion by the Rutte government. After the latest negotiation rounds in Greece it was leaked that Rutte was seen by the Greeks as their biggest obstacle and his name was used as a boogeyman towards Tsipras by Angela Merkel.

In conclusion we have a preponderance of democratic avenues to express distatisfaction with the association agreement. A referendum is a silly one because it is ill-suited for the specific policy discussion necessary to critique such an agreement. It will end up being a facetious and ill-informed discussion and thus a tragedy for the democratic process.

The association agreement is a good deal for the EU

Opponents have couched their opposition to the deal on the castles they build in the sky for themselves. Those clouds have been busted, and what is left is a great deal for the EU and Ukraine.

EU skeptics are also very likely to oppose the Common Agricultural Policy. They must take delight from the fact that with Ukraine as a trade partner we have a potential agricultural powerhouse. The second-largest country in Europe (after Russia), Ukraine has an unrivaled fertile soil and very cheap labour costs. Thanks to its proximity to Europe it is likely to be able to conform to EU quality regulation, the agreement will seek to lift the export tariffs and no agricultural subsidy can compete with Ukraine's cheap production costs.
What this agreement further offers in economic terms is access to the Ukrainian labour force. Crucially this access happens on the conditions that individual EU countries want to set for themselves. Many high-educated Ukrainians want to migrate to Europe, and Europe's knowledge economy and greying population can in time welcome these workers. Furthermore the Ukrainian government and business sector specifically invests in IT skills, of which there is a deficit in the European workforce, and English proficiency, which makes Ukrainians suitable to work in international business environments. Added to that the agreement deals with rule harmonisation, making it easier for EU corporations to invest in Ukraine. An increased effort to cooperate on matters of law enforcement seals the deal by tackling the corruption endemic in Ukraine, which will continue to smoothen the path to EU-Ukraine investment.

More important than these economic benefits is that this agreement furthers the values the EU promotes, such as democracy. Further integration with the EU is a key desire of a majority of Ukrainians and was the spark that led to the Maidan protests. Denying these citizens that opportunity that they democractically strikes foul with th. It is therefore disingenuous for Euroskeptic politicians such as Harry van Bommel (SP) to claim that we should reject this agreement because EU-Ukraine relations have led to Russian-Ukrainian military conflict. This is a classic case of victim blaming, where Ukraine wants an agreement, is bullied by Russia to not get the agreement and then is denied that opportunity because short-sighted foreign politicians want to 'protect Ukraine's interest'. It is insulting to the spirit of the people who died on Maidan and are fighting against the rebels in the Donbas that their expressed values and desires shouldn't count because 'we' know better.

Finally, if we believe the claims that we have a Russian army at our doorstep we could do worse than preventing their advance by aiding the one country that is doing their utmost to stop Russian-backed fighting forces. As I previously said it is folly to think that this agreement is the one thorn in the side of Putin. That is a thread that starts with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the recognision of Kosovo, the accession of the Baltic States to the EU and the multilateral support for states as Georgia. If a conflict with Russia were to happen it would happen regardless of this association agreement, and the invasion of Crimea and the Donbas happened before this treaty came into force. In that case we couldn't do worse than alienate and disempower a potential ally.


A referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement would be undemocratic on two counts. A referendum does not create an adequate democratic signal about the actual agreement and undercuts the democratic processes that we have in place for scrutinising these agreements. It also denies the democratic wishes of the Ukrainian people. Someone who claims to believe in democracy can agitate against this agreement using lobbyism, the media and their voting power - a referendum is the most undemocratic step that they can take.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Dutch police has systemic issues - it's time we faced up to them

This article is written in English for an international readership. Most links, however, are from Dutch-language
sources, as this article covers a domestic issue.

