The Dutch elections in a Wageningen and a Global context.

By Erik-Jan van Oosten & Roos Akkerman

The upcoming elections are not just a national affair, but take place within a context. At RUW Foundation we decided to pay attention to both the global geopolitical developments and the topics closest to the Wageningen research agenda: food and sustainability.

To get a better understanding of the global implications of the elections and the role of disruptive regime changes 2016 has brought us on the political climate, we collaborated with Otherwise and invited Felix Klos. Felix Klos (1992) is a historian, political scientist and author of the book Churchill on Europe. Moreover, he was part of the campaigning team of Hillary Clinton in Iowa for the last US elections.

Felix ruled out a Trump-like victory for the Dutch right and alt-right parties, because the Netherlands doesn’t have a two-party system. It is highly unlikely that one party will get an absolute majority in parliament. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the rise of right-wing extremism and the ongoing shift of the political spectrum toward the right.

Felix held a warm plea for the European Union and reminded us why Churchill, on whom he wrote a book, was a proponent of a more unified Europe. If we want Europe to remain both peaceful and relevant on the world stage, we have no choice other than to embrace the European project.

Felix explained that the rise of both the alternative-right and the alternative fact phenomenon in the US are only slowly moving to Europe. There is a strong difference between the harsh social and economic climate in the post-industrial South where mining jobs got replaced with abject poverty, and the situation in the Netherlands where there is a relatively strong safety net and a better public education system. While it is great that Europe seems to unite in making fun of president Trump, we do need to be aware of the option that his presidency might even become successful. If unregulated capitalism creates short-term profits, a war is declared or a terrorist strikes, his support might grow which would result in 4 more years of Trump. We need to do more than make fun of him if the West wants to avoid this from happening.

Just like in the US election coverage, not once has the political debate been about climate change and sustainability on national television. Green Office, RUW Foundation, Otherwise and the Resource felt that the issues related to the sustainable development were too important to ignore, so on the 7th of March we invited young people from CU, CDA, D66, GL, PvdD and VVD to share their plans. We specifically invited the youth organisations because they have signed Jan Terlouw’s manifest for a more sustainable world, and who better to tell the young Wageningen public their plans than young representatives?

The debate was very different from the polarised, soundbite-driven TV debates: On many points there was strong agreement across the political spectrum. The tone was respectful and instead of personal attacks we saw invitations to collaborate more!

The “what” questions resulted in a clear consensus: everyone wanted to have a safe and stable climate, a secure and healthy food system, a fair and balanced economy and a leadership role for the Netherlands in sustainable development. The ideological differences between the representatives only became clear when talking about the “how” question. Generally: the more to the left of the spectrum, the stronger the role of government and the further to the center-right, the stronger the role of free market capitalism in obtaining these objectives. The young representatives for all parties sounded more forward-thinking than their mother parties, making us positive about the future leaders and strengthening our belief that young people should have a stronger voice in the direction of the country. We hoped that our activities in March helped you in making a well-informed decision in the voting booth.

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