The facts, as we know them, are these. Mitch Hendriquez, a 42-year old Aruban native, was enjoying a concert at Zuiderpark in Den Haag. The police alleged that he shouted that he had a gun. Several eye witnesses and family members testified that he was clearly joking with a group of his friends. The police responded agressively, justifying this by claiming that he resisted arrest. Eye witnesses testified on social media that Hendriquez was floored and hit repeatedly with a club on his legs and head. Videos clearly show five officers holding Hendriquez in a chokehold. When they try to drag him away from the scene he is unconscious and unresponsive. Instead of calling an ambulance, they stow him in a police van. In that van he will die before reaching the police station. Later, a doctor will examine his bedraggled and bloated corpse, and declare that he did not die of natural causes. Naturally, Mitch Hendriquez was unarmed and innocent.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Why the Netherlands should welcome a Party for the Turks

Last week, in between the national debate/civil war surrounding Zwarte Piet, the Labour Party
Selçuk Öztürk and Tunuhan Kuzu Foto ANP / Martijn Beekman
expelled two of its MPs. Tunuhan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk broke party ranks to criticise Labour Minister for Immigration Lodewijk Asscher and parliamentary spokesman Ahmed Marcouch. They believed that their criticism against Turkish integration movements showed the party favoured assimilation instead of integration. A few days later the media uncovered that the two MPs had conflicted with the Labour party management for a long time already and that they wished to form a political movement for the Turkish-Dutch community. In the wake of these events, many pundits have commented that these MPs are 'radicalised' and that they are puppets of the Turkish state. Kuzu and Öztürk have been immediately discredited as 'foreigners' and 'outsiders' by the national media. I think that these comments are extremely unhelpful, and instead we should welcome this new movement with open arms.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Europe keeps on backing the wrong horses on Ukraine

Whilst our attentions are currently more grasped by the rise of ISIS - or IS, as they seem to prefer - in Iraq, or even more taken in by the exploits of a biting adult on grass fields in Brazil, the former media darling that is the Ukraine conflict has been swept under the covers. Worrying, because even though the EU and Russia keep foolishly insisting that the Ukranian government keeps to a ceasefire with the insurgents in Donetsk, the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic has decided to continue the fighting and are now even refusing to let orphans leave to safer areas, preferring to use innocent children as human shields.

That insistence is probably the most harrowing of The current EU diplomacy. They join Putins plea of saying that the end to the ceasefire is because they "couldnt convince Poroshenko of keeping to peaceful ways". The more realistical assessment, made by Poroshenko, is that it is probably futile and dangerous to keep up a ceasefire with a side who, during the ceasefire, has attacked several civilians and killed 'collaborators', held Ukranian soldiers under fire, tried to shoot down a Tsibili - Kharkov civilian flight with a rocket launcher and have resorted to using orphans as human shields.

Indeed, upholding a ceasefire against these insurgents probably is a failure of the government to uphold the human rights of the innocent civilians in the Donetsk region, out of whom an overwhelming majority do not back the violent rebellion and whose lives are threatened daily by the insurgents.
It is also a truly absurd policy to back. It would be akin to saying to Spain in the 1980s that they were not allowed to combat ETA, or for us to say that Nigeria should not continue the fight against Boko Haram. Worrying, Boko Haram merely captures schoolkids and doesnt intent to put them in front of enemy fire.

Its even more scary to see that the EU has suffered from bouts of amnesia. It wasn't long ago that the EU supported the reading that Russia had direct ties with the Kharkiv rebels. In fact, it wasn't long ago that they threatened Russia with a new round of sanctions if they failed to support a solution to the unjust occupations in the Donetsk region.
Those sanctions wont be followed upon now with the EU citing "insufficient evidence" existing to support the sanctions. When earlier they mistrusted Russia enough to not let them take place at the negotiation table with the rebels, Russia has now claimed its spot. 

The sad reality is that the single argument against resuming the fighting is an immoral one: its the argument that the Ukrainian army lacks the capacity to win the war. But surely the consequence of that argument means that the international community should aid the war effort, rather than let the separatists win? 

It likely is not even the argument that is trumpeted most in the ongoing negotiations, discussions, fora and council meetings that the West has used as substitute for action. It wont be publicly admitted, but the EU wants a ceasefire because Russia quite likes the status quo where a Russian minority can usurp a part of Ukraine. And we prefer to stay in their good books and get their cheap gas or oligarchs investing in London and Paris and Berlin.

The current stance is unpalatable, indecent and immoral. The haggling of the West, whilst they have the capacity to aid a swift(er) end to the insurgence, is therefore directly responsible for deaths on the ground. A better policy to pursue would include stronger political and material support for the Ukrainian government. Military advice can be dispensed and better weapons can be given without the need for boots on the ground.

The EU must further understand that backing Ukraine is in its wider interests. It cannot think that just because an association treaty has been signed that Ukraine is in its pocket. A frustration of Ukraine's political and security ambitions could still drive them away from the EU. For a recent analogy you have to look no further than to Erdogan steering Turkey away from the EU after all the dithering of its membership status. This would mean that the EU could stand to lose a trading ally, but furthermore would heavily undermine the idea of the EU as a diplomatic ally.

When the association treaty was signed, most Western media ignored the speech were Poroshenko heavily criticised a lax EU. The seeds of discontent have already been sown. 
More worrying, if the EU would care about a solution with fewer deaths, not intervening in a battle between an ill-equipped Ukranian army and the zealots in the separatist movements is probably the worst solution to follow.
Doing all this for the sake of remaining Russia's whipping boy will prove eventually disastrous. Ukraine and Belarus can attest to this: the gas crane is only open at the whims of Russia's increaingly imperialist government.

Its time to act.

Striking the right balance: trigger warnings in debating

Trigger warning: this article discusses the application of trigger warnings. As thus, certain subjects commonly associated with trigger warnings such as violence or sex will be mentioned.

This article was written based on past experiences, particularly at the Edinburgh Cup 2014, where I was a member of the adjudication team. This article is written on a personal title, and nothing which I say here should be taken to be the opinion of anyone else associated with the running of that tournament, be it the CA-team, the equity officer, the organisational committee or anyone else.

At the Edinburgh Cup the CA-team wished to set a motion on the legal definition on rape. In particular, the discussion would revolve around affirmative consent legislation (or "yes means yes") that has been making headlines in California and New Zealand, and has as a definition been used to teach sexual consent during the Fresher weeks at Oxford and Cambridge. Owing to the complex and sensitive subject matter it was provisionally set as the semi final motion. During the competition the CA-team and the equity officer felt that a motion discussing rape might create undue pressure on a number of competitiors, judges and audience members, and thus created a couple of procedures to make sure everyone would be comfortable. Firstly, it was decided that the public announcement would be accompanied by a trigger warning. Before that, however, the competitors would be told in privacy by the equity officer that the semi final motion would concern a "legal discussion surrounding rape". They could then write on a piece of paper anonymously if they wanted to debate the motion or not. At Edinburgh a number of debaters wrote that they would rather not debate such a topic, and another semi final was ran (a public trigger warning was therefore not given).

I think this was an important thing to do, and would suggest to future CA-teams and equity officers that they take these matters into consideration and, where possible, implement simular measures. I do think, however, that we need to have a discussion surrounding the scope of these policies, as there might be slippery slopes and chilling effects associated with a full-scale application of trigger warnings in debating. While broadly supporting the aims of trigger warnings and asking for consent of participants to debate sensitive topics, in this article I want to sketch some of these possible pittfalls, in order to provoke a discussion about what the limits of trigger policies ought to be.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

I respect your decision to kill

"Meat is murder. Delicious murder."

At some level we probably are all aware of the fact that much of the food that we eat and enjoy every day
was specifically raised, often in dehumanising torturous conditions, and then viciously and uncaringly murdered, their carcasses disseminated without much thought or concern of its lifes, for the sole purpose of us enjoying food that tastes incredibly good, tasty, juicy, but is not necessary to sustain a healthy diet in the 21st century.

I am sorry if you were eating while reading this.

I became a vegetarian right before I went to university, after I spend a few minutes actually thinking about the food we all consume. Before that food was something that just tasted incredibly good; a steak and a glass wine so I could feel sophisticated alongside the adults, or the grease-and-food-poisioning taste of a döner kebab after my first nights of getting thoroughly drunk after midnight in the city. The relation between meat and animal suffering was one that was carefully hidden. You see "pork" and "beef" in supermarkets, which is not the same as "pig" or "cow". As a kid raised in a small village I saw milk cows grazing next to our backyard garden, but I didn't see them being taken away or slaughtered. If anything, the pictures of animals in supermarkets are that of smiling cows with their tongue sticking out, as if they too are anticipating taking a large bite of their brethren. And animal cruelty was not the systemic stuff of factory lines, but merely the targeted attack of a youth on a Youtube clip who hit his dog and was rightfully condemned by a nation. In the way that I was raised and conditioned to understood the world animals only had a little capacity for humanity - the pet dog you own and brings you a ball to play, the pictures of panda bears used to have you fork over money for charity.

Yes, the food you are having looks amazing.

And then I started to think, and connected the clip of a dog being beaten to the squeals of the terrified pigs on the way to the slaughterhouse half-way between my home and my school. I started watching documentaries and reading books. I learned that pigs have a far more developed sense of taste and smell than humans. That a "free-range chicken" in the USA could mean that the chicken had access only to a narrow window where it could view the outside. That 80 percent of pigs slaughtered suffer from pneumonia due to the terrible hygienic conditions and cramped spaces they are raised. I learned that, analytically, an animal - whether a stout or a feasant or a horse - had the exact same capacity of suffering that humans do, but that they don't have the means to communicate this suffering due to a lack of voice and because we hide factory slaughter away in the dark corners of our society, so no one has to voluntarily walk into the nasty truth of our sustained culture and tradition of meat consumption. Apart from the minimum wage workers who are often employed in industrial farming, who breathe the same disgusting air, are deafened by the continued squelching of animals about to be massacred, and who grow desensitised and in their helplessness commit acts of violence against the poor and defenceless ill and decaying animals before they are put to their death.

Oh, I'm sorry, I do hope you are enjoying your meal.

For an ethical vegetarian it is hard to remain silent, because you are convinced that your stance is the right one in an area of debate that is so important for you - because it's about 70 billion lives per year that matter to you. It is, in my mind, completely understandable that "radical" vegans or PETA-activists bring a worldwide nuisance upon the hordes of meat-eating humans. These are people who feel like they are part of a Civil Rights movement, or that they are Abolitionists, or first-wave feminists, or pacifist protesters.

But it's also deeply unhelpful.

My family - like most adults and children I know - get deeply upset when this is brought up at the dinner table. They don't think that they're murderers or complicit in killing - they are taking essential nutrients that they need in order to sustain a life in which they are working hard to care about other people; as teachers, and nurses. They are taking part in important rituals, where the spaghetti bolognese is passed down as grandmother's recipe and her cooking is fondly remembered, and over the beef wellington stories about the days are shared.

And of course they aren't killers - not in the way that matters to us, in the way that we think about them and understand their daily action. Those thirty minutes of cooking and fifteen minutes of eating doesn't constitute who they are in the slightest.

So I am forbidden to talk about my absolutist ethical stance on meat and murder, and slowly my family and friends accommodate my vegetarianism without any grumbling, and sometimes they remark that they love the vegetarian dishes they eat (apart from many meat-replacements, which tastes like dry spongy lies).

Recently I met a wonderful girl, whom I've grown incredibly fond of. She eats (and enjoys) meat. One of the things we agree on is the importance of good food (and maybe even more good drinks). In much the same way as people cook meat-free dishes for me, I want to make her a great steak (I'll go with a side of mushrooms and Valess).

If there's one word that you could historically ascribe to the Dutch and their political culture it would be "tolerance". The Dutch Republic became succesfull largely because in an era of religiously-motivated persecution of knowledge and socially condoned practices of ethnic persecution many intellectuals, free-thinkers and pioneers found their safe haven in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. It's the radical idea that your opinions or beliefs are no better than that of another person, and you should thus not patronise or coerce or condemn that other. And on a personal level it is something I have now ingrained about my lifestyle, as many vegetarians do. We don't publicly condemn or cry out a distaste for eating meat. We don't comment on how we've grown to dislike its smell. And we don't want to pay the price of social ostracism in order to defend the lives of killed animals.

At its core, here lies the difficulty. Edmund Burke told us that all is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. But it's impossible to ascribe the terminology of evil to the choices of people that we care about and can only describe as being good human beings.

And thus ethical vegetarianism and the belief that meat is murder is in practice not an ethical position I hold, but a personal belief I subscribe to.